February is American Heart Month and at Revolutionary Clinics, we think this is a good time for a conversation about heart health and cannabis. As much as we believe in the power of medical marijuana as a natural treatment for conditions like chronic pain, Huntington’s Disease, and chronic insomnia, it’s absolutely essential that your heart is healthy enough to use cannabis.
Let’s start by reviewing the cardiac risk factors, the conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop cardiac disease:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Having a family history of early heart disease
- Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Unhealthy diet
- Age (risk of stroke doubles every decade after age 55)
At Revolutionary Clinics, we always recommend talking to your doctor before visiting one of our dispensaries. That’s especially true if three or more of the risk factors above apply to you. These factors increase the likelihood of you developing some form of cardiac disease, such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, arrhythmia, or heart valve problems.
In addition to your personal risk factors, you also need to understand how THC, the chemical compound within some strains of medical marijuana, effects your heart. For example:
- THC can increase heart rate by 20-50 beats per min
- This increase occurs in order to compensate for the reduction in blood pressure caused by THC.
- THC vasodilates (increases the diameter of blood vessels) forcing the heart to work harder in order to pump blood.
- Some reports suggest the heart must work 30% harder in the presence of high levels of THC.
- High doses of THC are not good for arteries as CB1 receptor activation increases plaque buildup in arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke
- Low doses of THC have been shown to reduce plaque buildup and risk for atherosclerosis
Before you get overly concerned about THC, don’t forget that other cannabinoids may be present in your medical marijuana depending on the strain you’re using. Those other cannabinoids can have beneficial effects on your heart that are worth taking into consideration, including:
- CBD can block THC’s ability to activate CB1 receptors and could protect against some of the harm caused by the drop in blood pressure and elevated heart rate caused by THC alone.
- CBD is a potent antioxidant that neutralizes harmful free radicals. Free radicals are metabolic terrorists that cause our bodies to oxidize or rust from the inside out.
- CBD has strong anti-inflammatory abilities which can reduce the damage caused by activation of CB1 receptors.
- CBD has beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors and improves recovery in animal models of heart attack and stroke.
- THCV is a cannabinoid that has pro-cardiovascular effects by blocking CB1 receptor function at low doses. It’s through this mechanism that THCV is thought to reduce insulin sensitivity in obese mice, which reduces risk for cardiovascular events.
- And like CBD, THCV has been shown to be safe in Phase II clinical trials. THCV becomes an activator of CB1 receptors at high does, but in most strains of cannabis, THCV levels are too low to activate them.
If this is all a bit confusing and contradictory, it is. The lack of scientific research makes it difficult to offer definitive advice on how cannabis may affect your cardiac risk factors. The few studies that do exist only control for general use patterns, not type of cannabis. So when someone says that “cannabis use” increases risk for cardiovascular events, the next questions should be “what type of cannabis is a patient using?” quickly followed by “how often is he or she using it?
So while no one can say with certainty that cannabis is bad for your heart health, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor and at the very least, gravitate toward high CBD/low-THC strains of medical marijuana. At Revolutionary Clinics, we’re proud to connect our patients with the right medical marijuana product for their treatment goals and objectives, but ONLY for patients who are healthy enough to use it. If you’re ready to start a conversation with us, please stop by the Revolutionary Clinics dispensary nearest you or give us a call at 617-213-6006. Be sure to check our events page to learn about our next heart health clinic or other educational workshops that will help you be better informed about cannabis and the options available to you.