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CBD for Heart Disease: Benefits, Side Effects, and Treatment

Can CBD help treat or prevent heart disease?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike the well-known cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is nonpsychoactive, meaning it won’t make you feel “high.”

Cannabinoids affect your endocannabinoid system, which works to keep the body in an even state, or homeostasis. When the body gets out of whack with inflammation or disease, CBD may give your endocannabinoid system a boost to do its job as a body regulator.

CBD has been getting a lot of buzz recently, showing up in products like oils, salves, gummies, and lotions. It’s been touted as a substance that can have a positive effect on conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, and even heart disease.

While some research and anecdotal evidence does show that CBD can have health benefits, the reality is that research on CBD is still in its infancy — there’s a lot we don’t know.

Furthermore, over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products aren’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The only condition CBD has been approved to treat is epilepsy, in the form of the drug Epidiolex.

So, given these caveats, should you try CBD if your goal is to treat or prevent heart disease? Read on to find out what the research says.

CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties may be able to reduce risk factors that can lead to heart disease, like high blood pressure. It may also be able to reduce the risk of related conditions, like stroke.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for hypertensive heart disease. Your blood pressure can rise under stress, but some research suggests a dose of CBD can lessen that spike.

In a 2009 study, rats were subjected to a stressful situation that caused their blood pressure and heart rate to increase. A dose of CBD lowered both their blood pressure and heart rate.

In a 2017 study, healthy human volunteers were subjected to stress and then given a dose of CBD. The CBD lowered their blood pressure, as compared to volunteers given a placebo.

So, while more research is needed to say for sure, CBD may be useful in lowering blood pressure and heart rate under stress.

However, a 2017 review of 25 studies found that there’s no evidence that CBD provides similar results under non-stressful conditions. Talk to your doctor before using CBD if you have high blood pressure.

Stroke

Heart disease increases your risk of stroke. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. A blood vessel in the brain can also burst, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.

A 2010 review found that CBD may help protect stroke patients from brain damage and even aid recovery by boosting brain function.

A 2017 review also concluded that CBD increased cerebral blood flow during a stroke. However, it’s important to note that these reviews focused on animal studies. More research is needed to determine whether these findings also apply to humans.

CBD comes in many forms, like edibles, oils and tinctures, and skin creams. Taking CBD sublingually, or putting it under your tongue, is an easy way to ingest it.

Sublingual products are safer than some other forms of CBD ingestion, like vaping. They also produce faster and stronger results than topical or edible products.

Since the FDA doesn’t regulate OTC CBD products, it’s extremely important to do your research before purchasing or taking them. You should also talk to your doctor before trying CBD.

Buy your product from a reputable source that sells organic, non-GMO CBD. You may want to check with your local pharmacist to see if they have a vetted product recommendation. If they don’t, look for a product that’s been independently tested by a third party. This information should be available on the product’s website or packaging.

Third-party testing will help you ensure that the product you’re taking is accurately labeled. This is important because, according to a 2017 study, only about 31 percent of products are accurately labeled regarding their CBD concentration. And they may be mislabeled regarding other cannabinoids like THC.

Always start out with a small dose of CBD if you choose to try it. Then, if you choose to increase, add to your dose slowly. A good rule of thumb is to try a very small dose when taking CBD for the first time or when switching to a new CBD product. Increase the dose by no more than 5 to 10 milligrams at a time — as long as you don’t have any negative side effects.

Buy CBD only from a reputable source that offers third-party testing. Start with a small dose and increase slowly until you reach your desired effect.

CBD may help protect your heart. This article reviews current research and describes how to use CBD.

HelloMD

A racing heart is a scary but common side effect of consuming cannabis. This is due to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound responsible for the plant’s euphoric high. But people who consume cannabidiol (CBD) products such as tinctures have also reported heart palpitations, even though these products contain very little or no THC.

Can CBD cause the heart to pound like THC does? Research reveals that this cannabis compound doesn’t negatively affect your heart rate or blood pressure, but scientists are still working to unravel the complex relationship between cannabis and the heart.

How Cannabis Affects the Cardiovascular System

The heart is the most visible member of the cardiovascular system—a sprawling network of veins and arteries that carry nutrient-rich blood to all parts of the body.

The cardiovascular system is also intertwined with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a rich network of cell receptors that natural cannabinoids produced by the body, called endocannabinoids, and cannabinoids from outside sources, mainly the cannabis plant, can activate. The ECS works with many other subsystems and processes to support homeostasis, or balance, which is necessary for good health.

Lipid molecules in the cell membranes of the heart and other cardiovascular tissues create these endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids bind to ECS receptors, called CB1 and CB2, throughout the body and brain to support the immune system and regulate many other essential functions—and so do cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. This is why cannabis can have such a wide range of effects.

But the action of the CB1 and CB2 receptors isn’t always positive. And these receptors can behave in different ways in the presence of various cannabis compounds and terpenes. This can make it difficult to determine whether compounds like CBD and THC are actually helpful or harmful in certain situations.

For example, some studies suggest that people who consume whole-plant cannabis have a higher risk of heart disease than the rest of the population. And for all consumers, the risk of a heart attack increases fivefold within an hour of taking cannabis; the risk of a stroke quadruples in that same time period.

On the other hand, taking cannabis can increase the survival rate after a stroke or heart attack and reduce the risk of a potentially serious condition called atrial fibrillation in people who already have heart failure.

How Can Cannabis Cause Heart Palpitations?

When cannabis causes negative effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, THC is the reason.

After consuming a cannabis product that contains THC, some people experience a sudden, rapid heartbeat—an increase of up to 50 beats per minute. This is because THC causes blood vessels to relax and open, which can make blood pressure drop. This forces the heart to beat faster just to keep the usual amount of blood flowing.

A speeding heartbeat after taking marijuana isn’t generally a cause for concern in healthy people, but it can be risky for people who already have some kind of heart or cardiovascular condition.

CBD doesn’t affect the heart and cardiovascular system in the same way, though. It’s a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that works not only with ECS receptors, but also with other systems and processes to support healing and relieve pain.

CBD can also soften the effects of THC by blocking its action on the CB1 receptor. And this provides some protection from THC’s negative effects such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid heartbeat

A number of studies over the past decade or so have investigated the effects of CBD on various physiological processes. Researchers have concluded that although individual responses to CBD can vary, CBD-only products don’t cause changes in the cardiovascular system, including blood pressure and heart rate.

Is There A Connection Between CBD & Heart Palpitations?

So, why would someone have heart flutters after taking CBD? One widely disputed study hypothesized that the reason people taking CBD can have THC-like symptoms is that gastric fluids found in the stomach could actually convert CBD into THC. When this happens, researchers said, THC could enter the bloodstream and affect the body in the same way as THC from cannabis could.

But the 2016 study didn’t use real gastric juices, only an analog—a substance that resembles gastric juices—that scientists use in labs to determine how fast medications could dissolve in the stomach. And the study’s researchers found that under those circumstances, the molecules in CBD did in fact break down into THC.

But later research contradicts their claim that CBD can convert to THC in the stomach. Numerous studies have shown that in natural digestive juices—such as when a person consumes a CBD-infused edible—CBD remains CBD and no traces of THC can be found.

These studies conclude that there’s no evidence that CBD can change into THC in either humans or animals, so there’s no need to worry that taking CBD may cause THC-like effects.

But solving the mystery of having heart palpitations after taking CBD products may take some detective work. Consuming other products that affect heart rate, such as caffeine, at the same time may play a role—so could certain medications.

It’s also important to remember that CBD can affect people in different ways, and different products can have their own distinct effects. For example, tinctures enter the body quickly through the mucus membranes in the mouth, while edibles take much longer to work their way through the digestive system and into the bloodstream.

The relationship between CBD and the cardiovascular system is complicated, and scientists are still working to understand it. But the expanding body of research we have tells us that CBD in all its forms has powers to help, not harm, the heart.

Photo credit: eggeegg/Shutterstock.com

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Some feel their heart race after taking THC. But CBD doesn’t work the same way, so why do some people experience a rapid heartbeat after consuming CBD?