Is Marijuana Bad For Your Heart?
All substances have the potential to cause side effects, including cannabis. Those side effects vary widely depending on the strain used, amount consumed, and the individual.
One important fact to consider when discussing how marijuana affects the heart is that side effects vary depending upon the specific strain used. Additionally, every individual can react differently to a strain.
Short-Term Cardiac Side Effects of Cannabis
In the short-term, marijuana increases the heart rate and dilates, or opens, the blood vessels. In new users, the heart begins pumping harder and blood pressure increases, similar to the way it increases during exercise.
New Cannabis Users Might Experience These Cardiac Side Effects:
- Increased heart rate
- Dilation of blood vessels
- Increased blood pressure
- Sudden decrease in blood pressure when changing body positions
Later (possibly as a result of the dilation of blood vessels), the blood pressure of the user decreases.
Cannabis can also cause orthostatic hypotension which means your blood pressure suddenly drops when your body changes positions. This can cause dizziness and put patients with balance issues at an increased risk for falls.
When patients continue to use marijuana regularly their tolerance increases and these cardiac side effects usually lessen.
Cannabis and Chest Pain
Some studies suggest that people who have smoked cannabis recently might develop chest pain during exercise more quickly than people who did not smoke cannabis.
Cardiac Patients Should Use Caution
For most healthy individuals, the cardiac side effects of marijuana are insignificant.
However, if your healthcare provider has advised you not to exercise and/or not to have sex because of heart issues, you should also avoid initiating cannabis use during that time.
Cardiac patients who choose cannabis should monitor their blood pressure and heart rate regularly. They should only use cannabis under the careful guidance of an experienced healthcare provider.
You should also know, cannabis is being explored as a possible treatment for cardiac issues like arrhythmia and heart failure. Unfortunately, much research is still needed.
Cannabis & Stress Cardiomyopathy
A November 2016 study linked cannabis use to stress cardiomyopathy.
Stress cardiomyopathy can occur from several causes. Things that can cause stress cardiomyopathy include the physical stress of illness or injury, ingested substances, and even emotional stress.
Ever hear of someone dying from a broken heart? This is a real occurance–emotional grief can actually cause stress cardiomyopathy.
Cannabis might increase the risk of developing stress cardiomyopathy.
Stress cardiomyopathy is a sudden weakening of the heart that feels similar to a heart attack and in extreme cases can result in cardiac arrest and death.
Some of the limited research available suggests cannabis may have long-term health effects. At the same time, other studies do not show any significant long-term health effects related to cannabis.
Again, the research into this subject is very limited.
Long-Term Cardiac Side-Effects of Cannabis
One thing we know for sure is smoke–no matter whether it’s from cannabis or another source–can cause long-term damage to cardiac muscles.
Cannabis & Cardiac Effects: What Colorado Tells Us
If we look at states that have already legalized cannabis, we can get a better idea of how it might affect the health of the population as a whole. For example, let’s look at Colorado where cannabis became legal and widely available in 2014.
Statistics show NO significant increase in heart disease, strokes, or deaths related to heart disease or strokes, since legalizing cannabis.
According to the American Heart Association, in 2013, 3% of adults in Colorado were told by their health care provider they had angina or coronary artery disease. In 2017, the same figure was nearly identical at 3.1%.
The pattern continues when we look at the deaths related to heart disease or stroke in Colorado.
In 2013, the American Heart Association reported that 19.9% of deaths were from heart disease and 5% from stroke.
In 2015, after cannabis became widely available, those numbers only increased slightly to 19.3% of deaths from heart disease and 5.1% from stroke.
Other Things Associated with Cardiac Risks
- NSAIDS, like Advil and ibuprofen, increase the risk of heart attack.
- Caffeine has been repeatedly implicated in deaths related to cardiac issues.
- Cholesterol is proven to increase cardiac risks, yet people keep going to McDonald’s.
- Obesity increases the risks of cardiac effects drastically.
- Opiates are suspected to have long-term cardiac side-effects.
Limitations of Cannabis Research
Why is research about cannabis so limited?
This is directly related to FDA’s classification of cannabis. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I substance and because of this, there are many barriers to studying it.
The application process is complex and expensive. If the researchers do manage to win all the permits and official approvals required, the products available for scientific study are low-quality.
Some studies available are reviews of questionnaires from various patient populations. The challenges of this are these surveys were conducted in unfriendly legal environments. The negative legal associations and the stigma skew results as many participants do not answer 100% honestly.
Secondly, the surveys completed have limited information available. Many of questionnaires simply ask, “have you ever used cannabis?”.
Trying cannabis once is vastly different than being a regular user. In addition, these studies don’t separate smoking cannabis from other methods of consumption.
Conclusion: Cardiac Patients Use Caution
More research is needed to better determine the long-term effects cannabis has on the circulatory system. Patients who are at an increased risk for heart issues should use recreational cannabis with caution.
Cardiac patients who choose to use cannabis should monitor their blood pressure and heart rates regularly and do so under the care of an experienced health care provider.
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