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Cannabis Use Bad For The Lungs And The Heart

As the perception of the harms of cannabis decreases, new evidence has emerged linking the illicit drug to lung and heart disease.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ believes the new research will challenge the common misconception that cannabis is a harmless recreational drug.

Foundation Chief Executive Ms Letitia Harding says people need to know what the risks are so they can make informed decisions about the use of the drug.

"Many Kiwis think smoking cannabis is a way of relaxing, switching off, or helping with pain, but the reality is that it does damage to your lungs and heart."

According to the latest NZ Health Survey, about 8 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds use cannabis weekly (2022/2023) and 24% use it at least monthly.

The Journal of the American Heart Association recently published about the impacts of cannabis on the heart. It found that use is associated with a high risk of myocardial infarction and stroke, and the risk increases with the more days of use per month.

It recommends that patients should now be screened for cannabis use and advised to avoid smoking cannabis to reduce their risk of premature cardiovascular disease and cardiac events.

Dr Sarah Fairley, Cardiology Advisor to the Foundation, says the emerging evidence linking cannabis use to heart disease is of concern.

"Cannabis use is increasing, yet there has been little research to date on its impact on cardiac health.

"Interestingly, this latest American paper shows there are negative effects on people who had never used tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes."

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Professor Bob Hancox, a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, says the new research should be seen alongside New Zealand research findings that regular cannabis use leads to chronic bronchitis, over-inflated lungs, increased airway resistance and impaired oxygen extraction.

"The findings from the US research underscore the importance of continued research into the impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health and education to address the misconception that it is harmless."

In 2020, New Zealanders voted against the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

The purpose of the proposed bill was to regulate and control the cultivation, manufacture, use, and sale of cannabis in New Zealand, with the intent of reducing harms from cannabis use to individuals, families, whānau, and communities.

Harding says the effects of cannabis on lung and heart health need to be talked about.

"The Foundation believes empowering people with knowledge to make better decisions for their lungs - and their heart - is key."

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