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Marijuana made my heart pound

I recently smoked marijuana, and while I was stoned, my heart pounded rapidly. Is this a normal effect of the drug, an allergic reaction, or something else??

It’s hard to definitively determine what caused your heart to pound, but there are multiple possibilities. It might be that you experienced it as a common side effect of marijuana use. It’s also possible that your experience was due to feeling anxious, which could have been induced or exacerbated by marijuana use. Another reason for this is that your marijuana was laced with another substance which caused a sudden rapid heartbeat. Although allergic reactions to marijuana have been reported, a rapidly pounding heart hasn’t been one of the symptoms associated with this reaction. But regardless of what the cause is, a pounding heart isn’t something to be taken lightly. As such, if you have another similar experience, speaking with your health care provider can help determine the cause and help prevent future recurrences. Interested in “hashing” this out more? Keep on reading!

Before skipping a beat, it may be helpful to know what happens to your body when you smoke marijuana. When smoked, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can affect the body by inducing feelings of euphoria, heightening relaxation, increasing a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, altering senses and perceptions of time, or triggering anxiety, fear, or panic. However, it’s worth mentioning that not all “highs” are experienced the same way, as side effects may vary from person to person. They may also differ depending on how much marijuana a person has smoked or eaten and the type of marijuana being used. It’s possible that you experienced a common side effect that others don’t or may not experience to the same degree (to learn more, check out Moderate marijuana use and health effects?).

As alluded to earlier, the relationship between marijuana and anxiety can be complicated. Sometimes, people choose to use marijuana to help ease their anxiety. However, while marijuana helps some people relax, it may induce or exacerbate anxiety in others. For some people, the uncertainty surrounding their marijuana experience might cause them to develop symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, such as a racing heart. For others with generalized anxiety disorder, marijuana may encourage negative thinking which can also worsen their symptoms and lead to a racing heart. As such, if you suspect or know you have anxiety and are likely to experience similar uncomfortable reactions, you may choose to avoid using marijuana in the future.

While it’s possible that the marijuana itself made your heart pound, it might also be that the marijuana you smoked was mixed with another drug. Sometimes, marijuana is cut with hallucinogens (such as PCP) or other substances that may cause serious adverse effects. Some of these effects can include heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beating), chest pains, sudden high blood pressure, and heart attack. Keep in mind that unless you get marijuana from a regulated dispensary, it can be hard to know what you’re getting since there are many inconsistencies with drugs that aren’t legalized.

Regardless, a rapidly-pounding heart is to which you’ll want to pay attention. If you notice it happening under any other circumstances, especially if it begins to happen more frequently, speaking with your health care provider is strongly advised. Likewise, you may want to think about whether or not you’re interested in continuing to smoke marijuana and weigh the pros and cons of doing so now that you know a bit more about what may have contributed to your experiences.

Dear Alice, I recently smoked marijuana, and while I was stoned, my heart pounded rapidly. Is this a normal effect of the drug, an allergic reaction, or something else??

Marijuana and heart health: What you need to know

Access to marijuana is growing, but marijuana benefits and its risks have not been carefully studied.

Image: © UrosPoteko/Thinkstock

In many states in this country, you can legally use marijuana for a range of health benefits, including the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety, and nausea. Smoking is the fastest way to feel the effects of marijuana, which is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Yet marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke — a known contributor to heart disease as well as cancer.

Marijuana cultivation and use dates back some 6,000 years. However, the cardiovascular and other health effects of cannabis aren’t well studied. That’s partly because under federal law, cannabis is a Schedule I substance, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That designation places numerous restrictions on researchers, making it difficult to carry out rigorous research on marijuana.

“As a result, everything we’re told about what marijuana does or doesn’t do should be viewed with a certain amount of caution. This holds equally true for the risks as well as the benefits,” says Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Pot and pain

Some of the strongest evidence supporting the medical use of marijuana is marijuana’s benefits for managing chronic pain. Cannabinoid compounds (see “Cannabis 101”) interact with receptors in nerve cells to slow down pain impulses and ease discomfort. Cannabinoids also have been shown to be effective in quelling nausea and vomiting. In addition, marijuana is a powerful appetite inducer. The combination of these attributes makes marijuana a therapeutic option for people coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and others who are in danger of unintended weight loss. However, in conditions where gaining extra weight might exacerbate existing health problems, such as diabetes, appetite stimulation would be counterproductive.

Cardiovascular effects

One of the few things scientists know for sure about marijuana and cardiovascular health is that people with established heart disease who are under stress develop chest pain more quickly if they have been smoking marijuana than they would have otherwise. This is because of complex effects cannabinoids have on the cardiovascular system, including raising resting heart rate, dilating blood vessels, and making the heart pump harder. Research suggests that the risk of heart attack is several times higher in the hour after smoking marijuana than it would be normally. While this does not pose a significant threat to people who have minimal cardiovascular risk, it should be a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease. Although the evidence is weaker, there are also links to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation or ischemic stroke immediately following marijuana use. Consistent with these links, studies by Dr. Mukamal and colleagues also suggest that marijuana smoking may increase the long-term death rate among heart attack survivors.

Questions remain on marijuana’s benefits and risks

Most of the evidence linking marijuana to heart attack and stroke is based on reports from people who smoked it. So it’s hard to separate the effects of cannabinoid compounds on the cardiovascular system from the hazards posed by the irritants and carcinogens contained in the smoke. Because cannabis smoke is known to cause airway inflammation, wheezing, and chest tightness, people with lung diseases should not smoke it. Other people who should just say no to marijuana include those who may be vulnerable to developing schizophrenia or addiction.

Cannabis 101

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 unique chemical components classified as cannabinoids. These are the active ingredients that bind to specific receptors in the brain and other parts of the body. The two most prevalent types are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is primarily responsible for the mind-altering properties sought out by recreational users, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychoactive effect. Cannabidiol may actually work to offset the psychoactive properties of THC.

The magnitude of marijuana’s psychoactive effect depends on the THC level in the particular strain of plant, which parts of the plant are used, and the route through which the drug enters the body. Legalization in some states has led to the breeding of strains that are three to seven times more potent than those available three decades ago.

The impact of smoked or inhaled marijuana is generally felt within a few minutes and lasts two to four hours. Marijuana ingested in food or beverages kicks in more slowly and lasts longer.

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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