This early study isn't conclusive, but its findings could have grave implications.

Sports leaguesstate legislators, and universities are changing the way they treat and punish marijuana use largely because the drug is increasingly perceived as harmless. But preliminary research suggests cannabis may have a dangerous side effect on one critical organ: the heart.

The new study, which evaluated the health of 3,407 people in the United Kingdom, suggests a link between regularly using marijuana — defined as daily or weekly use within the past five years — and changes to the heart’s structure and functions. It was published Wednesday in the journal JACC Cardiovascular Imaging.

Researchers observed that the study participants who used cannabis regularly had larger left ventricles and showed early signs of impaired heart function.

Partial abstract: Conclusions: Regular cannabis use was independently associated with adverse changes in left ventricular size and subclinical dysfunction compared to rare/no cannabis, whereas previous regular cannabis use was not. Findings should be interpreted with caution and further research is required to understand the potential pathophysiology, dose-response effects of cannabis use and the long-term implications of regular use on the cardiovascular system. Health care professionals and policy makers may need to advise caution on regular recreational cannabis use until such systematic research is availabe.

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