Various therapeutic values of marijuana are now part of common knowledge. However, when it comes to the question of heart and cardiovascular health, there is much confusion about the impact of marijuana. Can weed reduce heart failure? Or, does it actually increase the chance of cardiovascular attacks? This topic will take you through everything the top researchers are saying on this issue. But before that, let us recap how exactly cannabis works on our body and brain. Because, therein lies the key to understanding marijuana’s effect on the human heart.
Weed and its essential cannabinoids – can weed minimize heart failure?
Cannabis has hundreds of cannabinoids in it, the most essential of them being tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and cannabidiol or CBD. While the former is a psychotropic compound that produces the cerebral high for the user, the latter is non-psychoactive and is shown to calm and relax the user. These two primary cannabinoids share the same chemical makeup as our body’s own endocannabinoids. This allows THC and CBD to attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors in our body and stimulate the release of various neurotransmitters in our brain. It is through this interaction, THC and CBD produce their different effects on the human body and brain. But for this interaction to happen, the cannabinoids need to break the brain-blood barrier first and get absorbed in our bloodstream. You need to remember this before we go into the next section and see what effects THC and CBD can possibly have on heart health.
Can weed reduce heart failure? What are the experts saying?
Heart diseases constitute a leading cause of death throughout the world. According to one estimate, nearly 610,000 Americans die of heart failure every year. As scientists and medical experts argue, our modern lifestyle is a major factor in this increasing rate of heart failure and cardiovascular diseases. How does cannabis affect the health of our hearts? There is very little research on this topic.
A 2002 study conducted by the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found out that smoking pot ‘increases the heart rate by about 40 beats per minute’ and thus increases the chance of having a cardiovascular attack. Dr. Murray Mittleman, the lead author of the study says, ‘It also causes the blood pressure to increase when the person is lying down, and then abruptly falls when the person stands up, often causing dizziness. These effects may pose a significant risk, especially in people with unrecognized coronary disease.’ A more recent study by the Einstein Medical Center at Philadelphia concluded that cannabis users have a 26% higher risk of stroke and 10% higher risk of heart failure than non-users.
One of the main factors causing heart failures is the blockage, corrosion, and/or narrowing of the blood vessels in the heart muscles and valves. According to a September 2020 report published by the American Heart Association (AHA) in the journal Circulation, cannabis can be harmful for the blood vessels and thus increases the risk of heart failure. Cannabis can have a negative impact on coagulation, which can lead to poor vascular effects and increase the chances of having acute cardiovascular events, says Dr. Chip Lavie, a cardiologist at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.
Can weed reduce heart failure or increase its risk? The opposing effects of THC and CBD
However, the adverse effects of cannabis on blood vessels and cardiovascular health are perhaps more related to the effects of THC than CBD. As Dr. Michael Miller, a professor of cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says, THC, being a psychoactive compound, stimulates heart rate, increases vascular inflammation and oxidative stress. This causes abnormal heart rhythms, elevated blood pressure and overall increases the risks of strokes and cardiovascular attacks. However, CBD can have a totally opposite effect on the heart. As Miller points out, the non-psychoactive cannabidiol may in fact protect people from the development and progression of heart diseases. While CBD doesn’t directly work on the cardiovascular system, its effects on our body’s endocannabinoid system can be beneficial for the heart.
Here are a few ways in which CBD can help you to maintain a healthy heart:
- CBD reduces blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation
- Relaxes the cardiovascular tension
- Minimizes arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats
Inflammation, as we know, can lead to coronary diseases and heart attacks. As an effective anti-inflammatory agent, CBD can be quite useful for reducing the risk of cardiac diseases. A study conducted by the Fudan University of Shanghai and published in Science Direct affirms this view and claims that CBD can be very effective in treating cerebral ischemia, strokes, and heart attacks by repairing the decreased blood flow in the patients. A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology shows that it can reduce the severity of arrhythmias during a cardiac arrest. Diabetes, physicians claim, can cause severe cardiac complications. A National Institute of Health study published in 2010 has specifically investigated this issue and concluded that CBD decreased the effects of ‘cardiac fibrosis, cell death, inflammation, myocardial dysfunction, oxidative/nitrative stress, and interrelated signaling pathways.’ All these findings are taken together, there is no doubt that CBD shows some very promising results on the health of our heart.
Can weed reduce heart failure? Concluding remarks
There is more such promising news. In November 2017, Live Science reported that new research found out that cannabis can be beneficial for patients suffering from heart failure. According to the researchers, pot users are less likely to have atrial fibrillation, a complication which worsens heart failure symptoms. Moreover, it significantly decreases the mortality rate among the patients hospitalized for heart failure.
However, in spite of all these latest scientific studies and their positive findings, there is still no agreement in the scientific and medical world about marijuana’s (or CBD’s) efficacy in reducing heart attacks and treating cardiovascular diseases. As Professor Harry Sumnall of the Public health Institute, Liverpool, an expert of substance use, warns: ‘It’s clear that CBD has potential, but we’re at a very early stage of that research.’