Case study links herbal supplements, including cannabis oil, to dangerously abnormal heart rate

PHILADELPHIA — A woman in Pennsylvania developed a dangerously abnormal heart rate after taking herbal supplements, according to a new case study by doctors in Switzerland. Among those supplements include oils coming from cannabis plants.

These supplements are becoming increasingly popular with health-conscious individuals, but study authors say the fact they are natural does not make them safe. According to the report, the patient used hemp oil containing cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol oil (CBG), and berberine supplements.

Cannabidiol and cannabigerol oil both come from marijuana plants. Berberine, which is found in the roots, rhizomes, and stem bark of many medicinal plants, is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat infections, diarrhea, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Doctors linked the heart trouble directly to the supplements

The 56-year-old woman ended up in the emergency room after becoming dizzy and fainting without warning. Doctors diagnosed her with a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia after an electrocardiogram, which is a type of heart test.

The middle-aged patient had runs of torsade de pointes, a rapid heartbeat which originates in the ventricles — the two large chambers at the bottom of the heart. Her heart’s electrical system also took longer than normal to recharge between beats.

The woman had low blood pressure but was otherwise healthy. Doctors were able to identify herbal supplements she had been taking to cope with a difficult work-life balance as the cause of the unusual issue.

The study finds she took six times the recommended dose of hemp oil four months earlier and had recently added berberine to the mix. Doctors stopped the woman’s use of supplements during her hospital stay. She felt better after five days.

At her three-month follow-up, she reported no new episodes of dizziness or fainting, and her electrocardiogram remained within normal range. With nothing else causing her heart problem, her return to normal strongly supported the diagnosis that linked the supplements to the arrhythmia.

Cannabis oil may be popular, but understudied

Herbal supplements, especially those containing cannabidiol, have become far more popular in recent years. Studies have linked cannabidiol, which is the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, to pain relief, stress reduction, and even cancer-fighting abilities.

The researchers say the oil has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antiepileptic, anxiety and psychosis-busting, and immunomodulatory properties which make them attractive to some people. Users often perceive herbal substances as harmless natural substances, but the researchers warn they are not well regulated, and their exact composition can vary greatly from one distributor to another.

Their effects and the way they move around the body are also not well understood. Data on their effectiveness, toxicity, and potential for interactions with other medications is also few and far between. The researchers say users should be aware of potential side-effects, respect dosage recommendations, and consider how they react with their prescriptions before trying them.

People with heart problems or who use QT prolonging medication, which slows down the heart rate, should be particularly wary.

“More and more people are taking herbal supplements for their potential benefits. Yet their ‘natural’ character can be misleading, since these preparations can have serious adverse side effects on their own or if combined with other supplements or medications,” says study author Dr. Elise Bakelants from the University Hospital of Geneva in a media release. “Their use should not be taken lightly, and dosing recommendations should always be respected.”

The findings are published in the journal HeartRhythm Case Reports, an official journal of the Heart Rhythm Society.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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