By Jonathan RZ Lim
Cannabis is the most widely produced and consumed illicit substance in the world, with the number of users approaching 182.5 million globally.1 The upward trend shows no signs of stopping, with Canada legalizing cannabis on October 17th, 2018. Cannabis is known for both its therapeutic and recreational use – many users consume cannabis for relief from symptoms such as chronic pain, anxiety, and nausea, while others use it for its psychoactive effects.2 Recent research also indicates a cardiovascular impact to consuming cannabis.
A 2017 study found that cannabis consumption has been demonstrated to increase blood pressure (hypertension).1 This finding is noteworthy as hypertension is a risk factor for other cardiovascular conditions. This study also found increased cases of heart arrhythmias (irregular heart rate or rhythm), as well as an increased risk of heart attacks (myocardial infarctions). In young healthy patients, the risk of getting an ischemic stroke – which results from narrowed or blocked arteries to the brain – is also increased.1 These effects were found to be compounded by cigarette smoke, meaning smoking cannabis exacerbates the negative effects of the drug.1
While cannabis has been associated with heart disease, cannabidiol (CBD) – a component of the cannabis plant – has been found to have beneficial effects in certain disorders such as diabetes and cancer.3 The primary means by which CBD is thought to provide relief is through its role as a vasorelaxant.3 For example, the vascular damage and inflammation caused by the high glucose environment typical of type 2 diabetes can be reduced by the introduction of CBD. On a more microscopic scale, CBD can also influence the survival and death of white blood cells and platelet aggregation. It was shown that CBD can prevent the death of white blood cells through antioxidant mechanisms which can have positive effects on the immune system.3
With the number of users of cannabis at an all-time high, uncovering the effects of cannabis on the cardiovascular system has become more important than ever. The consumption of cannabis has been linked to heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) and strokes.1 While there is considerable interest in CBD and CBD derivatives to help in the treatment of a variety of conditions, the potential harmful cardiovascular effects requires further study.
- Goyal H, Awad HH, Ghali JK. 2017. Role of cannabis in cardiovascular disorders. J Thorac Dis. 9(7):2079-2092.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2017. Marijuana and heart health: What you need to know.
- Stanley CP, Hind WH, O’Sullivan SE. 2012. Is the cardiovascular system a therapeutic target for cannabidiol?. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 75(2):313-22.