What do we know about cannabis and heart health?

Published Aug 31, 2020 11:00 a.m. ET
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There are many positive medicinal uses for cannabis that are still being discovered. However, some health conditions do not interact well with the natural cannabis plant. The cannabis plant may be harmful to blood vessels and the heart, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

THC oil, one of the compounds in the cannabis plant, stimulates the heart and promotes vascular inflammation and oxidative stress. This chemical change in your body can lead to an elevated blood pressure reading, abnormal heart health rhythms, stroke, and could result in sudden death. The increase in cannabis use today has heightened the need for several studies to be conducted on cannabis and heart health situations. Adverse effects of cannabis are headlining the ongoing heart health studies being done today.

Tough times

Cannabis is listed as a controlled substance by the US Controlled Substance Act. Marijuana is deemed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and this has caused issues for those who want to research cannabis. A Schedule 1 substance indicates that cannabis does not have medical use and is likely to be a misused drug. The AHA has asked for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to remove it from this damming designation.

Study Results

  • Citing a study reported in the AHA, six percent of patients under the age of 50 presented with a heart attack and used cannabis.

  • A higher risk of stroke was noted in cannabis users 18 to 44. The risks increased with those who used cannabis on a more frequent basis than those who did not use cannabis.

  • Factual evidence has proven that cannabis can affect blood coagulation and lead to poor vascular effects. Dr. Chip Lavie, a cardiologist in Louisiana, feels that they do not have enough information on the impact of occasional users, high dose users, and those deemed as chronic users.

  • Studies have indicated that cannabis used on a short term basis may outweigh any adverse risks.

  • Dr. Muthiah Vaduganathan, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, noted that with the body containing its own cannabinoids receptors all over, there is a potential for effects to be pointed out on the heart.

  • The chemical compounds in cannabis have been linked to a higher risk of a person sustaining a heart attack, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure. The studies that were conducted were observational and did not prove that the chemical compounds in cannabis were the actual cause of the increased heart risks.

  • Positivity

    According to the AHA, not all the research conducted with cannabis indicates the possibility of harm to the body. In fact, cannabis products containing the compound CBD the non-psychoactive compound can help to reduce inflammation and emotional stress. Both of these conditions, when severe, can contribute to the risk of poor heart health. Dr. Miller, a cardiology professor, hopes that a clinical trial would be implemented to determine if CBD's daily administration will reduce the risk of a heart attack cardiovascular death or a stroke.

    Parting thoughts

    The lack of definitive data that specifies the benefits and harm that cannabis can have on the cardiovascular system is noted.  Most of the cannabis studies conducted are observational and often do not take into consideration the use of cigarette smoking. The research studies on cannabis and the cardiovascular system also involve the smoking method of consuming cannabis. More research is needed on the other methods that are available for consuming cannabis. Some of the techniques being studied include edibles, lotions, and tinctures, which are believed to be healthier options.

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