Consuming cannabis products doesn't have the same effects on the respiratory system as smoking it – but are edibles bad for your heart? We take a look at how marijuana affects the cardiovascular system and why it could make your heart race. Here's all you need to know…
Are edibles bad for your heart?
Consuming cannabis products doesn’t have the same effects on the respiratory system as smoking it – but are edibles bad for your heart?
Cannabis, which is derived from the hemp plant, is widely known for its psychoactive and anti-nausea properties. The active ingredient in cannabis that is associated with these effects is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids, which are chemicals that mimic the structure of THC, can be prescribed to treat a variety of conditions, including chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, and appetite loss. 1
A growing number of governments are legalizing the use of medical and recreational cannabis, and in turn, more research is being done on the potential risks, benefits, and medicinal uses of cannabis.
Smoking cannabis versus consuming cannabis edibles
Cannabis is available in a variety of forms; two of these include inhaling cannabis smoke, and consuming edible products or baked goods containing cannabis. Smoking cannabis may be associated with respiratory side effects because inhaling any smoke can be difficult on the lungs. 2 Some research suggests that smoking cannabis may be associated with some adverse cardiovascular effects, although more research is needed to confirm these findings. 3,4,5
Consuming edible cannabis products does not have the same effects on the respiratory system as smoking cannabis; however, there is minimal research on whether edibles can impact the cardiovascular system. This has been indicated as a possibility. For example, one case study of a 70 year old man with coronary artery disease described his myocardial infarction, or heart attack, shortly after consuming a cannabis-infused lollipop. 6
The patient consumed more than three-quarters of a 90-mg marijuana lollipop. The patient described experiencing fearful hallucinations and called a family member to take him to an emergency room. He also reported crushing chest pain, sweating, and shaking. The patient was treated for a heart attack with an anticoagulant, antiplatelet, and aspirin.
Cannabinoids and the cardiovascular system
Cannabinoids, such as THC, cannabinol (CBN), and cannabidiol (CBD), found in the cannabis plant, bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the body. 7 These receptors are found all throughout the body, and as a result, cannabis can have a variety of effects for individuals. More specifically, according to some new case studies and research, cannabinoids including THC may influence the cardiovascular system itself and could potentially be associated with increased blood pressure, heart rate, and an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events. 7
Can edibles increase heart rate?
Although the exact effects of edible cannabis are not well-studied compared to inhaled cannabis smoke, some research shows that activation of the endocannabinoid receptors may be associated with increased blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. 8 However, other research shows that activation of certain cannabinoid receptors may be associated with decreased blood pressure and heart rate, and the current evidence is fairly inconclusive. 9 More research is needed to determine whether cannabinoids can increase blood pressure and heart rate as well as determine whether these effects are specific to certain methods of cannabis ingestion.
Are edibles bad for your heart?
Although some evidence suggests that smoking cannabis may be associated with adverse side effects and cardiovascular changes, there is currently no consensus on whether or not cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are bad for the cardiovascular system. More research is needed to determine the potential impacts of cannabis and cannabis edibles on the cardiovascular system.
Why Does Marijuana Make Your Heart Race? [The Science Behind]
Humans have used cannabis as a medicine for thousands of years. However, it has only recently returned to popularity after being illegal for most of the last century. Now, the majority of states have medical marijuana programs in place, and people are using weed to treat a wide range of conditions. A number of states also have recreational laws in place.
One of the major advantages of cannabis as a medicine is its relative lack of side effects. Many patients find it easier to tolerate than conventional treatments, which often have long lists of possible reactions.
However, marijuana is not completely free of adverse effects. It can cause dry mouth and eyes, drowsiness, dizziness, and increased anxiety and paranoia in susceptible people. Cannabis can also cause your heart to race, a distressing side effect if it catches you by surprise. Furthermore, some people even claim that weed can increase your risk of heart attacks.
In this article, we explore whether there is any truth behind these claims and why marijuana makes your heart race.
How Marijuana Affects Your Heart
Cannabis exerts most of its effects on the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is a series of cell receptors known as cannabinoid receptors and chemicals called endocannabinoids.
The cannabinoid receptors that we know the most about are called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They are located throughout the body and play a role in many of our physiological functions. When cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids come into contact with one another, they trigger a series of different reactions.
The ECS is involved in mood, movement, and appetite, among other things. However, one of its most crucial roles is maintaining homeostasis. This is a state of constant internal balance in an ever-changing external environment.
Maintaining homeostasis requires continual monitoring and adjustment of factors like body temperature and blood pressure. Therefore, it is no surprise that scientists have discovered endocannabinoids in the tissues of the heart.
The ECS appears to play a vital role in controlling blood pressure, causing blood vessels to relax and widen (vasodilation). It also influences heart rate, and this is where cannabis comes into the picture.
The cannabis plant produces hundreds of different chemicals that impact your body in different ways. One of the most prominent is THC, the compound that gives marijuana its intoxicating effects. THC affects your body so dramatically because it has a similar chemical structure to your natural endocannabinoids.
Therefore, it can bind with cannabinoid receptors and trigger many of the same reactions. As well as the typical marijuana ‘high,’ THC is responsible for many of weed’s medical benefits. However, when you take it in excessive doses, it can also have some negative side effects.
Why Does Cannabis Make Your Heart Race?
When THC from cannabis binds with your cannabinoid receptors, it affects many of your biological systems, including your heart. It causes your heart to pump harder and faster, as well as making the blood vessels dilate. THC also acts independently of the ECS and affects a system called the transient receptor ankyrin type-1 (TRPA-1) channel. This causes further vasodilatory effects.
Under normal circumstances, a healthy person should have a resting heart rate of 60–100 beats per minute. However, after smoking weed, this can increase by 20–100%. Furthermore, these effects may last for as long as 2–3 hours.
It is unclear exactly why marijuana makes your heart race in this way. However, scientists believe that it could be a result of excessive vasodilation. During vasodilation, the blood vessels become wider and, therefore, blood pressure decreases. In response, the heart beats faster to compensate. This phenomenon is known as reflex tachycardia.
The fact that cannabis dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure also causes some people to feel dizzy or faint after smoking weed.
The good news for cannabis users is that these effects quickly wear off once you build up a tolerance. Research shows that people who smoke weed regularly (six or more times weekly) are less likely to experience these effects.
In fact, frequent users may have lower than average heart rates and increased blood volume. Also, their circulatory systems may be affected less by physical exercise. This is likely due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which we associate with rest and relaxation.
Does Marijuana Increase Heart Attack Risk?
Some studies have suggested that marijuana could increase your risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks. Data collected by the French Addictovigilance Network between 2006 and 2010 indicate that 1.8% of cannabis-related adverse effects involve the cardiovascular system. The issues mainly affected men (85.7%) with an average age of 34.3 years.
These events included 22 cardiac, 10 peripheral vascular, and 3 cerebrovascular complications. In 9 cases (25.6%), these complications were fatal.
There have been several other reports of heart attacks in otherwise healthy people after smoking cannabis. Some figures estimate that the risk of heart attack is increased 4.8 times within the first hour after smoking weed. The risk is higher with strenuous physical activity or the use of other substances such as ecstasy/MDMA.
Although the risk is still relatively low for people without pre-existing heart problems, it could be significant for those with cardiovascular disease. Therefore, if you have heart disease or other risk factors for heart attacks, you may be better off avoiding cannabis. Talk to your healthcare provider about what alternatives are available to you.
In addition to increasing the risk of heart attacks, marijuana may contribute to conditions like angina, strokes, and atrial fibrillation. People who suffer from cardiovascular diseases are more likely to experience chest pain after using cannabis and should exercise caution.
If you have smoked cannabis and suffer from severe chest pain, seek medical attention immediately. This is especially important if you also experience breathing difficulties, weakness, or pain in the jaw, shoulder, back, or arms.
Benefits of Cannabis for Heart Health
While marijuana has the potential to impact your cardiovascular system negatively, it could have some potential benefits, too. For example, CBD, another chemical in cannabis, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It interacts with CB2 receptors in the ECS to dampen the inflammatory response. Inflammation is often a contributing factor in heart disease and, therefore, reducing it could offer some protection.
Research has also shown that CBD might help with addictive behavior, including tobacco smoking. Since smoking cigarettes is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, stopping could have obvious benefits.
Finally, there is some evidence that regular cannabis users have lower rates of obesity and diabetes. These are two conditions that experts frequently link with chronic inflammation and heart disease.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to cannabis and your heart. However, if you have a heart condition or other risk factors, it is advisable to exercise caution.
Why Does Marijuana Make Your Heart Race? Final Thoughts
Marijuana can influence many of your body’s systems through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. This includes increasing heart rate and reducing blood pressure. However, these effects become less significant as you build a tolerance to THC.
There is no doubt that having a racing heart can be scary when you’re high. This is especially true when you are not expecting it and it hits you out of the blue. One thing to remember is that marijuana can also make you anxious if you take a high dose. Anxiety can contribute to symptoms such as a racing or pounding heart, and palpitations.
Therefore, you can reduce the likelihood of these side effects occurring by starting low and slow. You can then increase your dose slowly over time until you find a level that suits you. It is also advisable to only use cannabis in a safe and familiar environment with people you trust. This will reduce the chance of anxiety attacks and their accompanying symptoms.
If you do experience a racing heart after smoking weed, try to stay calm. Sit down in a quiet place, take slow and steady breaths, and stay hydrated by sipping water. After a short time, these side effects should subside, allowing you to relax and enjoy your high.
However, if they do persist or if you experience chest pain alongside other symptoms, see a physician immediately. This will allow you to rule out more serious complications and should help to put your mind at ease.