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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
Evidence suggests that cannabis can limits cell damage and offer cardioprotection and neuroprotection following ischemic events like heart attacks and strokes. One study found that very low doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) administered 2 hours, 48 hours, or 3 weeks continuously prior to heart attack reduced infarct size, therefore limiting heart damage11.
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. The study findings suggest that marijuana use before a heart attack may improve survival rate while in the hospital2.
In both animal and human studies, cannabinoids have been found to cause blood vessels to vasodilate, improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure4,9. Cannabinoids have also shown to elicit vasodilation, which in turn 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 complications1. Smoking marijuana increases heart rate and standing blood pressure and reduces lying blood pressure, and one study found that smoking marijuana was found to be a rare trigger of heart attacks7.
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
- Bátkai, S., Pacher, P., Osei-Hyiaman, D., Radaeva, S., Liu, J., Harvey-White, J., Offertaler, L., Mackie, K., Rudd, M.A., Bukoski, R.D., and Kunos, G. (2004). Endocannabinoids Acting at Cannabinoid-1 Receptors Regulate Cardiovascular Function in Hypertension. Circulation, 110(14), 1996–2002. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756479/.
- Brauser, D. (2016, April 6). Marijuana Use Before Acute MI May Give Survival Edge in Hospital. Medscape. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/861528.
- Heart disease. (2014, July 29). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/definition/con-20034056.
- Herradon, E., Martin, M.I., and Lopez-Miranda, V. (2007, November). Characterization of the vasorelaxant mechanisms of the endocannabinoid anandamide in rat aorta. British Journal of Pharmacology, 152(5), 699-708. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2190007/.
- Jouanjus, E., Lapeyre-Mestre, M., and Micallef, J. (2014, April 23). Cannabis use: signal of increasing risk of serious cardiovascular disorders. Journal of American Heart Association, 3, e000638. Retrieved from http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/3/2/e000638.
- Matthews, A.T., and Ross, M.K. (2015). Oxyradical Stress, Endocannabinoids, and Atherosclerosis. Toxics, 3(4), 481–498. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4686160/.
- Mittleman, M.A., Lewis, R.A., Maclure, M., Sherwood, J.B., Muller, J.E. (2001). Triggering myocardial infarction by marijuana. Circulation, 103(23), 2805-9. Retrieved from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/103/23/2805.
- Pacher, P., Bátkai, S., and Kunos, G. (2005). Blood pressure regulation by endocannabinoids and their receptors. Neuropharmacology, 48(8), 1130–1138. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2225528/.
- Stanley, C.P., and O’Sullivan, S.E. (2014, March). Cyclooxygenase metabolism mediates vasorelaxation to 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) in human mesenteric arteries. Pharmacological Research, 81, 74-82. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992009/.
- Van Gaal, L.F., Rissanen, A.M., Scheen, A.J., Ziegler, O., Rossner, S., and RIO-Europe Study Group. (2005, April 16-22). Effects of the cannabinoid-1 receptor blocker rimonabant on weight reduction and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight patients: 1-year experience from the RIO-Europe study. Lancet, 365(9468), 1389-97. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014067360566374X.
- Waldman, M., Hochhauser, E., Fishbein, M., Aravot, D., Shainberg, A., and Sarne, Y. (2013, June 1). An ultra-low dose of tetrahydrocannabinol provides cardioprotection. Biochemical Pharmacology, 85(11), 1626-33. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006295213001950.
- What is Cardiovascular Disease? (2015, October 19). American Heart Association. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp.