Study: Marijuana Increases Risk Of Premature Heart Attacks, Small Molecule In Soy Could Mitigate Risk

How does cannabis impact our health? 

Although an old question, the answer is not a simple one. Marijuana is a specific plant with many compounds that differently impact our bodies and minds. What makes things even more complicated is the lack of cannabis research, thanks to the decades-old war on drugs. 

Thankfully, with the ongoing momentum to legalize marijuana, more and more research is being conducted, providing consumers and the canna-curious with various results on the effects of consumption. Some are positive, some are not. 

One of the newest studies, led by researchers at Stanford Medicine revealed that individuals who consume marijuana have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack. 

According to the study, THC or the psychoactive component of marijuana causes inflammation in endothelial cells that line the interior of blood vessels, reported Stanford Medicine. Furthermore, the compound known to stimulate the often yearned for sensation of being high can lead to atherosclerosis or the buildup of fats in artery walls in laboratory mice. 

Researchers also discovered that a small molecule called genistein, naturally found in soy and fava beans, can help block inflammation and atherosclerosis without affecting THC’s capacity to stimulate appetite, reduce nausea or lower pain, which are some of the most important benefits for medical marijuana patients. 

Legalization Spread Could Lead To Increase In Heart Attacks And Strokes 

 “As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, users need to be aware that it could have cardiovascular side effects,” said Joseph Wu, MD, Ph.D., professor of cardiovascular medicine and radiology, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute. Wu is the senior author of the study. “But genistein works quite well to mitigate marijuana-induced damage of the endothelial vessels without blocking the effects marijuana has on the central nervous system, and it could be a way for medical marijuana users to protect themselves from a cardiovascular standpoint.”

Mark Chandy, MD, Ph.D. added that marijuana has a significantly adverse effect on the cardiovascular system. “As more states legalize marijuana use, I expect we will begin to see a rise in heart attacks and strokes in the coming years. Our studies of human cells and mice clearly outline how THC exposure initiates a damaging molecular cascade in the blood vessels. It’s not a benign drug,” Chandy said.

The Study Details

Researchers examined the medical and genetic information of some 500,000 individuals between 40-69. Nearly 35,000 of them confirmed consuming marijuana, with about 11,000 more than once a month.

Those who smoked more often had a significantly higher risk of heart attack, after eliminating other factors like body mass index, age, etc. 

The study further determined that frequent cannabis smokers are more likely than nonusers to have their first heart attack before the age of 50 or what is called a premature heart attack, which carries a risk of subsequent heart attack or heart failure. 

Another study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal from September revealed something similar - adults under 45 who used cannabis in the 30 days before the research suffered nearly twice as many heart attacks as those who did not use marijuana.

The Stanford researchers noted that they aim to undertake more clinical trials on determining if genistein has the potential of notably reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in cannabis users

The research was supported by the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, American Heart Association, Steven M. Gootter Foundation, Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Leducq Foundation and the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

Photo: Courtesy of Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

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Posted In: cannabis and healthCannabis reserachcardiovascular diseases and cannabisHeart Attacks and marijuanaJoseph WuMark ChandyStanford MedicineCannabisNewsMarkets