February is American Heart Month. In honor of a month which also includes St. Valentine’s Day, the holiday most often associated with the heart, this article poses the question: Is Cannabis Good For Your Heart? Read on for the answer!
The heart is only one component of the human cardiovascular system which also includes blood vessels, veins and arteries. Heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity rates are all cardiovascular risk factors that can be managed by diet, exercise, medication and even cannabis usage. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women. 1 out of every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. In many cases, heart-related events can be avoided by making better health choices.
Most of the current information about cannabis and heart health suggests that its usage is harmful. That is due to focusing on the general patterns of cannabis usage rather than on specific types of cannabinoids and on frequency of cannabis usage. By primarily doing studies using subjects who consume high-THC dosages, the results are skewed towards validating cannabis as bad for the heart. The following information is important to understand about how different cannabinoids affect the cardiovascular system:
- Higher doses of THC cause a reduction in blood pressure. In order to compensate for this, THC can increase your heart rate by 20-50 beats/minute. The net impact on your cardiovascular system is negative.
- Low doses of THC activate a positive effect on your cardiovascular system
- CBD has been shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system in animal models. Cannabis consumers with higher cardiovascular risk factors should use high-CBD/low-THC strains.
- Only 2% of reported cardiovascular events are attributed to cannabis usage substantiated by research that primarily uses subjects who consumed high-THC strains.
- THCV inhibits the increases in heart rate caused by THC
In order to better understand why and how different cannabinoids affect heart health, we need to discuss the impact of CB1 and CB2 receptors on the cardiovascular system. Here is a link to an article I wrote about Cannabinoid Receptors.
CB1 receptors are found all over the cardiovascular system. Higher doses of THC activate CB1 receptors which can do the following:
- increases the heart rate to compensate for a reduction of blood pressure because THC increases the diameter of blood vessels which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood.
- increases plaque build up in arteries which increases the risk of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries)
- increases harmful chemicals known as reactive oxygen species which damage the walls of the arteries which
- increases an immune response that attracts macrophages (special immune cells) that stick to the artery walls.
- increases the amount of LDL or ‘bad” cholesterol
- and this entire process can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Some studies found that the heart must work as much as 30% harder when THC is present.
CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in the immune system, counteract the harmful effects of CB1 receptors on heart health by doing the following:
- reduce inflammation
- reduce free radicals which are responsible for plaque buildup in arteries and elevated heart attack and stroke risks
- reduce the extent of damage during a heart attack or stroke
What does this all mean in terms of heart health?
THC can activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors. At higher doses, the effect of THC on CB1 receptors is stronger than its effect on CB2 receptors which can cause a net negative impact on heart health. At low doses, THC can actually reduce plaque buildup which reduces the risk of atherosclerosis, thus protecting the heart.
Other Heart-Healthy Cannabinoids
- a potent antioxidant which neutralizes harmful free radicals
- anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce the harm caused by CB1 receptor activation
- improves recovery of heart attack and stroke in animal models
- can block THC’s activation of CB1 receptors, counteracting the harm done by the drop in blood pressure and the elevation of the heart rate in the presence of high doses of THC.
- blocks CB1 receptor function at low doses. At high doses it activates CB1 receptors, but the majority of strains that contain THCV have very low levels of the cannabinoid, too low to activate them.
- animal studies suggest that THCV reduces insulin sensitivity by blocking CB1 receptors
The moral of the story is that evidence is emerging that low-THC/low-THCV/high-CBD strains are heart healthy.
Have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day with your sweetie!
Source: leafly.com, How Does Cannabis Consumption Affect Heart Rate? Josh Kaplan, February 23, 2018