CBD: What is it, and can it help the heart?
CBD is the latest health craze to sweep the high street, with claims it can help everything from chronic pain and inflammation to anxiety. But what is CBD, and can it really help the heart? Emily Ray finds out.
What is CBD, and is it legal in the UK?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical that’s extracted from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Cannabis itself is an illegal class B drug, as is the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which it contains. But pure CBD isn’t illegal, as it doesn’t cause the intoxicating effects of cannabis.
What CBD products are available?
The choice of CBD products has exploded recently: you can buy oils, capsules, muscle gels, sprays and oral drops, as well as beer, tea, sweets, hummus and even CBD-infused clothing.
Many of these can be easily picked up from reputable high street stores, such as Holland & Barrett or Boots.
Prices can be high: a 500mg bottle of CBD oil oral drops could set you back as much as £45. Not that this has put people off: over the past two years, sales of CBD have almost doubled in the UK, putting regular users at an estimated quarter of a million.
What is CBD used for?
A 2018 report by the World Health Organization suggested that CBD may help treat symptoms relating to conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), anxiety, depression, insomnia and Alzheimer’s disease.
However, it also notes that this research is still in the early stages, and that more studies are needed before conclusions can be drawn on whether CBD is effective.
CBD’s popularity has been given a boost by the fact that two CBD-containing medicines have been approved for prescription use by the NHS in England: Epidyolex, which has been found to reduce the number of seizures in children with severe epilepsy, and Sativex, which contains a mixture of CBD and THC, and is licensed for treatment of muscle stiffness and spasms in people with MS.
Does CBD work?
Harry Sumnall, Professor in Substance Use at Liverpool John Moores University, says: “In terms of the products found in shops, there’s virtually no evidence to support the claims made for a lot of them. There’s a lot of marketing that says CBD is a ‘miracle of the modern age’; however, the marketing has actually overtaken the evidence of what it’s effective for.”
“In terms of the products found in shops, there’s virtually no evidence to support the claims made for a lot of them.”
Harry Sumnall, Professor in Substance Use at Liverpool John Moores University
Professor Sumnall argues that while it could be effective for some people, in some of these cases the results could be caused by the placebo effect (where the patient’s belief in a treatment makes them feel better). The placebo effect can be powerful, but Professor Sumnall warns that if people try CBD oil instead of speaking to their doctor, it could cause a problem.
The biggest difference between CBD used in clinical trials and in stores is the dose. Research has shown that some products contain very little CBD (or even none at all). Others contain THC or other illegal drugs, or even alcohol instead of CBD. By contrast, in clinical trials the CBD is purified, manufactured to a very high standard and given at a much higher dose. It is also taken regularly and under medical supervision.
Since 2016, any CBD product that is presented as having medicinal value must be licensed and regulated as a medicine, regardless of whether it is actually effective. Manufacturers must follow very specific and robust rules around production, packaging and the information provided.
But so far, Professor Sumnall points out, CBD products in shops are marketed as food supplements, not medicines, so none of them have gone through this process.
Can CBD help the heart?
Inflammation is part of the process that leads to many diseases, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, and there is some evidence that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties. Other studies have suggested that CBD can have a protective effect on the heart: this has been proven in rats after a heart attack and in mice with some of the heart damage associated with diabetes. But because these studies are often based on findings in a lab or in animals, not in humans, we cannot yet be confident that CBD will benefit the human heart.
There is ongoing research into the use of purer forms of CBD for a variety of conditions, including heart and circulatory diseases and, in particular, diseases of the heart muscle, including myocarditis and some types of cardiomyopathy.
Some of this work is still in animals, and much more research is needed before we can definitively say that CBD can help in this area.
“It’s clear that CBD has potential,” says Professor Sumnall, “but we’re at a very early stage of that research.”
- Always talk to your doctor if you’re thinking about taking a CBD product to supplement your existing treatment.
Meet the expert
Harry Sumnall is a Professor in Substance Use at the Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University. He was a member of the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs between 2011 and 2019.
CBD and Heart Health
What to Know About CBD for Heart Failure, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure
Lindsay Curtis is a health writer with over 20 years of experience in writing health, science & wellness-focused articles.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Jeffrey S. Lander, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and the President and Governor of the American College of Cardiology, New Jersey chapter.
Heart health is one of the areas being explored to determine the therapeutic health benefits of cannabidiol (CBD). Nearly 655,000 Americans die from heart disease every year, accounting for one in every four deaths.
CBD cannot cure heart disease or congestive heart failure, but it is being studied for ways it may help reduce symptoms or prevent heart disease. However, CBD has not been shown in large studies to prevent diseases that lead to heart failure.
Read on to learn more about CBD’s benefits for the heart, what CBD oil is, side effects, and forms of CBD oil.
Verywell / Jessica Olah
What Is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol oil is extracted from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. CBD is a chemical that’s unique to the cannabis plant. The two major cannabinoids contained in cannabis plants are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): It has psychoactive properties that create a “high” feeling.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): It has no psychoactive effects but provides several therapeutic benefits.
Both CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body. The ECS is a complex biological system that impacts many of the body’s functions, including appetite, memory, mood, and sleep. Researchers are learning that the endocannabinoid plays a role in the function of the cardiovascular (heart) system.
A growing body of evidence shows that dysregulated ECS is associated with a number of cardiovascular diseases. Whether you have a heart condition or want to prevent heart disease, CBD may boost your endocannabinoid system to help it regulate the cardiovascular system.
Overview of Heart Failure
Heart disease is an umbrella term that refers to several types of heart conditions. Heart disease may involve the heart valves, arteries, and heart rate, leading to heart failure.
Heart failure is a serious health condition in which the heart isn’t pumping the way it should be. The body depends on the heart’s pumping action to deliver oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to all of its cells.
With heart failure, the heart cannot supply the body’s cells with enough blood, leading to symptoms that can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life.
Heart failure has a number of causes, including genetics, other medical conditions (e.g., anemia, diabetes, sleep apnea), and lifestyle (e.g., smoking, obesity).
Symptoms of heart failure vary, depending on the type and severity of heart failure you have. Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Bluish-colored fingers and/or lips
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Lack of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Inability to sleep when lying flat
CBD and Heart Health
CBD has anti-inflammatory, antioxidative properties that may help reduce risk factors that can lead to heart disease. It may also be helpful in reducing the risk of related conditions, such as stroke.
Research suggests that even a single dose of CBD can lower blood pressure. High blood pressure has been linked to congestive heart failure. This is because high blood pressure makes it more difficult for blood to travel easily throughout the body, causing the heart to work harder.
While more research is needed to be sure, CBD may be helpful in lowering blood pressure to prevent congestive heart failure.
CBD oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce cholesterol levels to improve heart health. Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) found in the blood.
High cholesterol levels—particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL), aka “bad” cholesterol—increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. LDL can build up in the lining of blood vessels, causing a blockage that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
CBD has properties that help relax arterial walls, which research suggests may help reduce blood pressure and excess cholesterol. In animal studies, CBD has been shown to increase HDL levels—aka “good” cholesterol—and lower LDL levels after four weeks of CBD supplementation.
CBD is perhaps best known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests that inflammation may be at the root of many chronic illnesses. Heart disease is associated with inflammation. Inflamed blood vessels make it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.
One study found that CBD has a direct effect on the arteries, helping reduce inflammation and improving blood flow. This suggests that CBD reduces inflammation in arteries and blood vessels, easing the strain on the heart, potentially preventing heart failure.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of congestive heart failure, which is one reason why it is important to maintain a healthy weight for optimal heart health. There is some evidence to suggest that CBD may help maintain a healthy weight.
One study found that CBD promotes the browning of white fat cells, which aids in converting the fat into burnable calories. This is beneficial because brown fat cells contain more mitochondria than white fat cells, which helps burn calories. White fat cells contain droplets of fat that accumulate around the body and can lead to obesity.
Are There Any Side Effects?
CBD has few side effects, and the World Health Organization states that it is generally well tolerated and has a good safety profile. While relatively safe, there are a few things to consider before you try CBD.
If you are currently taking any other medications, speak with your doctor before trying CBD. Some research suggests that CBD may interfere with the way the liver processes certain medications.
This interference may prevent the liver from metabolizing other medications as it normally would, leading to higher concentrations of the medication in the body and increasing the risk of liver toxicity.
Best CBD for Heart Health
CBD comes in many different forms, including oils and tinctures, edibles, topicals, and vaporizers. Taking CBD oil sublingually (under the tongue) is an easy way to enjoy the benefits. Using sublingual oils tends to work faster and produce stronger results than other edible products, such as gummies.
Vaping CBD is a fast way of delivering CBD into your system, but it is not recommended for individuals with heart disease. Vaping is associated with lung damage, and research shows it causes an increased risk in developing cardiovascular disease.
There are a number of CBD types to choose from. Understanding these differences can help you choose which type is best for your needs. These types include:
- Isolate: CBD is the only cannabinoid contained in the product.
- Full-spectrum: Contains multiple naturally occurring cannabis plant extracts, including terpenes, other cannabinoids, and up to 0.3% THC.
- Broad: Contains CBD and other components/cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but does not contain any THC.
The availability of these products varies from state to state, particularly for products that contain THC.
If you’re just starting off with CBD, try a small dose first. Watch for any side effects. If you wish, you can slowly increase your dosage (no more than 5 to 10 mg increase at a time) until you find the dosage that is right for you.
How to Buy CBD
With so many CBD options available, shopping for the right product can be an overwhelming experience. Some important things to keep in mind when buying CBD include:
- Cannabis source: CBD is derived from cannabis plants, and it’s important the CBD is sourced from a company that takes care in the quality and cultivation of their plants. Look for products that come from organic plants when possible.
- Certificate of Analysis (CoA): Responsible, reputable manufacturers offer a CoA that clearly states the amounts of cannabinoids in a product. CoAs are conducted by an independent, accredited lab.
- Read the label: Read the full list of ingredients contained in CBD to know what you are consuming.
- Type of CBD: To get the best results, look for full-spectrum or broad CBD products. These may offer an “entourage effect,” combining the effects of multiple cannabis compounds that work in synergy to offer the most benefits.
CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. Researchers are looking into ways it could be beneficial for heart health. While it has few side effects, it may slow liver metabolism and affect other medications you are taking.
Cannabidiol comes in several forms and methods of application. People with heart disease should avoid products that require vaping or smoking.
A Word From Verywell
While CBD is not a cure for heart failure, it may prevent further damage thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. CBD may be helpful in reducing blood pressure, decreasing inflammation and cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy weight. Improving these factors may reduce the risk of heart failure.
Speak with your doctor before trying CBD, particularly if you are on any other medications or dietary supplements. Your doctor can let you know if it is safe to take, and may have product and/or dosage recommendations.
Frequently Asked Questions
How safe is CBD for congestive heart failure?
CBD is generally considered to be safe for congestive heart failure. Research shows no significant adverse effects of CBD at a wide range of doses (anywhere from 3 to 1,200 mg/day).
CBD has significant potential to treat a variety of heart diseases and comes with few adverse side effects, though more research is needed. Talk with your doctor before using CBD for heart disease, particularly if you are currently taking any other medications.
Does CBD lead to heart problems?
CBD alone does not lead to heart problems. However, CBD is broken down and metabolized by the liver. During this process, it may interfere with your medications for any heart conditions you have. This may lead to liver problems or interfere with the effectiveness of any medications you are taking.
Exercise caution and speak with your doctor before using CBD for heart failure.
Can CBD cause heart palpitations?
The cardiovascular effects of CBD are currently being studied. Some research suggests that cannabis use may cause arrhythmia (irregular heart rate) or tachycardia (increase in heart rate).
However, those studies included products that also contain THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. More research is needed to determine if CBD causes heart palpitations.