Cannabis and Heart Health Month: What You Need to Know

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Health and Wellness

heart health month

February is American Heart Month when we are all asked to slow down and take an inventory of lifestyle habits that may put us at a greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular disease problems.

This year in the United States, it is the 57th anniversary of American Heart Month. The focus is always to educate and promote awareness to reduce the fatalities that occur from heart disease and other chronic health conditions. Heart attack remains the leading cause of death among adult men and women in our Country.

American Heart Month began on Monday, February 5th, 2024. It is also the official “National Wear Red Day,” which is a special educational effort by the American Heart Association with the “Go Red for Women” initiative. Cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of death among women in the United States.

If you are a patient with a medical cannabis card, you may have wondered what, if any, impact cannabis has on your cardiovascular health. Or whether smoking marijuana is more harmful than marijuana use through other intake methods. So, let’s have a heart-to-heart talk about cannabis.

Heart attack and cannabis

How Does Cannabis Affect Your Heart?

We are still very much in the wild west of cannabis research. Because of longstanding obstacles faced by medical researchers, there isn’t a great deal of information about how cannabis can impact human health.

There is clinical information about the short-term effects of cannabis on the human body, but no longitudinal studies that look at the long-term risks of using cannabis on a regular basis. Whether medicinal or recreational marijuana use, cannabis can provide temporary therapeutic benefits for pain relief, anxiety, stress, and other debilitating symptoms.

Here are some of the things that medical professionals know about the effects of cannabis:

Acute Effects

The least concerning effects that cannabis can have on your heart are in this category. That is because acute effects refer to the immediate changes that happen to your body (and heart) after you have consumed cannabis.

Common acute effects caused by cannabis include temporary elevation of heart rate or tachycardia. It is described as temporary heart rhythm disturbances that can occur within minutes of consuming cannabis and last up to several hours. The degree of increase in heart rate caused by cannabis is mild to moderate for most people.

What happens when your heart rate increases is a rapid change in blood pressure or hypertension. This can cause your cardiac workload to increase substantially. For many people, this does not pose much of a risk. However, individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease or other issues are at a higher risk of a heart attack when the heart must work faster than a resting heart rate.

Cannabis causes vasodilation, which is a widening of the blood vessels. This can also contribute to a drop in blood pressure, which may help patients who suffer from chronic hypertension. Orthostatic hypotension can occur when people with low blood pressure stand up and can also cause adverse effects and an increased risk of injury.

Happy Hearts

Risks from Chronic Cannabis Use Disorder

All good things in moderation. While there is a prevailing myth that you cannot overdose on cannabis, it stems from a misconception of what an overdose event is actually like. Not all overdose emergencies are life-threatening. There is no data to suggest anyone has died from a cannabis overdose, where cannabis was the sole substance used.

However, you can overdose on cannabis and develop a cannabis use disorder or CUD. It is a condition that indicates cannabis dependence or addiction. Before some argue that you “cannot be addicted to cannabis,” the very definition of Substance Use Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) mentions cannabis.

Chronic cannabis use disorder is the frequent and often daily use of marijuana, and it is measured by how much cannabis is causing a disruption in obligations, responsibilities, recreation, as well as personal and professional relationships. Patients are also evaluated by the level of cravings they experience when they cannot use cannabis.

Because people diagnosed with cannabis use disorder (CUD) typically use higher potency marijuana products (due to escalating THC tolerance), the effects on the cardiovascular system may be far greater. The risk of heart attack or stroke increases in tandem with the potency and frequency of cannabis consumption.

Pre-Existing Cardiovascular Disease or Conditions

Patients who have pre-existing cardiovascular conditions have more risk factors when it comes to cannabis smoke and heart health implications. Cannabis healthcare providers would caution patients with heart conditions from using medical cannabis.

People living with coronary artery disease face an increased risk of triggering a myocardial infarction or angina after consuming cannabis. When the heart rate is increased, the stress on the heart also increases and may quickly escalate to a heart attack.

Previous experiences with heart attack and stroke may exponentially increase the risk factor for patients. That includes a history of arrhythmias or other types of heart conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension). Cannabis activates the sympathetic nervous system, and it’s a life-threatening situation for individuals with a history of cardiovascular system issues.

A large Danish study published in October 2022 correlated data from patients who were using medical marijuana for chronic pain. The conclusion of the study was: “In a nationwide cohort of patients with chronic pain, use of medical cannabis was associated with a 64% risk increase of arrhythmias compared with no use.”

Is It The Smoke or THC That Can Be Harmful To Your Heart?

Many people are informed about the risks associated with tobacco cigarette smoking. It took a long time for the medical community and government to realize that for all the great lifestyle advertisements about tobacco, there was nothing healthy about cigarette smoking.

Cannabis smoke has many of the same volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cigarette smoke has. There is a misconception that there are no health implications caused by marijuana smoke. In fact, marijuana smoke contains about 50% more benzoprene and 75% more benzanthracene (phenols, nitrosamines, vinyl chlorides, etc.) compared to tobacco cigarette smoke.

Ready for more bad news? If you are the type of person who likes to inhale (and then delay the exhale), you are allowing more of those bad chemicals in cannabis smoke to enter your lungs. Don’t hold your breath when using cannabis vape, flower, or concentrates.

If your cannabis healthcare provider mentions options like edibles, tinctures, or even low-THC cannabis capsules, it is a deliberate effort to help patients explore other intake methods. Smokable cannabis use may be popular, but it can have a negative impact on your heart.

Heart Disease Women USA

How Does THC Impact Your Heart?

That psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) loves to bind with our human cannabinoid receptors. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are located throughout the body, including inside the large beating cardiovascular engine in the middle.

When your heart meets THC, the following things can occur:

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Cannabis can act as a stimulant, and the first thing noticed after consuming cannabis is an accelerated heart rate. How exciting! That’s how you know it is working. An increase in heart rate and blood pressure (hypertension) can trigger a cardiac event, particularly for people who have a prior history of heart attack or stroke.

Vasodilation (Dropping Blood Pressure)

Hypotension is the opposite problem, where blood pressure drops rapidly, causing drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and sometimes unconsciousness. Low blood pressure is just as serious as hypertension and threatening to healthy heart functioning.

Cannabis can cause vasodilation, which is a widening of blood vessels. For people with hypertension, this can be a good thing. But for others, changes to pressure in the heart and blood vessels could trigger a heart attack.


Some studies have suggested that patients who use cannabis for a long period of time could have a higher risk of developing arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythm disturbances.

Increase in Myocardial Oxygen Demand

When your heart rate goes up, the myocardial demand for oxygen increases as muscle activity around the heart speeds up. Patients who have compromised coronary circulation or have developed coronary artery disease can be at risk of myocardial ischemia or angina.

The long answer is “Yes”. Cannabis use can have a negative impact on your heart. More research is needed to understand the risk factors related to frequency of use or cannabis potency and how it may impact cardiovascular health.

Healthcare providers suggest that non-smokable cannabis products are safer compared to combustible or vaporized medical marijuana. Discuss your best intake options with your MedWell Health and Wellness Centers cannabis healthcare providers.







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