Why Does My Chest Hurt After Smoking Weed?

Vilma Ruddock
Woman feeling chest pain

There are a few possible causes of your chest pain after smoking weed. Although there are potential medical benefits of marijuana use, according to Frontiers in Medicine and other reviews, smoking pot can cause adverse physical and psychological effects. The problems can affect your heart, blood vessels, and lungs and cause chest pain.

Effects on the Heart

Several case reports provide evidence of the effects of marijuana on the heart. One report was published in 2010 in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock of two young men who went to an emergency room with acute chest pain.

The pain started one hour to an hour and a half after smoking weed, and one man had a heart attack shortly after admission. Based on the evaluation of these two men and their outcomes, the authors outlined the effects of pot on the heart and blood vessels in certain circumstances that explains chest pain and heart attacks.

Low Doses of Marijuana

Smoking low doses of marijuana causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and the work of the heart. This can decrease blood supply and oxygen to the heart muscle. This can cause chest pain or a heart attack in a person with or without underlying heart disease or risk factors.

High Doses of Marijuana

At higher doses, weed does the opposite of low doses and slows heart rate and decreases blood pressure. This can also lead to a decrease in the supply of blood and oxygen to heart muscle and cause chest pain and a heart attack.

History of Coronary Artery Disease

In someone with a history of coronary artery disease, the marijuana effects can cause chest pain and a heart attack by rupturing cholesterol plaques, thus causing blockage of a coronary artery.

Effect of Increased Carbon Dioxide

Smoking marijuana also increases carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to lower oxygen supply to the heart muscle and narrowing of normal coronary arteries, causing chest pain and an increased risk for a heart attack.

Statistics

The following statistics will give you some perspective on the adverse effects of smoked marijuana on the cardiovascular system:

  • The risk of having an acute heart attack shortly after smoking weed is four times greater than in non-users, according to the above referenced report.
  • A 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association published analysis of a French database of young marijuana smokers. In this study, 1.8% of the reports related to cardiovascular incidents. Out of 1979 participants, nine of these cases resulted in death.

Authors of a 2002 article in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology advise that people with underlying heart disease should be warned they are at even greater risk for chest pain and heart attacks from smoking marijuana.

Airway and Lung Disease

Regular or heavy weed smoking affects your airways and lung tissue, which can make your chest hurt during and in between smoking.

A review of marijuana and lung diseases in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine notes smoking pot leads to coughing and chest pain from:

  • Irritation and inflammation of your large airway (pharyngitis)
  • Irritation and inflammation in your small airways and lung spaces (bronchitis)

Factors That Increase Irritation and Damage

The following factors increase the chance of airway and lung irritation and damage:

  • Holding in smoke after inhaling: Some marijuana smokers tend to hold the pot smoke longer in their lungs to increase absorption of the weed in their blood.
  • The amount of weed: A 2007 review in Thorax states the bad effects on the airways and lungs increase the greater the amount of weed you smoke. The effects are worse than smoking cigarettes.
  • Contamination of weed: Bacteria or fungus in the weed can cause bacterial or fungal lung infections and chest pain, according to the Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine review cited above.

Costochondritis

Smoking weed can also irritate or inflame the muscles of the rib cage or the cartilage joints between your ribs and sternum (breastbone). This condition, called costochondritis, can cause your chest to hurt, especially when you breathe in. According to the Mayo Clinic, costochondritis symptoms can seem like a heart attack, so you might find it difficult to tell them apart.

Repetitive Deep Breathing

Lots of repetitive deep breathing and expansion of your lungs when you smoke pot can further irritate or inflame your chest muscles and rib joints. The habit of some marijuana smokers of drawing deeply on their weed and holding it in their lungs before exhaling makes this problem more likely to happen, according to HealthHype.com.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Woman with anxiety

Anxiety and panic attacks can cause chest pain that may be difficult to distinguish from heart pain. According to reports, such as a 2015 review in Neurotherapeutics, marijuana use may cause acute anxiety or panic, especially if you smoke a lot of it.

The Potential Explanation for This Effect

Based on a 2009 article in the Archives of General Psychiatry, anxiety, fear, paranoia, or psychosis may be caused by activation of certain areas of the brain by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of weed.

If you have anxiety or a panic attack after smoking weed, your subsequent chest pain may be related to these adverse effects of pot on the brain. Hyperventilating because of anxiety and panic can increase your chest pain and create a cycle of more panic and more pain. If you hyperventilate, you may also notice numbness and tingling in your hands, fingers, and face.

Evidence of Cause and Effect

Scientific evidence of cause and effect of smoking pot and anxiety and panic attacks is complicated, according to a 2009 article in Neuropsychopharmacology. This is because marijuana use is more common among people who already have underlying anxiety and panic disorders.

Harmful Contaminants

You have no way of knowing if the weed you buy is clean, or if contaminants in it may be the cause of your chest pain. Be aware that your pot might be laced with unknown substances that can have more harmful effects on your heart, lungs, and other body systems than marijuana itself.

According to the Smithsonian, modern marijuana is more potent and contains pesticides, heavy metals, and other substances, in addition to organisms that can infect the lungs.

What to Do if Your Chest Hurts

When you chest hurts after smoking weed, it might not be possible to tell if it is from your heart or from other causes of chest pain. Don't hesitate to call 911 or go immediately to an emergency room if your pain:

  • Is severe or persistent
  • Radiates down your left arm, into your left jaw, or between your shoulder blades
  • Is accompanied by palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating

It is better to be evaluated and find out your pain wasn't caused by a heart attack than to risk dying from one.

Consider the Risks

Consider that even if you are young and have no risk factors, you can have a heart attack or severe lung disease from smoking marijuana. Your risk is greater if you have underlying heart disease, lung disease, or other risk factors. If you have recurrent chest pain, think about cutting back or stopping your weed smoking habit. There are other dangers of marijuana that might also motivate you to make a change.

Why Does My Chest Hurt After Smoking Weed?