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Is THC Bad for Your Heart?

THC is a main component in marijuana, and use is increasing in the young and the old.

THC may have some health benefits, but it also has risks.

THC may specifically affect the heart in harmful ways, and some people may be at higher risk.

Marijuana use is increasing in the United States and worldwide, particularly among older adults. It is becoming more widely available to people as both medical and recreational marijuana use have become legal in more states. However, marijuana is still in the most dangerous category of controlled substances in the U.S., alongside drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. This makes research on marijuana challenging.

There are some known health benefits of using marijuana, as well as risks and side effects. When it comes to heart health in particular, there are risks associated with THC — the main part in marijuana that gets you high.

Read on to learn about how THC affects heart health and if you might be at increased risk.

What is THC?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive chemical that is in the marijuana plant. It is the part of marijuana that causes a “high.” The other main active part of marijuana is CBD (cannabidiol), which doesn’t cause a high and has shown to have some benefits for pain and anxiety.

Marijuana products contain different amounts of THC and CBD, and they can have different effects. There are some potential health benefits to marijuana (both THC and CBD), but importantly there are also known risks and side effects.

Marijuana products have varying ratios of THC and CBD and come in different forms, including:

How quickly the THC might be absorbed in your body depends on which formulation you use. While there is no established dose for THC, a typical dose is between 5 mg to 15 mg.

Cannabis use is growing in the U.S. and is most often used for the following symptoms:

Nausea and vomiting

Importantly, there are risks to THC use that you should be aware of. These include:

Impaired brain development in teenagers

Elevated heart rate

Nausea and vomiting

Does THC negatively affect your heart health?

Marijuana use, and specifically THC, can affect the heart in dangerous ways.

THC turns on the sympathetic nervous system. This is your “fight or flight” response. When this happens, it can:

Elevate your heart rate

Raise your blood pressure

Increase the amount of oxygen that your heart needs

Cause an irregular heart rhythm (called arrhythmia) or extra heart beats

Activate platelets (important for blood clotting), which may increase risk of heart attack or stroke

Smoking marijuana in particular poses additional risks, including irritating the lungs and increasing carbon monoxide in the blood, which can put additional strain on the heart.

Have any studies been done on the effect of marijuana on heart health?

There is very limited research looking at what effect marijuana has on the heart. We need more studies looking at both short- and long-term effects of marijuana, as well as the effects of different formulations and dosing.

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The link between marijuana use and heart health

Our knowledge of the risks of marijuana use is limited by the lack of research in this area. But here is what we do know about marijuana use and heart health:

Young adults using cannabis were followed over time and were not found to have higher rates of heart disease or death from heart problems, unless they were also tobacco users.

Cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks as well as an increased risk of stroke.

There has been an increase in the rates of hospitalization for cardiovascular causes in young people using cannabis.

Hospitalized cannabis users have higher rates of arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm) compared to non-users.

Who is at risk of heart problems from using marijuana?

You may be at increased risk from using marijuana if you:

Have heart disease

Have high blood pressure

Have an irregular heart rhythm

Are taking certain medications

THC can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and if you already have underlying conditions, this could lead to complications. If you are taking medications for another condition, THC could interact with them.

Is marijuana bad for your heart if you’re over 60 years old?

If you’re over age 60, you may be at more risk for heart complications from THC use, since this puts you more at risk for high blood pressure or an irregular heart rhythm, as well as a heart attack or stroke. We need more studies on this, but we know from observational studies that there could be an increased risk.

Can you use marijuana if you have an existing heart condition?

If you already have an existing heart condition, you will want to be especially careful with THC products. Because THC can increase your heart rate or blood pressure, it has the potential to cause more complications if you already have a heart condition.

How might marijuana affect my other medications?

THC can interact with other medications, mainly by increasing or decreasing levels of other medications, including some heart medications. Some examples include:

Cholesterol medications called statins

Blood pressure medications (such as losartan and valsartan)

Antiarrhythmic medications (such as amiodarone)

Can smoking marijuana lead to heart damage, even if you’re young?

It’s possible. There is likely less risk to the heart if you have no underlying heart disease or risk factors. But we don’t have a lot of good data on how THC affects the heart for otherwise young and healthy people. We do know that there are more young cannabis users being hospitalized for cardiovascular causes.

There are other potential risks to young people, including how cannabis use can impact brain development. Teenagers, pregnant women, or nursing mothers should avoid it for those reasons.

There are additional risks to smoking or vaping that carry similar risks as tobacco smoking. It can cause damage to the lungs and long-term respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis.

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Another concern is the risk of contaminants in marijuana products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned of the risk of lung injury from vitamin E acetate in THC products. Because these products are not regulated or inspected, there is a real risk of contamination with heavy metals, pesticides, or other chemicals.

CBD and Heart Arrhythmia: A Possible Treatment Option?

Did you know that approximately one in 18 people has an arrhythmia? That’s equivalent to 5% of the U.S. population. Some of the most common suddenly-occurring cardiac fatalities happen as a result of arrhythmia, which is characterized by an abnormally fast or irregular heart rhythm. While traditional methods of treatment – such as anti-arrhythmic drugs, medical procedures, implantable devices, and surgery – can prove effective in many cases, these options are not the most convenient. This is where CBD comes in.

The Cannabis Sativa plant has earned a positive status as a therapeutic powerhouse. One of the plant’s primary active compounds is a cannabinoid called “cannabidiol”. Better known by its abbreviation, “CBD”, this cannabinoid has been highlighted as a potential option for maintaining healthy cardiovascular function. Moreover, studies suggest that CBD could even prevent heart disease.

A natural vasodilator (drugs that open the blood vessels) CBD can widen the blood vessels. Since this process is regulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS), it seems fitting that cannabis can positively impact the life of someone who suffers from heart arrhythmia.

CBD Popularity is Gaining Momentum

Before we explore the ways in which CBD could help with heart arrhythmia, take a moment to enlighten yourself on this up-and-coming plant-derived compound. Non-psychotropic – meaning that it does not cause mind-altering effects, unlike its cousin cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – CBD is becoming the focal point of many new research studies.

According to a 2018 report commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD may prove useful in mitigating the symptoms of debilitating diseases/conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, cancer, depression, insomnia, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease; many of these conditions are featured on the list of qualifying conditions in states that have legalized medical cannabis.

But is it really possible for CBD to support heart health?

This high-demand cannabinoid accounted for a USD $2.8 billion global market in 2020. Fast becoming a mainstream market, the ever-evolving realm of CBD provides consumers with smokeless methods of administration, such as capsules, topical lotions, oils, oral sprays/drops, suppositories, edibles, and infused beverages. Some manufacturers are even dabbling in CBD-infused clothing!

What Are the Main Types, Causes, and Symptoms of Arrhythmias?

The speed of heart rate will determine what type of arrhythmias a doctor diagnoses his/her patient with. Anyone who experiences heart palpitations, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness/lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, and/or shortness of breath should have their pulse checked by a healthcare professional.

Typically, doctors will provide a diagnosis for one of five main types of arrhythmias:

  1. Ventricular Fibrillation: Recognized as the most common life-threatening arrhythmia, ventricular fibrillation occurs when impulses are released from the heart’s lower chambers in a disorganized fashion.
  2. Tachycardia: This type of arrhythmia is diagnosed by a fast heart rhythm that registers more than 100 beats per minute.
  3. Bradycardia: Unlike tachycardia, bradycardia is a type of arrhythmia diagnosed by a slow heart rhythm that generates under 60 beats per minute.
  4. Supraventricular arrhythmias: When arrhythmia originates in the heart’s upper chambers. A.K.A. the “atria”, it is identified as a supraventricular arrhythmia
  5. Bradyarrhythmias: Disease that erupts within the heart’s conduction system – including the sinoatrial (SA) node, atrioventricular (AV) node, or HIS-Purkinje network – can cause the heart rate to slow down, thus resulting in bradyarrhythmias.
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Although the specific cause of arrhythmias is not always understood, a number of factors could spark a cardiovascular problem of this kind. For example, aside from underlying medical conditions, arrhythmias may transpire due to high blood pressure (HBP), heart attack-related injuries, valve disorders, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle) changes, and coronary artery disease.

Studies on CBD and Heart Health Offer Hope for Arrhythmia Patients

CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties could play an important role in maintaining heart health. In fact, a 2017 study carried out in England and published in The American Society for Clinical Investigation discovered that CBD can improve resting blood pressure and stress-related blood pressure increases in patients. Since high blood pressure can cause the arteries to narrow, thus restricting blood supply to the heart, this study portrays CBD as a beneficial tool for bolstering heart health.

Some more studies that spotlight cannabis’ potential to improve quality of life among patients with arrhythmia and other heart conditions include:

  • This study showed that CBD successfully reduced the total number of ischemia-induced arrhythmias and infarct size when the cannabinoid was consumed before blood supply to organs and/or tissues became insufficient. The results, which were dose-dependent, also revealed that infarct size diminished when CBD was administered before reperfusion.
  • In 2015, a study featured in the National Library of Medicine showed CBD’s ability to cause endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation (reduction of vascular tension) of human mesenteric arteries via CB1 activation. who use cannabis. This is based on an extensive study that assessed the cases of more than 161,000 people who had been hospitalized for a chronic (and sometimes fatal) condition. However, this is not to say that CBD would be an effective solution.

Things to Consider When Using CBD for Heart Arrhythmia

Never ignore the importance of evaluating arrhythmia with a doctor, particularly before introducing CBD into your daily routine. Since underlying conditions can trigger cases of arrhythmia, it’s possible that abnormal heart rhythm can be controlled (or even eliminated) by targeting the root cause; hence why it is important to undergo a doctor assessment before embracing CBD as a treatment option. Starting low and going slow is the best way to determine how CBD affects you. To find your optimal dosage, it’d be wise to make a note of any positive/negative side effects in a cannabis dosing journal.