The latest research says THC may cause anxiety which may lead to a panic attack, but it is not associated with heart attacks.
This is a new one. Among the scores of cannabis-related news, a report out of Canada is claiming that an elderly man with a history of cardiac-related problems suffered a heart attack after consuming THC lollipops.
Media interest in the story has led to questions about cannabis and cardiovascular health. And, while medical questions about cannabis are necessary and welcome, the arena of mass media can distort facts and equate left-field anecdotes with hard-nosed data.
So if the public needs to have this discussion, it’s best to do so with the goal of increasing our own knowledge. We need to recognize the limitations of the current medical research, and an understanding that human health is a complex topic, fraught with numerous counterexamples and exceptions to every rule we discover.
Man Lands in Hospital After Eating 90mg THC Lollipop
Let’s start with the facts. In Canada, a 70-year-old man was having trouble sleeping, so he decided to experiment. After doing a little bit of research, he decided to try his luck with medical cannabis. This was in early 2018, before Canada had legalized recreational cannabis. Because he didn’t go through a physician, the man was purchasing the item illegally.
After consuming the THC lollipop, he began to hallucinate and felt severe chest pain. He called a family member, thinking he was near death. At the hospital, doctors diagnosed him with a heart attack.
The physicians traced the THC lollipops back to a medical dispensary in Canada. The workers there claim the product contained 90 mg of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. That’s nine times greater than Canadian law currently allows. No one was able to test the lollipop to be certain this was the dose.
Taken alone, this story seems at least somewhat damning toward cannabis. But there are a few things to keep in mind. This man had a long history of cardiovascular problems. Second, he took a much more than the recommended dose, without knowing his own limitations. Third, he bought from an unlicensed vendor so the dosing was potentially unreliable.
All of this together tells us about as much about cannabis and cardiovascular health as does someone who downs a full bottle of what they think is Tylenol that someone gave them out of a baggy.
What Research Says About Cannabis and The Heart
A study out of the University of Hawaii found that heart attack sufferers recovered more quickly if they used cannabis. Scientists at Harvard University point out that smoking cannabis is associated with a slightly elevated heart rate, but that those attributes could be attributed to the action of ‘smoking’ of cannabis instead of the active ingredients themselves.
What’s more, the active ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to be anti-arrhythmic in mice, meaning it may actually prevent heart palpitations and disorders in people as well.
We also know that THC can pose some risk to people who suffer from anxiety in that it can cause panic attacks, which can elevate heart rates (as with this Canadian gentleman). However, his mental well-being is unknown.
While the University of Hawaii study has spawned a company that is making cannabis-based drugs to specifically treat and reverse the damage from heart failure, mass market therapies based on their patents are not yet available.
Cannabis and Your Heart Health
In the meantime, what should heart-conscious cannabis users do?
There’s just not enough information to know when cannabis might be harmful to an individual or when it could save lives. For most users, it may not matter much. People have been using cannabis for centuries, and there hasn’t been a noticeable association between heart attacks and cannabis use. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to be cautious.
As with all substances, it’s best to be careful. Users with a family history of cardiac problems, such as heart attacks, seizures, and strokes, should proceed with caution when it comes to things like THC lollipops. The scientific consensus regarding CBD is a bit brighter, as it seems to be either beneficial or benign. But a smart cannabis user always doses with caution — and healthy people with heart issues always discuss new medications with a physician.