Is Medical Marijuana Safe for People with Heart Stents?
Posted by Glenn Beierle on 10/13/2017 in Medical Marijuana
Updated on January 31, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
According to the CDC, heart disease causes one in four deaths in the United States every year. Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, is a potentially fatal condition a patient should address as soon as possible.
The main way to prevent heart disease is to make healthy lifestyle choices. Patients with chronic conditions are increasingly using medical marijuana to enhance their health and quality of life. While marijuana-friendly states don’t consider heart disease as a qualifying condition for cannabis medicine, it often coincides with conditions and symptoms that do qualify.
Some patients with heart disease receive stent surgery to reduce their risk. If your arteries are too narrow to properly transport blood, your doctor might recommend stent surgery. Using a stent to open your artery back up allows your heart to receive the oxygen it needs.
But, patients with stents may wonder if they can use medical marijuana to address their symptoms. Like any other issue related to medical marijuana, there’s no straight, simple answer because everyone has unique circumstances and reactions to cannabis. However, we can provide information that will help you make the right decision.
What Is a Heart Stent?
A heart stent is a tube made from wire mesh inserted into an artery. Stents prop open an artery to facilitate blood flow and condense the plaque present. Once you have a stent in your artery, you have it for life.
The surgeon uses a balloon catheter to insert the stent into the patient’s artery. A balloon catheter is a tube with a balloon attached that the surgeon inflates to place the stent. Once the balloon expands the stent and puts it in place, the surgeon deflates the balloon and removes the catheter.
After you have stent surgery, you’ll need to regularly take an antiplatelet agent, a medicine that prevents the blood near your stent from clotting. The most well-known antiplatelet agent is aspirin, but your doctor might recommend a P2Y12 inhibitor instead. Sometimes, they’ll prescribe both, also known as dual antiplatelet therapy.
You must continue to take your antiplatelet agent until your doctor tells you to stop — patients using aspirin will take it indefinitely. P2Y12 inhibitors are used anywhere from one to 12 months, depending on your heart disease and risk for bleeding.
Who Gets Heart Stents?
Patients who undergo angioplasty usually receive a stent in their closed artery as part of the surgery. Angioplasty is a procedure where a surgeon reopens a blocked artery. The surgeon usually enters your arteries using a small puncture in a leg or arm artery, making angioplasty a minimally invasive procedure.
Only patients with blockages that cause a severe risk or discomfort get angioplasty. When you have reduced blood flow to your heart, you can experience pain in your chest. In other cases, the blockage can put you at risk of a heart attack or death.
People dealing with atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, often receive angioplasty to relieve their symptoms. Atherosclerosis happens when bad cholesterol and white blood cells form plaque. The plaque can stay in the artery wall, block blood flow, or even rupture.
Atherosclerosis can cause a wide variety of complications, and some of them are lethal. When the plaque buildup reduces blood flow, it results in pain in the affected area. Plaque ruptures cause heart attacks and strokes, which can cause disabilities and death.
Is Marijuana Bad for Your Heart?
A common concern of heart patients who want to use cannabis is whether it will worsen their heart disease. The research we have on heart disease and cannabis suggests weed doesn’t harm heart health as long as you take certain precautions.
Most importantly, you shouldn’t smoke marijuana when you have heart issues. Smoking results in inhaling toxins dangerous for the heart and lungs. Even though marijuana has health benefits that tobacco doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that smoking it is healthier than smoking tobacco. Luckily, there are many other methods of ingestion available to choose from.
Some research indicates that marijuana can increase the risk of heart disease, but we don’t have much data backing up this statement. The studies that have found that marijuana could damage the heart have small sample sizes and don’t examine the use of non-smoking methods.
However, the research we have does suggest that THC, one of the major cannabinoids, can increase your heart rate. This doesn’t mean all marijuana puts you at risk of heart disease, but that you should avoid strains high in THC.
In fact, the other major cannabinoid, CBD, has shown potential for improving heart health. It can regulate your heartbeat, increase blood flow, reduce scar tissue and lessen heart damage. Unlike THC, which makes the user feel “high,” CBD only causes dizziness as a common side effect.
When in doubt, consult your doctor about using marijuana medicine as a heart patient.
Cannabis Self-Management for Patients With Heart Stents
Patients who have a heart stent placed in their artery should take precautions to keep their heart healthy. Maintaining heart health prevents further complications due to heart disease and helps the stented artery stay open. You can use marijuana to take advantage of the following heart health benefits:
- Reduced Stress: Indica strains can calm the user down, reducing their stress levels. Stress can increase your chance of heart problems.
- Less Depression: Certain kinds of cannabis medicine can serve as anti-depressants. When left untreated, depression can increase your risk of heart disease.
- More Energy: You can use the energy boost from sativa strains to motivate regular exercise.
What Symptoms of Heart Disease Can Cannabis Treat?
Heart disease symptoms vary depending on the type of heart disease you have. But, many of them have symptoms in common that can be relieved using marijuana, including:
- Pain in the chest or extremities
- Swelling and inflammation
- Irregular heartbeat
Where to Learn More About Cannabis Medicine
Doctors certified to recommend marijuana and staff members at dispensaries will know where to point you for more information regarding heart disease and marijuana. Our resources can help you find the right experts for you.