Jul 27, 2016 9:15 AM

Studies on Atherosclerosis and Cannabis

Heart diseases take more lives than any other diseases including cancer. And atherosclerosis plays one of the biggest roles in heart problems. So far, scientists cannot find one explanation why atherosclerosis starts to develop. The existing treatments take at least half a year and involve different medications that have moderate effects and often provide unwanted side-effects.

Basically, atherosclerosis develops because of the accumulation of immune cells laden with oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) also known as atherosclerotic plaques. This obstructs the arteries, and they become narrow, which, in its turn, decreases the amount of blood supply to the inner organs. This is especially dangerous when it comes to the blood supply to the heart and brain, as it can result in different diseases, disorders, and even a stroke.

It is still unclear what exactly causes the development of atherosclerosis, but there are several risk factors (tobacco smoking, sedentary lifestyle, vitamin B6 deficiency, bad dietary habits, etc.) that increase the possibility of getting this disease.

How can medical marijuana help with… ARTERIOSCLEROTIC HEART DISEASE?
How can medical marijuana help with… ARTERIOSCLEROTIC HEART DISEASE?
There are a number of clinical denominations to this condition: atherosclerotic heart disease (AHD), ischemic heart disease (IHD), coronary artery disease (CAD), but they all refer to thickening of arteries with fatty plaque deposits.

Atherosclerosis and CB2 receptors

The endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in all the processes in our bodies, including blood circulation. There are plenty of cannabinoid receptors all over the cardiovascular system, so even though there is still no incontestable data on how exactly they interact, researchers believe that cannabinoid receptors might play a key role in cardiac function.

At least, some of the relations are already confirmed. In 2010, a study proved the influence of endocannabinoid receptors on the ventricular myocardium and the changes in blood system associated with the receptors' expression and distribution.

Another study confirmed the relationship between CB2 receptors and blood vessels. A more recent study investigated whether the CB2 could be used as an antiatherosclerotic treatment, and it was proven that it could.

It seems that CB2 receptors cause a protective response to pathological events in the human body, including chronic and acute events of atherosclerosis.

So, the key role of cannabinoid receptors in undoubted, and the therapeutic role of cannabinoids, inducing phytocannabinoids, is recognized. However, researchers prefer to work mostly with CBD (cannabidiol) as it lacks psychoactive effects, though other cannabis compounds may also have a positive influence on the human blood system.

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Atherosclerosis and CB1 receptors

A high level of cholesterol (LDL) in blood is the main risk factor for developing heart problems and stroke. Slowly, LDL gets oxidized and starts to accumulate inside arteries. These blasters attract immune molecules that together trigger an inflammatory immune reaction. The longer it goes on, the bigger the risk of the plaque rupture, which damages arteries.

These events can also lead to a stroke and heart/brain damage as they impair blood supply to inner organs. It is interesting that some studies show that CB2 receptors take part in the process of the oxidization of LDL.

Another study has found evidence that cannabis can treat inflammation associated with ischemia-reperfusion injury, which sometimes occurs together with atherosclerosis and stroke.

Since cannabinoids are known to be immunomodulators that have anti-inflammatory effects, they can be used as the treatment to prevent the onset by blunting the inflammation.

Can Cannabis Cause Heart Diseases? WHO Explains
Can Cannabis Cause Heart Diseases? WHO Explains
The danger of tobacco use as a cause of heart diseases is well-known. Long-term marijuana use may be dangerous from a neurocognitive standpoint, but there is little evidence available regarding its impact on heart and blood vessels.

Moreover, cannabinoid receptors 1, which can also be stimulated by phytocannabinoids, are present in immune cells. This means that the activation of these receptors may help treat immune-mediated injuries of inner organs, including those that were caused by atherosclerosis. Studies have shown that CB1 can be activated by the THC compound of cannabis, though THC can induce both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and further studies can reveal more ways this compound can help the human body conquer health problems.

THC is usually associated with the psychoactive effect of marijuana; however, low doses of this compound provide very little to no “high effect.” A study conducted in Switzerland has concluded that microdoses of THC consumed orally can decrease the inflammatory response in atherosclerotic plaques.

This means that CB2 receptors are present in atherosclerotic plaques and inflammatory cells, and that both CBD and THC may provide a positive effect on the treatment of the diseases. This also can be beneficial for those who want to prevent atherosclerosis onset.

Danger associated with marijuana use

Though both THC and CBD can interact with the cannabinoid receptors and provide certain relief from atherosclerosis symptoms, some studies warn patients about the potential risk of coronary problems and angina among cannabis users. However, this risk is associated not exactly with consuming cannabis but with the way it is administrated―smoking joints.

Indeed, smoking can expose a patient to lots of compounds, and not all of them are suitable for patients who have problems with heart health. This also refers to THC: researchers warn cardiac patients to use cannabis carefully.

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In some cases, the activation of CB1 receptors by THC can even worsen atherosclerosis, that is why THC cannot be used as a treatment for this health problem: THC can increase pulse rate and blood pressure, which can create a higher risk of a heart attack. Additionally, smoking cannabis can reduce the level of oxygen in the blood flow, which can increase carboxyhemoglobin formation.

That is why it is recommended to consume CBD-rich strains and avoid THC-rich cannabis, and if there is an option, try to consume cannabis in ways other than smoking. It can be, for instance, CBD oils or concentrates. This way, you can target the CB2 receptors alone.

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