A new study suggests higher risks of cardiovascular issues the more frequently marijuana is smoked. This is a representational image. PIXABAY

NEW YORK CITY -- Though marijuana is often marketed as a soft, relaxing and somewhat harmless drug, a new study reveals that in the long term, its consumption may actually bring some negative health impacts to its users.

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed data on nearly 435,000 patients, ages 18 to 74, to see whether there was a link between marijuana use and a higher risk of heart disease, stroke or heart attack. Their conclusions? The risks of these health issues rose sharply the more frequently marijuana was used.

The paper, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting marijuana may be harmful to the cardiovascular system.

This study is also among the largest to show a connection between marijuana and cardiovascular health in people who don't smoke tobacco, Abra Jeffers, the lead researcher of the study and a data scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital told NBC News.

In this work, the scientists found daily cannabis users had 25% higher likelihood of heart attacks and 42% higher risks of strokes. Similarly, people who used marijuana just once a week had a 3% increased likelihood of a heart attack and 5% higher risk of strokes during the study time frame, which collected data from 2016 to 2020.

"I think we're beginning to see the same things we saw with smoking cigarettes back in the '50s and '60s— that this is a signal," Robert Page, a clinical pharmacist who specializes in heart disease at University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, told NBC News. "I feel like we're repeating history.

The use and possession of marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law. Nevertheless, in recent years, a growing number of states have legalized the drug for medical or recreational purposes. This change in the legal landscape has coincided with a dramatic increase in public support for legalization, which a majority of Americans now favor, according to a Gallup poll.

In fact, public support for marijuana legalization differs widely by age, political party, and race and ethnicity. For instance, 49% of Hispanics in the U.S. believe that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared to 13%, who believe it should not be legal at all.

This is a smaller number next to 68% of Black adults who should be legal in both instances, the largest demographic to believe so.

The Massachusetts General Hospital paper doesn't specify whether marijuana directly causes heart attacks and strokes or whether people who are already at risk are more likely to use it.

Ultimately, however, it will take more rigorous studies to draw any firm conclusions, Page said, which would involve following people for years and monitoring their marijuana use.

"The only thing I can find after asking and asking again and again in terms of potential risk factors is marijuana," Dr. Deepak Bhatt, the director of Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York, who was not involved with the research, said. "So the smart thing to do would be not to smoke marijuana, but I realize it's extremely popular and that's advice that may not be well received by all."

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