Wondering if marijuana might have a soothing effect on your atrial fibrillation? Studies show that medical marijuana can help with symptoms of some conditions like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and HIV/AIDS.
But for atrial fibrillation, the effects are more of a mixed bag. And experts advise against smoking marijuana (assuming that it’s legal in your area) if you have AFib or other heart conditions.
“It really depends on what you use it for,” says Uma Srivatsa, MD, clinical professor of medicine at UC Davis Health. “If you use it to relieve pain, there may be a benefit because pain can trigger AFib.”
On the other hand, she says, low levels of marijuana turn on your “fight or flight,” or stress response. This means there’s a higher chance that your racing, irregular heartbeat will get worse. In fact, marijuana can raise your heart rate for up to 3 hours after you use it. It also makes stroke and heart disease more likely. That’s significant because if you have AFib, your chance of a stroke is already five times higher than someone who doesn’t have it.
Marijuana also relaxes your blood vessels, which lowers your blood pressure. Srivatsa says this can kick off a response from your heart that’s bad news for AFib. When your blood pressure goes down, your heart rate can go up. This is especially true in older people who have other heart problems.
Another tricky piece of the puzzle is how much marijuana is OK to take. The answer may be none, if you have a heart condition.
“It’s important to understand that we have legalized marijuana without knowing dose effects,” Srivatsa says. “For instance, we know what a legal blood alcohol level is. But we don’t know what the ‘legal limit’ is for marijuana.”How do we determine what makes you high vs. calm?”
Olujimi A. Ajijola, MD, PhD, a cardiologist at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, says the overwhelming effect of marijuana on your heart is harmful.
“We advise against it from a cardiovascular standpoint, in general,” he says. “I would definitely caution against people with AFib using it.”
There aren’t as many studies yet on the heart effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), two of the active ingredients in marijuana. And there aren’t any official guidelines on marijuana use from American College of Cardiology or the American Heart Association yet.
“Inevitably, people will study this,” Ajijola says. “I think guidelines won’t come out until there’s enough data to suggest one way or another, or enough people ask that the society make a statement.”