As we journey through life, our hearts and minds are inextricably linked. When it comes to psychedelics, we often focus on the mental effects, but recent research suggests that psychedelics can offer physiological benefits also.
According to a staggering 2022 review by the CDC, one person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the United States, and someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
Of course, most current research is being conducted on psychedelic substances for behavioral and mental health conditions like anger issues, seasonal affective disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
However, because of the colossal attention psychedelics are receiving, studies are even being conducted on certain physical health issues like fibromyalgia and chronic pain, which we already covered in previous articles.
While the word “psychedelic” actually means “mind-manifesting,” it is no surprise that something with a profound impact on our neurochemistry would have equally profound effects on our physiology.
In this article, we will analyze scientific data surrounding cardiovascular disease and the effects of psychedelics on heart health, suggesting that when it comes to wellness, the power of psychedelics extends beyond just the mind.
What is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. Over 30 million Americans were diagnosed with heart disease as of 2018 according to the CDC, and heart disease is the cause of 1 out of 4 deaths. There are several types of CVD, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, heart valve disease, and peripheral artery disease.
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of CVD and occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to chest pain, heart attacks, and other complications.
While many of the risk factors, such as age, family history, and genetics, are not as controllable, several lifestyle factors can be modified to reduce the risk of CVD, such as not smoking, healthy eating, and exercising regularly.
Early detection and treatment of CVD are also critical in preventing serious complications and improving outcomes, so getting regular health check-ups for blood pressure and cholesterol screenings is important.
Current Treatments For Heart Disease
There are specific forms of treatments and medications used depending on the type of heart disease, however many of the conditions have overlapping treatments.
It is important to discuss the best treatment option for your condition with your doctor or medical professional, especially before experimenting with at-home or alternative treatment methods to mitigate the risk of contraindications.
Lifestyle Treatment Methods
- Quitting smoking
- Doing regular exercise
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Reducing salt intake
- Limiting alcohol consumptions
Luckily with these lifestyle changes, there are no negative side effects, and they may have positive effects on other elements of one’s health. These are good preventative and supplementary methods, but may not be sufficient alone to treat certain issues.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors)
- Beta blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- Antiplatelet drugs
- Blood thinners
Certain medications may help reduce blood pressure and stabilize the heart’s rhythm, but have also been linked to a wide range of potential side effects like dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. Other potential side effects include depression, impotence, kidney problems, increased risk of bleeding, and persistent coughing.
- Bypass surgery
- Pacemaker (catheter ablation or implantation)
While invasive procedures for CVD are much needed in particular serious cases, other treatment methods are always preferred if applicable. Invasive procedures do, however, carry a risk of complications such as bleeding, infection, damage to blood vessels, and complications related to anesthesia, but it is always important to consult with your doctor.
The Current Research on Psychedelics for Heart Health
In this section, we will cover the complex scientific research surrounding the topic of cardiovascular health and psychedelic use. Surprisingly, in comparison to other physical health diseases and conditions, heart health is one that is being more extensively researched in the last 10 years.
An Honorable Mention to Otto Simonsson
Simonsson’s research centers around his interest in meditation, mindfulness and kindness-based practices and their effects on political and intergroup biases.
Simonsson’s extensive research on psychedelic substances and physical health are a result of a scholarship he received by the Osmond Foundation in 2021 to study those themes in conjunction with his interests in meditation.
As we have seen previously, psychedelics can enhance mindfulness practices such as meditation drastically. There have been other studies conducted on relevant factors for this topic of psychedelics and their effects on cardiovascular health, but none quite as direct as Simonsson’s research.
Psychedelics Therapy For Overall Wellness, Obesity, & Heart Health
In a 2021 study, three markers of physical health were investigated in relation to respondents who had or had not taken psychedelics at least once in their lifetime, including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, DMT, and ayahuasca.
The three self-reported markers that were evaluated in this cross-sectional study were body mass index, overall health, and if respondents had a heart condition or cancer in the past 12 months.
The results showed that participants who had taken psychedelics at least once in their lifetime reported “significantly higher odds of self-reported overall health” as well as “significantly lower odds of being overweight or obese.”
Most importantly for this article, the study showed that those who had taken psychedelics before had less of a risk or association with any heart condition and/or cancer in the last year.
It is important to note that factors like obesity and overall health also affect and are deeply linked to one’s cardiovascular health, so each one of these findings is relevant when discussing the topic at hand. As Simonsson and colleagues suggested in their report, their findings potentially suggest that psychedelic has long-term health benefits beyond the scope of mental health.
This inference cannot be safely made until more research is done to control for factors which lacked control in this study, such as response bias, frequency of use and dosages, and context of psychedelic use.
The control of other factors such as medication use (specifically anti-inflammatory drugs) and considering the limiting nature of the BMI tool when evaluating obesity could also be helpful.
At the very least, the study suggests an association and correlation between psychedelic use in one’s lifetime and better heart health. Whether or not unknown factors could predispose someone to both psychedelic use and heart health is uncertain.
Psychedelic Therapy & Cardiometabolic Disease
Later in another 2021 study separately conducted and published by Simonsson and a different set of colleagues, they analyzed psychedelic use and effects on cardiometabolic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
In this study, they found that lifetime psychedelic use was “uniquely associated with 23% lower odds of heart disease in the past year and a 12% lower odds of diabetes in the past year.” Keep in mind that, to qualify as “lifetime psychedelic use,” one needed to have at least one psychedelic experience in their lifetime.
In this study, they analyzed the different types of psychedelic substances according to the categories of tryptamines, lysergamides, and phenethylamines, all of which are considered to be serotonergic. Tryptamines include DMT, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms. LSD is basically in its own category as a lysergamide, and phenethylamines include mescaline and peyote.
In distinguishing between those three main categories, the results did not show a correlation between heart disease and psychedelic use, but rather showed clinically significant results for tryptamine and lower rates of diabetes.
Psychedelics & Hypertension
Lastly, In another 2021 study by Simonsson with colleagues, they evaluated psychedelics and hypertension. Results from this study concluded that participants with reported use of at least one instance of psychedelic use had much lower odds of hypertension, specifically significantly lower odds in the case of the tryptamine category.
Researchers highlighted that, while this study fails to answer why there is an association with psychedelic use and low risk of hypertension, there are a few speculated reasons for this finding. The first possibility is that psychedelic use may have induced behavioral changes leading to greater health.
Secondly, psychedelic use, which has been proven reliably to improve various mental health conditions, may have a positive effect on physical health through relief of mental and chronic stress. Thirdly, the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of psychedelics may improve dysregulation and high blood pressure.
Lastly, there may be an unknown link to the serotonin 2A receptor and anti-hypertension. Interestingly, they found that “lifetime classic psychedelic use” was more common among participants who engaged in use of tobacco products, drank alcohol under the age of 20, and had a history of depression and anxiety.
Obviously, from these findings, the issue and its factors are complex, so inferring a cause and effect relationship is not plausible until more research is conducted. These findings do at least suggest a correlative relationship.
Correlated and Relevant Psychedelic Research Findings
Another adjacent topic of how psychedelics can help treat ischemic stroke is relevant for our conversation about the benefits of psychedelics for cardiovascular health, which we covered in a previous article.
Furthermore, in another study, it was found that psychedelics can help regulate inflammatory pathways through activation of 5-HT2A (serotonin) receptors. This particular study produced potent “anti-inflammatory effects in animal models of human inflammatory disorders” (Flannagan and Nichols, 2018).
Other research has shown that “cardiovascular disease increases in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases” and that high inflammatory markers increase in heart failure patients and predict lower survival rates (Sorriento and Iaccarino, 2019).
In a 2004 study by Takafumi Nagatomo and colleagues, they found that certain cardiovascular and peripheral vascular conditions could be treated by antagonists of the 5-HT2A receptor. The conditions in question included “vascular smooth muscle, platelet aggregation, thrombus formation, and coronary artery spasm.”
What we do know is that serotonin receptors play a key role in the formation and modulation of cardiovascular disease, but the direct relationship is unknown. Clearly from this study, in certain cases, a heart condition may be better treated by an antagonist mechanism, whereas in the case of psychedelics, they act through agonist mechanisms in their effects.
Should You Take Psychedelics If You Have Cardiovascular Disease?
While psychedelics have a rich history of use spanning centuries, cultures, and uses, recent research is gearing toward the psychological and physical effects of these hallucinogens and entheogens.
To overview the research prior, studies have seen a significant correlation between psychedelic use and markers of heart health and other health factors that contribute to heart health. These factors include obesity and body weight, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, inflammation, and general markers of heart health.
While these studies are incredibly promising, more research is needed to form a direct cause and effect conclusion. It does, however, conclude that those who take psychedelics at least once in life have a lower risk for heart disease.
For people with serious illnesses, including heart and vascular illnesses, psychedelics may not be suitable, given the intensity and unknown elements of the experience. Many of our facilitators work with clients who have physical conditions like cancer, and debilitating mental health conditions like PTSD and depression.
Having a professional tripsitter can help with pre-trip anxiety and provide you with step-by-step support for your psychedelic-assisted therapy experience. We recommend consulting with professionals and experts before deciding to travel into the psychedelic realm, and we encourage you to stay informed and educated about the benefits and risks of psychedelic use.
Ready To Embark on Your Healing Journey?
We at Psychedelic Passage connect clients seeking safe and transformative intentional psychedelic experiences with our network of pre-vetted professional guides who specialize in harm-reduction and setting the right tone.
Book a consultation with one of our knowledgeable psychedelic concierges today to receive support in the preparation, journey, and integration of your psychedelic journey. Check out our resources page for more articles and information on the vast world of psychedelic research.
Frequently Asked Questions About Psychedelics & Heart Health
1. Are there any psychedelics that are safe for people with cardiovascular conditions?
Research on the safety of psychedelics for people with cardiovascular conditions is being explored, but some studies suggest that psilocybin and tryptamine psychedelics may be a safe option.
In the case of serious heart conditions and illnesses, taking psychedelics may not be feasible, because a psychedelic experience can be intense on the body. It is best to exercise caution and speak with experts before use.
2. How do psychedelics affect blood pressure?
The effects of psychedelics on blood pressure can vary depending on the substance and the individual. In general, psychedelics tend to increase heart rate and blood pressure temporarily. There is research showing that psychedelic use, specifically tryptamine drugs like magic mushrooms, is correlated with lower risks of hypertension in life.
3. Can psychedelics be used as a treatment for cardiovascular conditions?
More research needs to be conducted on psychedelics for cardiovascular treatment. Many studies suggest a strong correlation between heart health and psychedelics, such as decreased risks for hypertension and diabetes.
While research on this topic is very promising and suggests a possibility of positive benefits, other controlled studies are still needed to determine a cause and effect relationship.