Cannabis’ Effects on the Heart and Cardiovascular System


         As more government agencies continue to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, it is becoming more and more prevalent in groups of individuals who suffer from a variety of health concerns.1 The parts of cannabis that help these individuals are called Cannabinoids, but most people know them as THC and CBD. These cannabinoids have been around in nature for a long time, but recently scientists have discovered a method of making synthetic THC and CBD. With all this time that humans have been consuming cannabis, many are surprised to find out that very little is known about its medical benefits or side-effects.1 There are many questions to be answered, and there is quite a long road of research left before anyone can say for sure the answers of those questions. The most important question to be asked must be is it medically safe to use cannabis? A few cardiology studies regarding the effects of cannabis on the heart and the results are varied. The following information is based on a case review of studies on cannabis research from 1970 until 2019.1

            As many heavy users of cannabis can attest, one of the most common side-effects of using cannabis is a big increase in heart rate. This is usually followed by feeling sweaty, sometimes nausea, and a heightened ability to laugh. Researchers are still trying to find the exact reason why cannabis has such a large effect on heart rate, but they believe the reason why its so hard to pin down is because cannabis is such a complex drug1. There are hundreds of different strains of marijuana, and each of them have a variety of side-effects and benefits. What scientists do know is that individuals who suffer from atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat) may experience some benefits from consuming cannabis1. They have shown to have more regulated heart beats and helps the pumping of blood. It was also found that these individuals had a lower chance of having blood clots, heart failure, or a stroke if they regularly consume cannabis. Though these studies had promising results for their participants, further research needs to be done, because cannabis use can also have negative effects on the heart.1

            Coronary artery disease is when the blood vessels closest to the heart become diseased or damaged1. These blood vessels supply the heart with blood, nutrients, and oxygen. There has been evidence from researchers that show that individuals who suffer from coronary artery disease who consume cannabis are eight percent more likely to have a heart attack1. Cannabis was not the only possible cause of these heart attacks, as these individuals were male, obese, and used other recreational substances1. It was also found that a lot of those deaths were while consuming synthetic cannabis, so there are quite a lot of factors that need to be considered as well. In some cases, even having an autoimmune disease like HIV-infection while consuming cannabis can lead to having a higher risk of having a heart attack1. There has also been a recent study of adults under the age of 50 who have had at least one heart attack. Those researchers were surprised to find that 10 percent of the participants had at consumed either cannabis, cocaine, or both. However, there was not enough evidence to conclude whether those individuals heart attacks were caused by cannabis or cocaine, so it remains a mystery for now. 1

            Though it is quite clear that cannabis has some sort of effect on the heart, the degree to which the effects the heart is unclear. The good news is that as more governments legalize marijuana, the easier it will be for researchers to begin start filling in the gaps in our knowledge1. One recent found that cannabis use can be a preventative measure against developing diabetes later in life. The positive results are few, but they have shown to have a lower prevalence of the risk-factors of developing diabetes as well1.

References

(1) Rezkalla, S.; Kloner, R. A. Cardiovascular Effects of Marijuana. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine. Elsevier Inc. October 1, 2019, pp 403–407. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcm.2018.11.004.