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Doctors & patients are saying about 'Beat Your A-Fib'...

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Research: Use of Illicit Drugs and Risk of Developing A-Fib

We are living in a time when law makers are considering more lenient laws on the use of illegal drugs. One unexpected effect of this shift may lead to more people developing Atrial Fibrillation.

Observational Research

This observational study used databases of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The study included all adults in California from 2005 to 2015 who were A-Fib free at the time and received care in an emergency room department, same-day surgery unit, or hospital.

In this large, long-term study over 23 million patients were included. Of this study population 98,000+ used methamphetamine, 48,000+ used cocaine, 10,000+ used opiates, and 13,200+ used cannabis.

The researchers analyzed associations between the use of each substance and a new diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.

Risk Findings

Researchers found use of illicit drugs (methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates, and cannabis) was associated with a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared with other known risk factors.

Of the total study population, over 998,000 patients (4.2%) developed Atrial Fibrillation during the 11-year study.

By Drug: Methamphetamine use nearly doubled the risk of developing A-Fib (86% increased risk). The corresponding increased risk for opiates, cocaine, and cannabis were 74%, 61%, and 35%, respectively.

By Multiple Drug Use: The researchers also investigated the impact of the number of drugs and frequency of use. Participants using two or more illicit drugs were 63% more likely to develop A-Fib than single drug users. The risks were basically the same for habitual versus occasional users.

Researchers Conclusion

Users of illicit drugs were at substantially greater risks of atrial fibrillation compared to non-users.

“This was the first large, long-term study examining the relationship between methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates, cannabis and atrial fibrillation,” said study author Professor Gregory Marcus of the University of California, San Francisco, U.S.

All four drugs were associated with higher risks of developing atrial fibrillation than many conventional risk factors including high cholesterol and diabetes. This indicates that avoiding these substances could help prevent the condition.

Editor's Comments

Editor’s Comments

The results of this observational study are very clear. If you take illicit drugs, your risk of developing A-Fib increases significantly.
This was a substantial study—over 23 million patients and long-term—over 10 years. The findings have important implications.
Professor Marcus offers this warning. “As some regions take steps towards legalizing recreational cannabis and adopting more lenient laws on the use of other illicit drugs, our research suggests caution and the importance of disseminating information on the potential harms.”

When considering less stringent control of these four drugs, legislators need to consider the personal and fiscal impact of more people developing Atrial Fibrillation.

• Marcus, Gregory. Illicit drugs linked with serious heart rhythm disorder. European Heart Journal, European Society of Cardiology, Oct. 18, 2022.

• Lin, A L, et al. Cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates increase the risk of incident atrial fibrillation, European Heart Journal, Volume 43, Issue 47, 14 December 2022, Pages 4933–4942,

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