A 56-year-old woman is on the mend after developing heart issues due to hemp oil supplements. The woman, who has not been publicly identified, landed in the hospital and became the subject of a new case report.
The report, which was published in the journal Heart Rhythm Case Reports, details how the woman went to the ER after becoming dizzy and fainting. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat that can be life-threatening.
The woman, who was not publicly identified, shared with doctors that she was taking herbal supplements with hemp oil that contained cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (DBG)—two chemicals found in the cannabis plant that don’t cause a high. She was also taking supplements that contained berberine, a plant-based compound that has been linked to lowered blood sugar and increased metabolism.
The woman told doctors that she was using the supplements to help her with her stressful work schedule. The woman was transferred to the hospital’s cardiology ward where testing revealed she was taking up to six times the recommended dose of hemp oil.
Six days later, she was discharged and, during a three-month follow-up appointment, she shared that she hadn’t fainted or felt dizzy. Her heart rhythm also appeared to have returned to normal.
“These products should be used with caution, as data concerning their effectiveness, toxicity, and potential for interactions are limited,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion. “The use of these supplements should not be taken lightly, dosing recommendations should be respected, and possible interactions with other medication or supplements should always be considered.”
Hemp oil and CBD oil is increasingly showing up in supplements, tinctures, and lotions. So, should you be concerned about using it? Experts weigh in.
What is hemp oil?
Hemp oil is an oil that’s made by pressing hemp seeds, according to Jamie Alan, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at Michigan State University. “By definition it contains a minimum amount of THC,” she says. (THC, in case you’re not familiar with it, is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that’s responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects—meaning, it gets you high.)
Hemp oil must contain no more than 0.3% THC, Alan says.
People use hemp oil and its sister oil, CBD oil, for a range of things, including the treatment of anxiety, aches and pains, and blood pressure modification. However research is still ongoing to see if these claims are legitimate.
What are potential side effects of using hemp oil?
Alan points out that the woman in this study “took a massive amount of hemp oil” which isn’t typical. Alan says it’s “unclear” why the woman’s arrhythmia happened but, she says, “it might be because of the large amount of cannabinoids—CBD and CBG.”
“Generally, the research has suggested that the CBD from hemp oil actually might be good for your heart due to its anti-inflammatory properties,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. “Studies have shown a decrease in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk for heart disease with daily CBD usage.” But, she adds, dosage matters. “If a person takes much more than the recommended dosage, it could potentially lower their blood pressure too much,” Gans says. (Worth noting: The U.S. National Library of Medicine says that 200 milligrams is considered the maximum safe dosage.)
In general, when it’s taken as directed, there usually aren’t many side effects to taking hemp oil or CBD oil other than sleepiness, Alan says.
There are some potential drug interactions, though, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine has a laundry list. It includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Central nervous system depressants
The U.S. National Library of Medicine also warns against taking supplements with CBD along with those that contain hops, kava, L-tryptophan, melatonin, and valerian—they can cause too much sleepiness or slowed breathing.
Is it safe to use hemp oil?
In general, experts say it’s OK to use hemp oil. “If you know that it’s hemp oil and it’s pure and you’re not taking 700 million other supplements with it, then it’s probably safe to take the recommended amount,” says Kathryn Boling, M.D., a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center. “Sometimes we live in a society where people think more is better but more is not better in many cases, especially with medications and supplements.”
Alan says you’ll “usually” be OK to take hemp oil orally and topically, but she includes a huge caveat: “’Herbal’ products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and there is no guarantee that what you are getting is what is stated on the bottle and not contaminated with anything else.”
If you have an underlying health condition or are on any medication, Alan suggests talking to your doctor before using anything that contains CBD, just to be safe. Because this is a largely an unregulated industry, Alan also recommends doing your due diligence before deciding on a product and going with a reputable brand with data to support their claims. “You can get CBD—which is part of hemp oil—from places who will give you a lab report. That is better,” she says.
If you prefer to buy your hemp oil in person, Dr. Boling suggests visiting a dispensary. “That’s what I tell my patients to do,” she says. “It’s regulated.”
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