Does Cannabis Raise Your Heart Rate?

Weed affects your body in all sorts of ways, but does cannabis raise your heart rate?
Does Cannabis Raise Your Heart Rate?
Goran Bogicevic/ Shutterstock

Weed affects your body in all sorts of ways, but does cannabis raise your heart rate? We don’t have to rely solely on anecdotes or personal experiences. Research has helped map out some of the ways that cannabis interacts with and affects our bodies. In particular, cardiovascular health is one area that researchers have looked at. So, does cannabis raise your heart rate? Here’s what we know.

Cannabis is a Vasodilator

When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids in the plant interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system. These interactions are where most of weed’s effects come from.

The endocannabinoid system is linked to a broad range of body functions. This includes things like mood, appetite, sleep — and especially relevant to the question “does cannabis raise your heart rate” — your body’s cardiovascular system.

Cannabis is a vasodilator. To put it simply, it means that weed opens up your blood vessels. This might sound simple, but dilated blood vessels produce a bunch of other changes in your body.

To help this make sense, think of your blood vessels like they’re a garden hose. When you pinch the hose shut, less water flows out the end. At the same time, pressure starts building up in the the hose behind where you’re stemming the flow by pinching it shut.

Now, imagine that you stop pinching the hose. Better yet, imagine that you attach a wider, brand-new hose to the faucet. In this scenario, the water will flow freely. And there will be much less pressure built up in the hose.

This is how blood vessels work. When blood vessels are constricted for any reason, blood flows less easily throughout your body, and blood pressure builds up. When blood vessels dilate, blood flows more easily and blood pressure drops.

Cannabis and Your Cardiovascular System

OK, so what does all this have to do with weed and heart rate? How does this help us answer the question: Does cannabis raise your heart rate?

It turns out that weed’s function as a vasodilator directly impacts your heart rate. That’s because when your blood vessels dilate and your blood pressure drops, your heart actually has to work harder to pump blood.

To return to the garden hose analogy, when you attach a wider hose to the faucet, you’re going to need to pump a lot more water to maintain the same water pressure. It’s the same thing with your heart. In order to maintain blood pressure when your blood vessels are dilated, your heart has to work overtime. And that raises your heart rate.

In fact, researchers have figured out just how much harder your heart has to work after you consume cannabis. Here’s what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says: “Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke… the heart rate—normally 70 to 80 beats per minute—may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute or may even double in some cases.”

Elsewhere, the agency states that “marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking.”

Cannabis And Your Heart Rate

To get to the question at hand: Does cannabis raise your heart rate? Yes, it definitely does. Your increased heart rate is the result of the effects of weed dilating your blood vessels.

This elevated heart rate could make you more susceptible to heart attacks. In particular, this could become a risk for older folks and for anyone who has an exisisting heart problem.

But in most cases, it shouldn’t be a big problem. In fact, as your tolerance to weed and the cannabinoids it contains builds up, you may notice that the effects you feel begin to decrease. For some smokers, that includes changes to heart rate.

Many weed consumers find that the higher their tolerance, the less their heart rate increases when they’re high. But one way or another, cannabis will impact your heart rate.

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