Can Smoking Weed Increase Your Heart Rate or Blood Pressure?

It’s happened to even the most experienced cannabis consumers: Someone took a massive rip of some weed labeled “sativa,” a hit so big that it filled every microscopic lung sac with THC-laden smoke, and shortly after coughing it out, the daring toker began to experience paranoia. Sweat beaded across their forehead. And soon, they swore their heart was racing. 

But no one has ever died from smoking too much weed, right? Right.

Heart disease contributes to roughly a quarter of all deaths in the US. In 2017, roughly 2,800,000 Americans died from heart disease, making it the number one killer in the Land of the Free. (In case you’re wondering, cancer comes in second, and traffic fatalities rank third.) 

The science on whether cannabis harms or heals the cardiovascular system remains contentious and unresolved. After all, the legendary cannabis activist Jack Herer experienced four cardiovascular events over his lifetime: a heart attack and a stroke in 2000; another heart attack in 2009; and another heart attack in 2010, which took his life. So, did cannabis protect Herer through each of these events, or did it contribute to them? Or does it depend on who’s smoking and what they’re smoking?


Some Studies Say Cannabis Enhances Cardiovascular Health

Basically, some studies suggest that marijuana protects our heart and blood vessels, preventing hypertension, cardiac arrest, and even strokes. But other studies say just the opposite, that weed can ramp up the heart rate — and blood pressure — which could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Let’s first take a look at the research that suggests weed helps with heart rate, blood pressure, and protecting our blood vessels.

A 2013 review paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology looked at CBD’s, or cannabidiol’s, effects on the human cardiovascular system. According to his research, CBD could potentially treat diabetes and inflammation, two conditions that contribute to serious cardiovascular damage. CBD can also reduce stress, another major contributor to heart and blood issues. And the same guy who wrote this paper also looked at 2-AG — which could be considered the body’s natural version of CBD (the two are chemical analogs) — and found similar positive effects from the endocannabinoid as he found with CBD, a plant-derived cannabinoid. 

Another study from 2017 found that just a single dose of CBD could lower blood pressure. That could be good news for anyone living with hypertension.

THCV, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is another cannabinoid found in cannabis, but one that’s much rarer than either CBD or THC. THCV can suppress appetite, essentially making it the anti-munchies component of weed. Researchers also know that it regulates insulin activity — meaning it could treat or prevent diabetes, which, as noted above, is a major contributor to heart disease.  

But what about THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in cannabis that gets everyone lit? A 2008 study found that THC could prevent plaque buildup in arteries, the same plaques that cause heart attacks. But, as we’ll discuss below, THC could also be the thing in weed that worsens heart conditions, so let’s not get too excited about everyone’s favorite party molecule.

However, all-in-all, cannabis may not do much to help or harm the cardiovascular system. In 2018, researchers looked at 24 studies regarding heart health and marijuana use. The studies ranged from 1975 to 2017. After four individual reviewers graded the studies on legitimacy, they concluded that there wasn’t enough data to show that weed protected or damaged either the heart or the blood vessels. Does that settle the issue? Not really, but it does mean we need more research on this topic, which is currently being obstructed by the federal government’s stance on cannabis. 


Other Studies Say Cannabis Can Compromise Cardiovascular Health

OK, now for the not-so-fun portion of this discussion.

We know that THC can cause our blood vessels to loosen and expand through a process called vasodilation. Vasodilation is why some tokers’ eyes turn red after they get lifted. When the blood vessels dilate, blood pressure drops, which is usually a good thing, especially in people with high blood pressure. But the heart will adjust to lower blood pressure by pumping blood harder to make up for the pressure loss. Studies show that the heart can increase blood pressure by as much as 30 percent after someone gets lit, averaging 30 to 50 additional beats per minute. 

Furthermore, we can look at states with lax marijuana laws to glean further insight. If medical marijuana states have more people smoking pot within their borders than states under full prohibition, then we should see higher rates of heart disease in medical states, too, yeah? According to a 2018 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, medical states saw a 2.3 percent and a 1.3 percent increase in heart disease diagnoses among men and women, respectively, shortly after the passage of their medical marijuana laws. But, to be fair, it’s not accurate to compare the number of cannabis users in medical marijuana states to prohibition states, since there’s no way to track how many people consume cannabis in prohibition states. Plus, correlation does not imply causation. 

However, that 2018 study didn’t look at data after 2014, either, which is when Colorado and Washington started selling legal recreational weed. It’d be interesting to see how the data pans out now that 11 US states now have legalized commercial cannabis.

There are also studies that show that someone’s risk of heart attack is five times higher after smoking weed than when they’re sober. Another study found that regular cannabis consumers were four times more likely to suffer a stroke than non-consumers. Note that both of these studies only looked at pot smokers, and we know that smoking anything — whether cannabis or tobacco — exposes the user to smoke particles that can damage cells and DNA. It’s possible that regular consumption of non-smokable forms of cannabis, such as edibles, drinkables, tinctures, topicals, or vaporized products, may not contribute to heart disease. Or, some other factor such as stress (like stressing out over being arrested for smoking weed) could be higher in some weed smokers than in those who abstain from the plant.

Basically, if you’ve got heart issues, talk with a doctor before you pick up a bong or a vaporizer. And always keep track of how you’re feeling when you’re lit. If smoking a doob ain’t working out for you, try another, non-smokable form of cannabis. The science is still out on whether cannabis helps or hurts your heart, but one thing we know for sure is that weed alone will not kill you. 

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All the Benefits of Weed, Vol. 3: Cancer, Epilepsy, and Sexual Health

As we learned in the first two installments of this series, scientific research shows that weed does a body good — real good. In Volume 1, we explored cannabis’s effect on cognition, mental wellness, pain, bones and joints, as well as digestive and internal health. In Volume 2, we looked at the impact cannabis has on cardiovascular health, neurodegenerative diseases, migraines, and fibromyalgia. 

In Volume 3, we’ll look into how marijuana can affect patients dealing with cancer, asthma, liver disease, sexual difficulties, and other health issues.


The Answer to Cancer Is Weed

There are tons of studies looking at the plant’s ability to treat cancer. It may be the most studied aspect of cannabis. Last year, Israeli researchers announced that several weed extracts showed promise of fighting cancer. The research looked at 12 types of cancers and how different cannabis extracts impacted those cells. Although some of the extracts showed little or no effect on the growth of cancer cells, three (out of 12) showed a 37 to 51 percent reduction in tumor size. Extracts high in THC appear to be the most promising anti-cancer formulations.

A 2013 study found that when combinations of cannabinoids are used together, they can synergistically inhibit the growth of leukemia cells. Research published in 2006 also indicated that cannabinoids can hinder the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer in animals. 

An Italian study in 2011 looked at mice with colon cancer and found that CBD reduced polyps and tumors, and protected DNA from getting damaged by oxidation. In a 2015 study, CBD was also found to inhibit tumor growth in triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. And, in 2014, research demonstrated that THC and CBD could stop the growth of cells in glioma, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer. It’s worth noting that cannabinoids were particularly effective when combined with traditional radiation therapy treatments.

European research published in 2013 found that anandamide, the endocannabinoid analogous to THC, inhibited the growth of tumors in patients with melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Along with ingesting it, topical application is the best way to treat various forms of skin cancer.

Then, in 2015, an analysis of nearly 85,000 medical records revealed that weed use was associated with a 45-percent reduction in bladder cancer. This analysis only looked at men’s medical records, however. Moreover, a Spanish study published in 2009 found that a synthetic activator of the CB2 receptor stopped the growth of prostate cancer cells in mice.

So, we know that cannabis can be effective at fighting cancer cells and tumors. But, let us not forget another well-known benefit of weed for cancer patients: Its ability to relieve nausea and vomiting, two debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. It can also help stimulate cancer patients’ appetites, allowing them to eat food and restore their vitality.


Using Cannabis for Internal, Sexual, and Whole Body Health

The benefits of weed also extend into other aspects of internal health, too, from liver health and bladder wellness to treating eye conditions. In fact, cannabis is an ideal tool for achieving overall holistic health. For example, a study in 2011 shows CBD can induce the death of hepatic stellate cells, a major factor in the growth and development of liver fibrosis.

In 1976, a study found THC aerosol to be an effective bronchodilator, as it significantly improved lung function in patients with asthma. A lot of people argue that cannabis is bad for the lungs, but when used in the proper forms, it can potentially be very helpful.

A study in 2015 found that cannabinoids can reduce seizures in patients with epilepsy, particularly the forms that are resistant to traditional therapies. Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome are two of the most well-known forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy. Devastatingly, these illnesses mostly impact children, as most who have these horrific conditions usually don’t live into adulthood. But, there are a number of kids and families who live semi-normal lives thanks to cannabis’s impact on seizures. 

Another popular use of medical marijuana is treating glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. For decades, people with this eye condition have used cannabis to manage the painful symptoms. A study published in 2004 found that cannabinoids can be effective in reducing interocular pressure, which can range from annoying to debilitating pain for those with the condition. Cannabis, thankfully, is among few treatments that actually provide relief.


Cannabis Can Treat Diseases and Improve Your Sexual Health

The health benefits of weed also extend into sexual wellness. Research shows that cannabis use can lead to an initial increase in libido for men. Although, it should be noted that chronic use can actually lead to a decrease in libido. So, keep that in mind before you get too stoned to bone.

Other potential medical uses of cannabis include the treatment of infectious diseases such as malaria and herpes

Although this article series has listed many of the studies exploring the health benefits of weed, it is by no means exhaustive. There have been tens of thousands of scientific papers written on the subject, and more research — spurred by the spread of legalization — is coming. And we need it, particularly human trials. That’s when we’ll start seeing hard data about all the benefits of weed.

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Canada Will Let Terminally Ill Patients Use Psychedelic Mushrooms For End-Of-Life Care

Four cancer patients in end-of-life care will be become the first people in decades to legally possess and consume psilocybin mushrooms in Canada after a landmark decision Tuesday by the country’s minister of health.

The patients petitioned Health Minister Patty Hajdu back in April for exemptions from the country’s laws against psilocybin in order to use psychedelic mushrooms as part of psychotherapy treatment. On Tuesday afternoon, Hajdu officially granted the patients’ request, the nonprofit TheraPsil, which assisted with the application, announced.

The approvals mark the first publicly-known individuals to receive a legal exemption from the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act to access psychedelic therapy, Therapsil said, and the first medical patients to legally use psilocybin since the compound became illegal in Canada in 1974.

“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing,” one of the patients, Thomas Hartle, said in a statement Tuesday.

The applicants, as well as various advocates for psychedelic therapy, had personally appealed to Hajdu via a concerted social media campaign during the months their applications were pending.

“Health Canada is committed to carefully and thoroughly reviewing each request for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to the health and safety of Canadians,” a government spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email. “These exemptions do not change the fact that the sale and possession of magic mushrooms remain illegal in Canada.”

In statements issued Tuesday, other patients thanked Hajdu and said they were optimistic that more patients will one day have safe, legal access to psilocybin for therapeutic use.

“I want to thank the Health Minister and Health Canada for approving my request for psilocybin use. The acknowledgement of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result,” said Laurie Brooks, an applicant from British Columbia. “I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.”

TheraPsil said on Tuesday that it expects more people to petition the government for exemptions following the first four patients’ approval. A separate request by the nonprofit to allow therapists to use psychedelics themselves in preparation for treating patients with psilocybin was not addressed in Tuesday’s announcement, the group said.

The government, in its statement to Marijuana Moment, said that the use of “magic mushrooms also comes with risks, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, flashbacks and bad trips that may lead to risk-taking behaviour, traumatic injuries and even death.”

All of the four patients who received the new exemptions have been diagnosed with untreatable cancer. Therapists who use psychedelics in their practices say that psilocybin-aided therapy sessions can help patients deal with issues such as depression and anxiety, allowing them to better accept death as a natural part of existence.

“At this point psilocybin is a reasonable medical choice for these individuals,” TheraPsil’s executive director, Spencer Hawkswell, told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month. “This is about the minister being compassionate and using her ministerial abilities to help give patients access to something that’s going to help them.”

The therapeutic potential of psychedelics has attracted attention in recent years from a growing number of academics, policy makers and even the U.S. government. In September of last year, Johns Hopkins University announced the launch of the nation’s first-ever psychedelic research center, a $17-million project to study whether psychedelics can treat conditions such as opioid use disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In June, the University of North Carolina (UNC) announced a $27 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to research and develop an entirely new class of psychedelics-inspired drugs. The program, UNC said, “aims to create new medications to effectively and rapidly treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse without major side effects.”

Meanwhile, activists in the United States have advocated for state- and local-level reforms to research, decriminalize and in some cases even legalize psychedelics.

In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to enact such a reform, with voters approving a measure that effectively decriminalized psilocybin possession. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. In January of this year, the City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities.

Reformers are pushing for similar changes in other jurisdictions. A proposal in Washington, D.C. would allow voters to decide this fall whether to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine. A decision on whether that initiative will make the ballot is expected later this week. In Oregon, voters in November will consider a measure that would decriminalize all drugs and expand access to treatment. A separate Oregon proposal would legalize psilocybin therapy—the same therapy sought by the Canadian cancer patients.

Lawmakers in Hawaii earlier this year approved a plan to study psilocybin mushrooms’ medical applications with the goal of eventually legalizing access.