Doubling the Risk of Stroke – A Harmful Consequence of Marijuana Use

Teenager smoking marijuana with friend

Marijuana. Marijuana. Marijuana. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another story on marijuana, another slew of opinions, always taking one side or the other, usually debating over emotions and morals as opposed to science and facts.

Marijuana use is becoming more common, particularly among youth. And that is something to be concerned about. We still don’t know all of the long-term implications of marijuana use and many of the short term ones are painfully obvious.

Well, let me rephrase that. We are just now starting to learn what some of the long-term effects of marijuana are, especially when people start using marijuana at a young age. The results are pretty concerning.

New Research on the Harmful Consequences of Marijuana Use

A recent article in U.S. News brought forth new information that not only is marijuana harmful for many obvious reasons but that the frequent use of marijuana also doubles users’ likelihood of experiencing a stroke. And that’s just the first half of the story. Marijuana users are also twice as likely to be hospitalized for dangerously erratic heart rhythms.

This information comes from two separate studies, both of which were recently presented for peer review at the American Heart Association meeting in Philadelphia. Both of these studies were also featured in the U.S. News article cited above.

“The first study found that non-smokers who use marijuana more than ten days a month are nearly 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke versus non-users…”

Quoting that article: “The first study found that non-smokers who use marijuana more than ten days a month are nearly 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke versus non-users. … In the second study, researchers found that people who compulsively use cannabis have an up to 50% greater risk of being hospitalized for arrhythmia – an erratic heartbeat that can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.”

While we can always contend that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, it is very suspicious that people who use marijuana are also individuals who are more likely to experience a stroke or a heart-related complication. And according to the research, it would seem that the demographic most likely to suffer strokes or irregular heart rhythms are young people who use marijuana frequently.

Marijuana Use Among Youth On the Rise

Young woman in a hospital

Marijuana use among adolescents has been increasing for almost a decade. Now that several states have legalized marijuana, young adult, and teen use of the drug has gone up considerably. But this trend actually started to manifest itself before states began legalizing the drug on a recreational basis.

Quoting the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (an annual publication released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse): “A growing percentage of students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades are using marijuana on a regular basis. Most notably, daily marijuana use increased by more than 10 percent in all three grades since the 2009 survey. Driven by the rise in marijuana use, illicit drug usage among teenagers has increased overall in the past three years. Rates of past-year illicit drug use in 2010 were 16 percent in the 8th grade, 30 percent in the 10th grade, and 38 percent in the 12th grade.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers valuable information on the prevalence of marijuana use among youth and the risks that such use comes with. According to their data, about 38 percent of high school students report using marijuana. The actual figure is probably much higher, as the survey data is gotten entirely from personal admission of marijuana usage on the part of high school students. We also have to take into account the unknown percentage of youth who use marijuana but who do not admit to it.

The CDC goes reports that marijuana use can and does have permanent, harmful effects on the developing brain. This harm is particularly relevant when such use is begun in adolescence, and especially when young people engage in regular use.

The CDC goes on to list other, adverse effects of marijuana use, again, particularly as pertains to young people:

  • Young people who use marijuana tend to experience difficulty in thinking and in problem-solving.
  • Teens who use marijuana can also experience problems with memory, retention, learning, and application of learned materials.
  • Adolescents and young adults who use marijuana often have difficulties in paying attention, they experience a decline in school performance, and they struggle with tasks at their places of work.
  • Impaired coordination is a severe problem associated with marijuana use, and this applies to all ages.

Marijuana use also significantly impairs one’s ability to drive, yet a lot of people believe marijuana cannot impair driving like alcohol can. That is not true. Studies show that cannabis-afflicted drivers are just as likely to get into accidents as alcohol-influenced drivers are.

In addition to the biological, neurological side effects of marijuana use (concerning for all ages but particularly concerning for young people who use marijuana), it is clear that there are many other harmful consequences of marijuana use. We should not be so quick to legalize such a substance when researchers are still finding out the detrimental effects of the substance.

Helping Our Loved Ones Say No to Marijuana

Helping addicted to marijuana young woman

Marijuana just isn’t worth it. No drug is. There is never a “good reason” to use drugs. Not even marijuana. Not even if it is in a state where marijuana is legal.

Marijuana increases the risk of stroke, impairs cognitive function, lowers IQ, reduces drive, passion, and gumption. It diminishes one’s ability to drive a car, to operate equipment and machinery. It negatively influences memory and one’s ability to learn. None of these effects sound like reasons why anyone would want to take the drug.

If you know someone who is using marijuana, do your best to get them to stop. Talk to them, converse with them about the drug, inform them of the negative consequences of cannabis. If your loved one is unable to stop using marijuana on their own, they’ll need to seek help from a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Make sure they get the help that they need.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.