Consuming cannabis products doesn't have the same effects on the respiratory system as smoking it – but are edibles bad for your heart? One of the most common side effects of cannabis, a spike in heart rate, happens to be one of the scariest and can even turn new users off from the plant. 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 cannabis can make your heart race
For a healthy individual cannabis-induced tachycardia is usually harmless, and knowing more about what cannabis is doing to your body can make you feel better about the unpleasant feeling. (Shutterstock)
One of the most common unwanted side effects of cannabis, a spike in heart rate, also happens to be one of the most troublesome and can even turn new users off from the plant.
“If you don’t explain that it’s possible that you can have a little acceleration of the heart for maybe 5 or 10 minutes and that it’s nothing to worry about,” said Janosch Kratz, MD, on The Cannabis Enigma podcast, “he gets nervous and says, ‘oh God, why did I take this drug.’”
For a healthy individual cannabis-induced tachycardia is usually harmless, and knowing more about what cannabis is doing to your body can make you feel better about the unpleasant feeling.
So why can cannabis raise your heart rate? Is it dangerous? And what can you do about it? Let’s find out.
How cannabis affects your heart in general
Cannabis has a number of common side effects, ranging from mild ones such as red eyes, dry mouth, or the munchies, to potentially more unpleasant effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and short-term memory difficulties.
These side effects, and how cannabis affects the cardiovascular system, are related to how it modulates what is known as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system affects a wide range of bodily functions including hunger, pain, sleep, and energy, to name a few.
The major active chemicals in cannabis — cannabinoids — are able to trigger receptors that control the endocannabinoid system, modifying the function of those receptors and the connected systems, including the cardiovascular system.
“The interactions of the endocannabinoid system with the autonomic nervous system seem to be the driving force behind the reported cardiovascular adverse events [from cannabis],” wrote a group of researchers who recently reviewed years of cannabis studies 1 .
Why cannabis makes your heart race
The main culprit is widely-considered to be tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid also responsible for the high of marijuana. (Shutterstock
An increased or irregular heart rate, also known as tachycardia, can be a side effect of cannabis use. In fact, smoking cannabis can lead to a 20-100% increase in heart rate for a couple hours or more after consumption 2 . This is believed to be due to a widening of the blood vessels, which is also responsible for those red eyes people get after using cannabis.
In higher doses cannabis can also lead to a drop in blood pressure, resulting in dizziness and lightheadedness.
The main culprit for these effects of cannabis is widely-considered to be tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid also responsible for the high of marijuana.
One of the more oft-cited, albeit dated reports states that inhaling cannabis smoke and ingesting THC reliably increases the heart rate by 20-50% over baseline. A lab study carried out on rodents in 1985 further showed that THC significantly alters the levels of catecholamine — hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands and are responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response — in the bloodstream.
Research has also shown that as one’s tolerance to cannabis increases, the severity of side effects often decreases 3 . This means that side effects commonly seen with inhaled cannabis, including increased heart rate and reduced blood pressure, is not as common in regular users.
It should be noted that almost all studies on the risks of cannabis use are based on people who inhaled marijuana smoke, and that with more and more people now preferring other methods and types of cannabis, these risk assessments should be updated. In other words, like with some other cannabis side effects, the effect on heart rate can be partly attributed to the act of smoking itself 4 .
Could lower THC strains affect your heart rate less?
Since THC is often cited as being responsible for the increased heart rate after cannabis use, one might logically conclude that choosing lower-THC strains — or lower doses in general — would help mitigate it. It would also follow that eating edibles high in THC could produce the same side effects.
Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University of Medicine told NBC news in November, 2020 that he has spent 25 years studying the effects of marijuana and THC and that “in our studies on THC, we found a very robust increase in heart rate and an effect on blood pressure that can be quite profound.”
A 1988 trial found that women given very low-THC (1.8%) joints showed “statically significant increases in pulse rate,” and this increase was more pronounced and lasted longer for participants with a past history of intermittent marijuana use 5 . The trial did not include a control population given a lower dose of THC however.
The most well-known and common strains (more correctly referred to as “chemovars”), high in THC and low in cannabidiol (CBD) and often bred for a strong high and medicinal benefits, are increasingly referred to as Type I cannabis. Type II chemovars have more of a balance between CBD and THC, while Type III chemovars are CBD dominant with little-to-no THC.
All types of cannabis can be used therapeutically, but types II and III tend to allow for better control of THC doses and are often preferred by healthcare professionals due to the reduced risk of side effects. Type III cannabis, despite containing small amounts of THC, is generally considered non-intoxicating.
It is increasingly accepted that CBD, which doesn’t cause an intoxicating effect, can counteract some of the effects of THC. (Shutterstock)
What about CBD?
It is increasingly accepted that CBD, which doesn’t cause an intoxicating effect, can counteract some of the effects of THC 6 . This happens because CBD can actually modify THC binding with certain receptors of the endocannabinoid system.
In other words, using a strain that has less THC or more of a CBD-dominant profile, should — by virtue of containing less THC — produce a less powerful high, and may reduce the anxiety that can commonly accompany a THC high.
As far as the effects CBD itself has on the heart, a 2017 trial found that a single dose of CBD reduced resting blood pressure and helped mitigate stress-induced blood pressure and heart-rate increases 7 .
A 2013 comprehensive published in Frontiers in Psychology looked at CBD’s ability to offset the “adverse psychological effects of THC,” and concluded that “the few studies that exist on the effects of CBD show that this cannabinoid can counteract some of the negative effects of THC.”
Is sativa or indica worse for your heart rate?
It’s conventional wisdom in cannabis that sativa strains are upbeat and indica strains are mellow and likely to induce the “couch lock” sensation. Countless cannabis consumers use these characterizations to shape their consumption or purchasing decisions
Unfortunately, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support this notion of indica vs sativa as a method of distinguishing between the effects of different types of cannabis. While there are many factors at play in determining why a cannabis chemovar produces certain effects, calling them indica or sativa is not one.
What does matter is the cannabinoid profile of the chemovar (how much THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids) and its terpene makeup. The various terpenes in cannabis not only determine its flavor and aroma, but may also have a big impact on its effects, including how energetic or sedative the high is.
Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that this can be very individualistic. The right dose for one individual can be very different than the right dose for another person, and a strain that makes one person very upbeat and giggly could induce a couch-lock sensation for someone else. And while a specific strain may be very relaxing to one person, another user could experience anxiety or paranoia, but this would not indicate that this is a universally-experienced effect of the cannabis variety in question. The same could be true for increased heart rate.
Is cannabis dangerous for the heart?
If you are a young, healthy person with no history of cardiac illness, then you probably should not be overly concerned about the cardiovascular side effects of cannabis use.
A 2018 review of existing research into marijuana use and cardiovascular risk factors found that there is “insufficient” evidence about how marijuana affects cardiovascular risk factors including stroke and heart attack 8 . The researchers stated that the current literature on the matter is limited by “recall bias, inadequate exposure assessment, minimal marijuana exposure, and a predominance of low-risk cohorts.”
That doesn’t mean that there may not be cause for concern. In fact, there is a substantial amount of data to suggest cannabis may increase the risk of cardiac disease
Researchers in 2014 examined the reporting of cardiovascular complications related to cannabis use and found that they “indicate cannabis as a possible risk factor for cardiovascular disease in young adults.” 9 More recently, a 2017 review discussed “harmful effects of cannabis use including fatal cardiovascular events that could be related to cannabis use,” including but not limited to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a heightened risk of acute coronary events 10 .
Cardiac-related mortality data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System for 1990-2014 and showed a statistically significant increase of 2.4% in the rate of cardiac death among men following the passage of medical cannabis programs, as well as 1.3% increase among women 11 .
Other research has found that cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of cardiac dysrhythmia 12 , as well as non-fatal stroke, transient ischemic attack 13 , and acute myocardial infarction 14 . Importantly, cannabis users are more likely to be using tobacco products than non-cannabis users, which may contribute to these negative cardiac outcomes.
In general, if you are considering using cannabis, you may want to speak to your physician about the possible side effects, especially if you have a history of cardiovascular issues.
Can you do anything about increased heart rate from cannabis?
When it comes to cardiovascular health and cannabis, many of the same healthy lifestyle principles apply: Try to limit or cut out smoking as an intake method, exercise regularly, eat healthy, and try to get a full night’s sleep as often as possible.
If you find that you often get anxiety or your mind (along with your heart) races when you get high, then consider trying a lower-THC variety, or one that has more of an even balance between THC and CBD. This will help keep your THC dose lower and reduce the likelihood of a racing heart and racing mind.
And when those intense feelings strike, use some tried and true ways to bring your high down a little bit. First off, don’t panic. Remember that the high will wear off before too long, and this isn’t a permanent condition. Try to focus on your breathing, taking deep breaths to help you relax and bring your anxiety down. You can also try to find something funny on the TV, put on an album you love listening to, and when in doubt, raid the cupboard for snacks.
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.