Love Your Heart: Just Say 'No' to Cocaine

But sex is fine, says Harvard Medical School study of cardiac attack risk

Sinners, take note. Sex won’t increase your risk of a heart attack—but cocaine could up your chances nearly 24 times over, according to two Harvard researchers.

Harvard Medical School Professor of Medicine James E. Muller and former lecturer Geoffrey H. Tofler published a study on heart-attack risks last month in the weekly medical magazine Circulation.

Though sex has been associated with increased risk because of physical activity, that risk is transitory and relatively small, the pair found. And cocaine’s dramatic increase lasted only an hour.

Muller and Tofler compiled past studies of more common triggers, including heavy physical exertion, anger, overeating, and traumatic events such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

The pair found marijuana smokers increased their heart-attack risk by 4.8 times in the first hour after use. That’s just a little higher than the fourfold increased risk in the hour following a heavy meal rich in fats and carbohydrates.

Adams resident Samuel F. Lichtenstein ’09 said the findings wouldn’t change his Thanksgiving plans.

“I’ll probably be eating a lot of turkey,” he said Tuesday night. “It’s worrisome, but I’ll probably forget about this after tonight.”

Tofler, the former lecturer who is now professor of preventive cardiology at University of Sydney in Australia, hoped his study would prompt people to reexamine their current activities—in some cases, cocaine use.

“That would be something that I think people would look at and say, ‘Well, there’s another reason to avoid that,’” Tofler said.

On a two-year leave of absence, Muller serves as president of InfraReDx, a Burlington, Mass., company focused on developing coronary devices.

In the article, Tofler and Muller propose strategies to lower risks, including paying for a snow-blower service instead of sweating yourself and avoiding fights with neighbors.

But that’s not to say they’re recommending an end to exertion entirely. “People shouldn’t avoid these activities completely, because it’s a part of daily life,” Muller said.