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Cardiovascular Disease – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

The following information is presented for educational purposes only. Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana Inc. and none should be inferred.

The term cardiovascular disease refers to a collection of diseases that affect the heart and circulatory system. Studies have shown cannabis lowers blood pressure by dilating arteries and reduce the damage caused by heart attacks and strokes.

Overview of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is a term used to classify a variety of diseases related to the heart. Most types of cardiovascular disease, or heart disease as it’s also commonly referred to, are related to atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up along the inner walls of the arteries and restricts blood flow.

Other types of cardiovascular disease include heart failure, arrhythmia, heart valve problems and hypertension. Heart failure is when the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. Arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. Heart valve problems are when the valves within the heart aren’t opening and closing as they should, allowing blood to flow in the wrong direction. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is when the force of blood against artery walls is too high.

Cardiovascular disease can cause serious complications. If blood flow is severely or fully restricted to the heart, a heart attack occurs and the part of the heart that receives blood will die. If blood flow is severely or fully restricted to the brain, a stroke occurs and brain cells will die. Both events are life threatening. Blood flow restriction to the extremities, most commonly the legs, can cause peripheral artery disease and pain when walking.

Preventing or reducing atherosclerosis by exercising regularly, eating healthy, achieving a healthy body weight and the cessation of smoking, reduces the risk of heart disease.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Cardiovascular Disease

Cannabis has shown it limits cell damage and offers cardio and neuroprotective effects following ischemic events like heart attacks and strokes. These benefits are primarily due to the presence of a major cannabinoid found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD).

When administered shortly prior to a heart attack in animal trials, CBD has been found to significantly reduce infarct size (cell death), oxidative stress, inflammation, and fibrosis, and preserve the performance of the left ventricle4,19,25. In addition, CBD has demonstrated its capability as an anti-arrhythmic and can restore regular rhythm following an ischemic attack6,25.

Administering CBD shortly after a stroke has shown to protect neurons and astrocytes from damage, therefore causing an improved functional, histological, biochemical, and neurobehavior recovery12. The brain damage that occurs following strokes is associated with increases in excitotoxicity, oxidative stress and inflammation. However, administering CBD shortly after a stroke occurs has shown effective at preventing all three of these alterations17,18.

Another major cannabinoid found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has demonstrated the ability to offer cardioprotection. One study found that very low doses of THC administered 2 hours, 48 hours, or 3 weeks continuously prior to heart attack reduced infarct size, therefore limiting heart damage24. More recently, a study examining records of hospitalized patients found that recent marijuana use reduced mortality rate and the risk of intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) placement and shock following a heart attack2.

In both animal and human studies, cannabinoids have been found to cause blood vessels to vasodilate, improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure9,20,21. Another study found that marijuana use before a heart attack may improve survival rate while in the hospital. CBD specifically has shown to be a vasodilator, allowing for greater blood flow and reducing the damage to arterial walls and lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke21. This vasodilator effect has been shown to help normalize blood pressure1.

It’s important to note that in other studies, cannabis use has been found to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular complications11. Smoking marijuana increases heart rate and standing blood pressure and reduces lying blood pressure15. However, one study found that smoking marijuana was found to be a rare trigger of heart attacks15.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Cardiovascular Disease

No states have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. However, in Washington DC any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment. In addition, seven states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of cardiovascular disease with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Cardiovascular Disease

  • CBD reduced acute and apoptotic brain damage when administered shortly after an ischemic brain event in mice.
    The neuroprotective effect of cannabidiol in an in vitro model of newborn hypoxic-ischemic brain damage in mice is mediated by CB(2) and adenosine receptors.
    (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096999610900309X)

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  • November 9, 2015
  • Eve Ripley