A previously healthy young man with chest pain is admitted to my service with the diagnosis of spontaneous pneumomediastinum. He doesn’t look ill at all. What causes should I consider?

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum (SP) is defined as the presence of mediastinal free air in the absence of an obvious precipitating cause and should not be confused with pneumomediastinum occurring in the setting of gross trauma or positive-pressure mechanical ventilation in intubated patients, or catastrophic events such as blunt or penetrating trauma, infection due to gas producing organisms, retropharyngeal perforation or esophageal rupture1,2.

SP frequently occurs in young men (Figure) and is associated with a variety of factors, most commonly illicit inhalational drug use (eg, marijuana, cocaine) and performance of a Valsalva-type maneuver causing alveolar rupture2.  Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine –MDMA) ingestion is also associated with SP, possibly related to its attendant physical  hyperactivity (eg dancing, sexual activity) or a contaminant that may predispose to alveolar rupture3,4.  Other causes not related to illicit drug use include childbirth, forceful straining during exercise, straining at stool, coughing, sneezing, retching/vomiting, pulmonary function testing, and inflation of party balloons1!

SP should always be distinguished from complicated pneumomediastinum (eg, in the setting of perforated viscus, trauma, gas-forming organisms), as it usually follows a very benign course with patients recovering without specific intervention1,2,5.

Figure: Spontaneous pneumomediastinum due to vigorous exercise in a young male



  1. Newcomb AE, Clarke CP. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum: A benign curiosity or a significant problem? CHEST 2005;128:3298-3302. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16304275
  2. Panacek EA, Singer AJ, Sherman BW, et al. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum: clinical and natural history. Ann Emerg Med 1992;21:1222-27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1416301
  3. Gungadeen A, Moor J. Extensive subcutaneous emphysema and pneumomediastinum after ecstasy ingestion. Case Rep Otolaryngol 2013; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/79587
  4. Stull BW. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum following ecstasy ingestion and sexual intercourse. Emerg Med J 2008;25:113-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18212154
  5. Kelly S, Hughes S, Nixon S, et al. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum (Hamman’s syndrome). Surgeon 2010;8:63-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/20303884
A previously healthy young man with chest pain is admitted to my service with the diagnosis of spontaneous pneumomediastinum. He doesn’t look ill at all. What causes should I consider?

Does marijuana use lead to any adverse cardiovascular effects?

Although marijuana is often not considered to have serious cardiovascular effects, in animal studies THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, has been found to affect cardiovascular activity through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of adrenal catecholamine secretion and modulation of cardiac vagal tone through inhibition of norepinephrine release from sympathetic neurons (1).

There have also been reports of temporal association between marijuana use and acute coronary syndrome, cardiac arrhythmias, cerebrovascular events, including TIA’s, strokes, and cerebral vasospasm, as well as peripheral vascular events, including arteritis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and digital necrosis (2).

In a recent comprehensive case series, about 2.0 % of all cannabis-associated adverse events were reported cardiovascular in nature, with 25% resulting in death (2). However, it is often difficult to determine the relative contribution of marijuana and other concurrent conditions or substances (e.g. alcohol and tobacco) when cardiovascular complications occur. More research in this area is needed.


1. Szabo B, Nordheim U, Niederhoffer N. Effects of cannabinoids on sympathetic and parasympathetic neuroeffector transmission in the rabbit heart. J Pharmacol ExpTher 2001; 297:819-826. http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/297/2/819

2. Jouanjus E, Lapeyre-Mestre M, Micallef J, et al. Cannabis use: signal of increasing risk of serious cardiovascular disorders. J Am Heart Assoc 2014; 3:e000638.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4187498/

Contributed by Pierre Ankomah, MD, Boston, MA

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Does marijuana use lead to any adverse cardiovascular effects?