Nova Scotia

Expert cautions people with heart problems about using cannabis

Dr. Danial Schecter said marijuana can have unwanted effects on the cardiovascular system.

Cannabis can have troublesome effects on people with unstable heart conditions, says physician

Dr. Danial Schecter said marijuana can have unwanted effects on the cardiovascular system. (Submitted)

A medical cannabis expert is cautioning people with heart problems about using marijuana.

Dr. Danial Schecter is one of the keynote speakers at a cardiology symposium today in Sydney, N.S.

Schecter is the co-founder of the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, which has 20 Canabo Medical Clinic locations across Canada, including one in Halifax. 

His comments come as doctors see more patients using marijuana, both medically and recreationally. Schecter advocates the use of cannabis to treat a variety of medical conditions.

He said although cannabis is generally safe, it does have side-effects, which have been largely overlooked as Canada moves to legalize its recreational use.

"Cannabis activists have almost taken over the conversation around cannabis, and their message is that cannabis is a harmless drug, it's never killed anyone in the 5,000 years people have been using it."

Unwanted side-effects

Schecter, who also holds a fellowship in hospital medicine and is an active hospitalist at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, Ont., suggests cannabis can have troublesome effects on people with unstable heart conditions.

"It can cause what we call tachycardia, which is an increase in your heart rate. It can also cause peripheral vasodilation, which means your veins and your arteries can dilate and drop your blood pressure," said Schecter. 

"And that means that people who are using cannabis with unstable heart diseases, such as unstable angina or at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke, should really use cannabis with caution."

Schecter said people with unstable heart diseases or who are at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke should be careful about using cannabis. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

Schecter said like all drugs, cannabis also can produce unwanted side-effects when combined with other medications or alcohol. His presentation is intended to flag potential risks for cardiologists and other medical professionals attending the Sydney event.

"There's a tremendous amount of desire around cannabis and cannabis use, and the side-effects, and how to minimize any potential harm from using cannabis."

Schecter noted that it's the THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in cannabis that produces both the high associated with marijuana and the negative side-effects.

"So if people consume CBD [cannabidiol]-only products, or oils, then they don't get the same cardiovascular effects, or the other unwanted side-effects."

Talk to your doctor

Schecter's advice for patients who use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes? Talk to your doctor. Don't smoke the product; use a vaporizer or an oil instead. Try to use the least amount of THC possible to limit side-effects. And if you've had recent heart surgery, or have significant heart disease, talk with your cardiologist.

About the Author

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca

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