06/03/2023 Linking Cannabis Use and Heart Disease
The legalization of cannabis is spreading across the United States. We are just now beginning to study and understand the interconnected effects on our bodies when consuming cannabis.
Cannabis use is not without risks. Each person's body is different. Scientists have recently found there is a high, increased correlation between Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and frequent cannabis consumption.
What is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?
According to the Mayo Clinic CAD is a very common heart condition. The major blood vessels that supply the heart (coronary arteries) attempt to send enough blood, oxygen, and energy to the heart muscle.
Cholesterol (plaque) built up in the heart arteries and inflammation from many factors are commonly known as causes of CAD. Some of the factors that are known to contribute to CAD are stress, a high saturated fat diet, and certain genetic predispositions to heart disease.
Your heart is a muscle-like machine. It requires certain healthy lifestyle choices to keep it running efficiently. Similar to a car engine, if you add the proper fuel and ingredients to the system, you can keep it running well for a long time.
When the heart doesn't get the oxygen or nutrients it needs because of narrowing (for whatever reason), it gets starved. It ceases to work properly and if an artery is blocked fully, it can cause a heart attack.
Symptoms of narrowing blood vessels can include chest pressure, shortness of breath, chest pain (angina), and fatigue. These symptoms can develop over long periods or in some cases, the person can be unaware that they are developing a serious condition.
Researchers are concerned that with the popularity of cannabis growing, there could be increased incidences of coronary artery disease in the younger population. Physicians will have to be very diligent to ask specific questions of their patients to capture a complete view of their health.
Latest Study Linking Cannabis Use and CAD
Stanford University conducted a recent study of the relationship between cannabis use and coronary artery disease. This study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology, on March 5, 2023. This study used data gathered from 175,000 patients from the All of Us Research Program of the National Institutes of Health.
In this study, consumption methods were not taken into consideration. After adjusting the data for age, sex, and major cardiovascular risks, the study determined that regular users of cannabis have a 34% higher chance of developing CAD than others that have never tried it.
What Have Previous Studies Shown?
Previous studies from Stanford University have indicated that THC when smoked, may have a causal relationship with coronary artery disease. When smoked, THC interacts with the central nervous system, the heart, and blood vessels. The 'perfect storm' could be set, laying the groundwork for increasing inflammation and plaque build-up with repeated use of cannabis, especially in younger people.
We don't know the specific interactions between other cannabinoids and coronary artery diseases, such as CBD (cannabidiol) or CBN (cannabinol). Researchers need to conduct additional studies before each pathway of consumption and each compound within the plant can be ruled out or confirmed as having a definitive connection to coronary artery disease.
Ishan Paranjpe, MD, a resident doctor at Stanford University (the study's lead author) said, "We found that cannabis use is linked to CAD, and there seems to be a dose-response relationship in that more frequent cannabis use is associated with a higher risk of CAD. In terms of the public health message, it shows that there are probably certain harms of cannabis use that weren’t recognized before, and people should take that into account.”
Is Cannabis Safe For Heart Patients?
Cannabis use is more out in the open and mainstream than ever before. Open communication is key for your doctor to be able to monitor any possible developing health problems. Patients should be extremely cautious and notify their physician or healthcare team of any cannabis use and new developing symptoms.
Always be truthful. Leaving even small details out of your medical history could be detrimental to your health. Be proactive in your healthcare and look to your medical team as a partner. If you don't feel comfortable discussing this with your doctor, look for another one.
Although there is no cure for coronary artery disease, heart disease is easier to treat when caught early. Treatments for CAD can include lifestyle changes, medications, invasive procedures (stenting and ballooning), and even open heart surgery when major damage has been done to the heart, heart muscle, and arteries. If left untreated, coronary artery disease can progress to a fatal heart attack or stroke.
What Could Future Studies Bring?
The gates are standing open for scientific cannabis exploration. Even though cannabis has been around for millennia, there are many elements of cannabis to be learned that we never knew existed. There are sure to be many more intricate pieces to discover regarding cannabis and how it interacts with the human body.
“From a scientific standpoint, these findings are exciting because they suggest there might be new drug targets and mechanisms we can explore to take control of this pathway going forward,” Paranjpe said.
Legalization is spreading rapidly and the scientific community is playing a game of catch-up. Until recently, the United States has been behind the eight ball on cannabis research. Recent government approvals have made it possible to advance health and safety studies of cannabis.
As further studies are published, most likely there will be many more health considerations regarding cannabis. Consumption methods, drug interactions, individual cannabinoid use, and even things we eat as food can have significant interactions within our bodies.
Evidence is showing that there is a strong connection between regular cannabis use and coronary artery disease. One of the largest scientific studies to date has shown a relationship that needs further exploration.
Keep regular medical checkups, be honest with your doctor about any substances you are consuming, and follow their recommendations. These steps can be some of the most powerful tools to have in your arsenal to combat coronary artery disease.