Heart palpitations are a scary but common side effect of consuming cannabis. Read on for what to expect and how to deal with this symptom. Marijuana is legal for medical use in more than half of the U.S. states. Although the cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years, reliable scientific research on its medical benefits and potential risks has lagged behind.
Does CBD Oil Raise Your Heart Rate
A racing heart is a scary but common side effect of consuming cannabis. This is due to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound responsible for the plant’s euphoric high. But people who consume cannabidiol (CBD) products such as tinctures have also reported heart palpitations, even though these products contain very little or no THC.
Can CBD cause the heart to pound like THC does? Research reveals that this cannabis compound doesn’t negatively affect your heart rate or blood pressure, but scientists are still working to unravel the complex relationship between cannabis and the heart.
How Cannabis Affects the Cardiovascular System
The heart is the most visible member of the cardiovascular system—a sprawling network of veins and arteries that carry nutrient-rich blood to all parts of the body.
The cardiovascular system is also intertwined with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a rich network of cell receptors that natural cannabinoids produced by the body, called endocannabinoids, and cannabinoids from outside sources, mainly the cannabis plant, can activate. The ECS works with many other subsystems and processes to support homeostasis, or balance, which is necessary for good health.
Lipid molecules in the cell membranes of the heart and other cardiovascular tissues create these endocannabinoids.
Learning About CB1 and CB2
Endocannabinoids bind to ECS receptors, called CB1 and CB2, throughout the body and brain to support the immune system and regulate many other essential functions—and so do cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. This is why cannabis can have such a wide range of effects.
But the action of the CB1 and CB2 receptors isn’t always positive. And these receptors can behave in different ways in the presence of various cannabis compounds and terpenes. This can make it difficult to determine whether compounds like CBD and THC are actually helpful or harmful in certain situations.
For example, some studies suggest that people who consume whole-plant cannabis have a higher risk of heart disease than the rest of the population. And for all consumers, the risk of a heart attack increases fivefold within an hour of taking cannabis; the risk of a stroke quadruples in that same time period.
On the other hand, taking cannabis can increase the survival rate after a stroke or heart attack and reduce the risk of a potentially serious condition called atrial fibrillation in people who already have heart failure.
How Can Cannabis Cause Heart Palpitations?
When cannabis causes negative effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, THC is the reason.
After consuming a cannabis product that contains THC, some people experience a sudden, rapid heartbeat—an increase of up to 50 beats per minute. This is because THC causes blood vessels to relax and open, which can make blood pressure drop. This forces the heart to beat faster just to keep the usual amount of blood flowing.
A speeding heartbeat after taking marijuana isn’t generally a cause for concern in healthy people, but it can be risky for people who already have some kind of heart or cardiovascular condition.
CBD doesn’t affect the heart and cardiovascular system in the same way, though. It’s a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that works not only with ECS receptors, but also with other systems and processes to support healing and relieve pain.
CBD can also soften the effects of THC by blocking its action on the CB1 receptor. And this provides some protection from THC’s negative effects such as:
- Rapid heartbeat
A number of studies over the past decade or so have investigated the effects of CBD on various physiological processes. Researchers have concluded that although individual responses to CBD can vary, CBD-only products don’t cause changes in the cardiovascular system, including blood pressure and heart rate.
Is There A Connection Between CBD & Heart Palpitations?
So, why would someone have heart flutters after taking CBD? One widely disputed study
hypothesized that the reason people taking CBD can have THC-like symptoms is that gastric fluids found in the stomach could actually convert CBD into THC. When this happens, researchers said, THC could enter the bloodstream and affect the body in the same way as THC from cannabis could.
But the 2016 study didn’t use real gastric juices, only an analog—a substance that resembles gastric juices—that scientists use in labs to determine how fast medications could dissolve in the stomach. And the study’s researchers found that under those circumstances, the molecules in CBD did in fact break down into THC.
But later research contradicts their claim that CBD can convert to THC in the stomach. Numerous studies have shown that in natural digestive juices—such as when a person consumes a CBD-infused edible—CBD remains CBD and no traces of THC can be found.
These studies conclude that there’s no evidence that CBD can change into THC in either humans or animals, so there’s no need to worry that taking CBD may cause THC-like effects.
But solving the mystery of having heart palpitations after taking CBD products may take some detective work. Consuming other products that affect heart rate, such as caffeine, at the same time may play a role—so could certain medications.
The Answer Isn’t One Size Fits All
It’s also important to remember that CBD can affect people in different ways, and different products can have their own distinct effects. For example, tinctures enter the body quickly through the mucus membranes in the mouth, while edibles take much longer to work their way through the digestive system and into the bloodstream.
The relationship between CBD and the cardiovascular system is complicated, and scientists are still working to understand it. But the expanding body of research we have tells us that CBD in all its forms has powers to help, not harm, the heart.
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Marijuana and heart health: What you need to know
Access to marijuana is growing, but marijuana benefits and its risks have not been carefully studied.
In many states in this country, you can legally use marijuana. Smoking is the fastest way to feel the effects of marijuana, which is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Yet marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke — a known contributor to heart disease as well as cancer.
Marijuana cultivation and use dates back some 6,000 years. However, the cardiovascular and other health effects of cannabis aren’t well studied. That’s partly because under federal law, cannabis is a Schedule I substance, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That designation places numerous restrictions on researchers, making it difficult to carry out rigorous research on marijuana.
As a result, everything we’re told about what marijuana does or doesn’t do should be viewed with a certain amount of caution. This holds equally true for the risks as well as the benefits.
Pot and pain
Some of the evidence supporting the medical use of marijuana is marijuana’s benefits for managing chronic pain. Cannabinoid compounds (see “Cannabis 101”) interact with receptors in nerve cells to slow down pain impulses and ease discomfort. Cannabinoids also have been shown to be effective in quelling nausea and vomiting. In addition, marijuana is a powerful appetite inducer. The combination of these attributes makes marijuana a therapeutic option for people coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and others who have unintended weight loss. However, in conditions where gaining extra weight might exacerbate existing health problems, such as diabetes, appetite stimulation would be counterproductive.
One of the few things scientists know for sure about marijuana and cardiovascular health is that people with established heart disease who are under stress develop chest pain more quickly if they have been smoking marijuana than they would have otherwise. This is because of complex effects cannabinoids have on the cardiovascular system, including raising resting heart rate, dilating blood vessels, and making the heart pump harder. Research suggests that the risk of heart attack is several times higher in the hour after smoking marijuana than it would be normally.
While this does not pose a significant threat to people who have minimal cardiovascular risk, it should be a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease. Although the evidence is weaker, there are also links to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation or ischemic stroke immediately following marijuana use. Consistent with these links, studies also suggest that marijuana smoking may increase the long-term death rate among heart attack survivors.
Questions remain on marijuana’s benefits and risks
Most of the evidence linking marijuana to heart attack and stroke is based on reports from people who smoked it. So, it’s hard to separate the effects of cannabinoid compounds on the cardiovascular system from the hazards posed by the irritants and carcinogens contained in the smoke. Because cannabis smoke is known to cause airway inflammation, wheezing, and chest tightness, people with lung diseases should not smoke it. People with mental health disorders or at risk of addiction should carefully consider the potential harms prior to using marijuana.
The cannabis plant contains more than 100 unique chemical components classified as cannabinoids. These are the active ingredients that bind to specific receptors in the brain and other parts of the body. The two most prevalent types are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is primarily responsible for the mind-altering properties sought out by recreational users, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychoactive effect.
The magnitude of marijuana’s psychoactive effect depends on the THC level in the particular strain of plant, which parts of the plant are used, and the route through which the drug enters the body. Legalization in many states has led to the breeding of strains that are three to seven times more potent than those available three decades ago.
The impact of smoked or inhaled marijuana is generally felt within a few minutes and lasts two to four hours. Marijuana ingested in food or beverages kicks in more slowly and lasts longer.