Can marijuana alleviate symptoms of heart failure or could it make it worse? A growing number of states in the US have legalized potty for medical or recreational purposes, but some experts say it may not be wise or even safe to use if you have heart failure.
“The more I’ve learned in recent years, the more information suggests the potential for harm rather than benefit,” says Ersilia DeFilippis, MD, a cardiology researcher at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. “While we are still learning more, we believe that marijuana can affect the heart in a similar way to cigarettes and that it can interact with certain medications.”
But the potty may offer limited benefits for patients with heart failure, says Larry Allen, MD, medical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“We would say that regular cannabis use probably has more cardiovascular drawbacks than benefits, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits and that there aren’t situations where it may be appropriate, ”he says.
Symptoms that marijuana could help with
Part of the cannabis plant family, marijuana is typically smoked or consumed. The two main compounds it contains are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s the THC that gives you a “high,” Allen explains. CBD extract is available on its own in many over-the-counter products.
First legalized in California in 1996 for medical purposes, pot is now legal for adults in nearly a dozen U.S. states and approved only for medical purposes in 36 states. Some of the drug’s proven benefits for other health conditions may also be of interest to people with certain symptoms of heart failure, Allen says.
“I meet patients who use cannabis for medical purposes to help control pain and anxiety,” says Allen, co-author of the American Heart Association’s statement on all cannabis products. But some people also tell him that it helps relieve the discomfort associated with chronic swelling of the stomach or legs, a common symptom of heart failure.
“Patients with severe heart failure can also develop poor appetite and cardiac cachexia,” or severe weight loss and muscle wasting, he says. “Some of these patients have said that marijuana helps them with nausea and appetite.”
But Allen and DeFilippis warn that studies haven’t proven that marijuana can alleviate these signs of heart failure.
“There is no data to suggest that marijuana use directly helps alleviate the symptoms of heart failure,” says DeFilippis. “Perhaps at the individual level, people feel a perceived advantage, but there is no evidence to suggest that on a large scale.”
How marijuana can hurt
In fact, marijuana could make heart failure worse in a number of ways, experts say. It could:
- Narrow arteries. Like smoking cigarettes and vaping, smoking marijuana can narrow the blood vessels around the heart, making it more difficult to pump. “My patients are surprised to hear this because I think it’s something that doesn’t get much publicity,” DeFilippis says.
- Lower pumping capacity. Some animal research suggests that cannabis may reduce the heart’s ability to contract or pump. “We’ve seen cases where people start off with normal heart function, but with cannabis use,” they have heart problems that add to or worsen the heart failure, says DeFilippis.
- Worsen an irregular heartbeat. If your heart is already out of beat, marijuana can make it even more unstable.
- Increase blood pressure.High blood pressure is already a problem for many people with heart failure, and potty use can increase it further. “It can make managing heart failure more difficult,” says Allen.
When you use marijuana, your liver breaks it down. But the pot can affect enzymes, which your liver makes to help process the medicines you take for heart failure. This means that the drugs can leave your body faster or slower than they should, Allen says.
“It can upset the balance of drugs in the body that should be there,” he says.
Heart failure medications that may be affected include:
- Beta-blockers to lower heart rate and blood pressure
to lower cholesterol
- Nitrates to relieve chronic chest pain
- Certain anticoagulants to prevent coagulation
- Calcium channel blockers open up the arteries and make it easier for the heart to pump blood
- Immunosuppressants to help prevent rejection in people who have had a heart transplant
Allen notes that excessive marijuana use can also affect your ability to stay on medications and stick to healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising and eating well. “Any drug like marijuana clearly needs to be used responsibly,” he says, “and almost always excessive use can cause health problems.”
Global heart risks
Cannabis products offer no overall heart health benefits, according to the American Heart Association scientific statement. The association concluded that marijuana may be linked to a higher risk of heart failure or a rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, as well as a higher likelihood of a heart attack.
But more research into the health effects of pot is needed, say Allen and DeFilippis. Because the US government still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, it is difficult for scientists to do in-depth studies.
“A lot of things are unknown regarding its health effects. There isn’t a lot of great clinical research in humans that says exactly what this is, ”says Allen. “But in general, the recommendation is that cannabis use probably has more downsides than benefits.”
One of the benefits is that the increasing legalization of marijuana is leading more people with heart failure and other conditions to be open to its use, he says.
If you have heart failure and smoke or eat marijuana, ask your doctor what to look out for. If you are just thinking of trying it to relieve some symptoms of your condition, see your doctor first.
“It has become more common to argue,” says Allen, “and overall I think it’s good if people feel better talking to their health care providers because there can be some effects. positives and negatives ”of cannabis use in heart failure.