Can smoking weed prevent heart attacks
Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

Writer and director Kevin Smith survived a "widowmaker" heart attack earlier this year — a heart attack that kills 80 percent of people who have one.

 

How did Smith manage to survive? Weed.

 

"They got me to the hospital and they wheel me into the emergency room and the whole time I’m chill. Like, the guy said, the paramedic, he goes, 'You’re being real calm, that’s going to get you through this,'" Smith told Stephen Colbert on May 1.

 

"And there’s a dude behind him [that] goes, 'That’s what’s going to save his life.' And I’m like, 'What does that part [mean]?'"

 

Smith was initially worried that all the weed he smoked earlier in the day was the cause of his heart attack, but his doctor said otherwise.

 

"He said, 'no, quite the opposite. That weed saved your life,'" Smith said.

Can marijuana prevent a heart attack?

Don’t go investing all of your health care dollars in marijuana just yet.

A 2002 study from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that smoking weed increases a person’s chances of having a heart attack within the first hour of smoking — more than five times that of non-smokers.

The reason: Smoking weed "increases the heart rate by about 40 beats per minute," lead study author, Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said at the time.

"It also causes the blood pressure to increase when the person is lying down, and then abruptly fall when the person stands up, often causing dizziness," he added. "These effects may pose significant risk, especially in people with unrecognized coronary disease."

Mittleman added that the role THC — the chemical compound in marijuana that causes the high — plays in the risk is unknown.

What current research says about marijuana and heart attacks

The Harvard and Beth Israel study was conducted over 16 years ago — a lifetime when it comes to medical research. Is the link between weed and heart attacks still relevant?

Yes, at least according to a 2017 study from Philadelphia's Einstein Medical Center.

For the study, cardiologist Dr. Aditi Kalla and team analyzed over 20 million medical records from people between 18 and 55 who had been discharged from hospitals in the United States. The team broke the data down to people who admitted to smoking weed before their hospital visit (1.5 percent of patients) and found that these patients were at 26 percent higher risk for stroke and 10 percent higher risk for heart failure than those who didn’t smoke weed.

"Even when we corrected for known risk factors, we still found a higher rate of both stroke and heart failure in these patients, so that leads us to believe that there is something else going on besides just obesity or diet-related cardiovascular side effects," Kalla said in a press release at the time.

Can anything related to marijuana help your heart?

As Harvard pointed out, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance, meaning the federal government views it as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," making it difficult for in-depth research on its health effects.

That said, research into a derivative from the cannabis plant shows promise when it comes tohealth.

A 2013 review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that cannabidiol (CBD) helped reduce vascular tension in rodents, along cardiomyopathy associated with diabetes.

CBD — found in the seeds, stalks and flowers of cannabis plants — is also shown to have benefits to people with diseases like cancer, colitis and Huntington’s disease.

Kevin Smith’s health now

Kevin Smith has lost 30 pounds since his heart attack

Smith has lost over 30 pounds since his heart attack in February — and he plans to lose at least 50 as an ambassador for Weight Watchers.

"This is the weight I was when I met my wife, so this is a good weight to be at. Last time I was at this weight, I scored, big time," he said.