Congenital Heart Disease and Marijuana: Is the Combo Dangerous?

The health benefits of cannabis are well known: we all hail the hemp for its ability to help a myriad of diseases, particularly those that involve inflammation. But what about its effects on the heart and, most specifically, on people with hearts that are already compromised?

Unfortunately, cannabis as it relates to cardiac conditions isn’t well researched (thanks, in part, to its Schedule I classification). Some studies, such as one published by the National Library of Medicine, found that congenital heart diseasemarijuana had the ability to increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, and increase forearm blood flow. Each of these actions increase oxygen demands and up the risk of a myocardial infraction. In fact, this research found that the annual risk of MI doubled for marijuana users, increasing from 1.5 percent to 3 percent.

Science Daily reports another study that found stress-related cardiomyopathy more common in marijuana smokers (also called Broken 80

Heart Syndrome, this occurs when part of the heart enlarges temporarily). However, other studies have found that marijuana doesn’t appear to influence mortality all that much. Even the scientists in the aforementioned studies concluded that more research is needed.

To play devil’s advocate, many of the cardiac ramifications of cannabis are seen in other things too:

Caffeine consumption increases blood pressure and heart rate and so does exercise, something we know is beneficial for the heart in the long run

This doesn’t mean people with risk factors for heart disease should jump at the chance to use weed; but it does mean the prohibitionists should refrain from jumping on the “Pot will kill you!” bandwagon. Individuals should always talk to their doctor to be safe.

Congenital Heart Disease and Marijuana

While not that much is known about the effect of cannabis on the normal cardiac system, less is known about how it impacts those born with heart defects or congenital heart disease.

According to Medline Plus, congenital heart disease is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of problems that affect the heart at birth; cardiac defects occur more than any other type of defect

There are a number of defects known to doctors, which some more serious than others. Some of the most common include Hypoplastic left heart, Ebstein’s anomaly, Tetralogy of Fallot, Atrial Septal Defect, Bicuspid Aortic Valve, Coarctation of the Aorta, Ventricular Septal Defect, and Patent Ductus Arteriosus.

Some children are born with one cardiac defect while others are born with multiple. Coarctation of the Aorta, for instance, often occurs with a Bicuspid Aortic Valve. Some defects are genetic in nature while others are seen in people who have other conditions such as Turner Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, and Down Syndrome. Many defects occur for no known reason.

The treatment of congenital heart disease depends on the specific problem and its severity. Some heart defects may never need repair, others can be treated with medication. But many require surgery, often multiple over the course of life.

Congenital heart disease is different from what most people know as heart disease. It’s not a disease dictated by any sort of lifestyle factor and instead involves hearts that are diseased from the beginning with structural deformities.

What the Cleveland Clinic Recommends

No doctor or clinic is likely to put forth a “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” approach to marijuana, but the Cleveland Clinic backs up their recommendations with the following four reasons to use caution if you’re already a heart patient:

Scientific Data is Scarce: There isn’t enough information available to know how marijuana really impacts the heart. They compare marijuana to licorice root and ephedra, unregulated substances found to have dangerous cardiac implications. They seem to err on the side of “If you don’t know, just say no.”

We Don’t Know What it Will do to the Heart: Studies show – as mentioned above – that marijuana use is associated with a faster heart rate and blood pressure fluctuations, two things implicated in heart attack and stroke.

We Don’t Know What It Will Do to the Lungs and Blood Vessels: Doctors concede that eating marijuana is safer than smoking it as smoke may scar and damage blood vessels. This leads to a higher risk of mini-stroke, a risk that is already high in heart patients. But doctors aren’t fully on the edibles bandwagon, stating that there’s too much uncertainty in regards to dosage.
While studies have linked marijuana to mental health conditions they haven’t proved causative. And, to make things that much more confusing, marijuana is also used to treat the anxious mind.

As the Cleveland Clinic demonstrates, caution is warranted because so much isn’t understood. This makes further research imperative: maybe in a few years, congenital heart patients will have a clearer “hell yes” or “hell no” picture.

But What About CBD?

CBD for heart diseaseMuch talk of the medicinal benefits of marijuana relates not to THC but to CBD and it’s here where heart patients get a bit of good news. According to the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, evidence suggests that CBD is beneficial to the cardiovascular system. CBD appears to influence the arteries by enhancing their ability to relax. It also appears to protect against vascular damage, inflammation, Type 2 diabetes, and ischemia-reperfusion damage of the tissues. It increases blood flow in animal stroke models and reduces the heart’s reaction to stress.

In regards to the blood, CBD helps white blood cells survive and migrate and aids platelet accumulation. Altogether, these factors support CBD as heart friendly. Still, like the others studies discussed, the research is limited and more is required.

Until that happens, speaking with a doctor is the best bet of anyone with an ailing heart. They may tell you to stay away from cannabis completely, limit yourself to CBD products, or that it’s unlikely to do much more than the daily coffee you most certainly will never give up. But talk to them, nonetheless. It’s the best way to assure your experience with cannabis is as safe as possible.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.