There’s a bit of bad health news on the horizon for dope smokers.
A study published in cell.com shows a strong correlation between smoking marijuana and heart issues.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes you high) binds to cannabinoid receptors in the vasculature and is implicated in cardiovascular disease.
NBC News reported that the study, done among close to 160,000 people (courtesy the UK Biobank), compared the health of 11,000 who smoke marijuana at least once a month to two other groups: 122,000 in the same age group (40 to 69) who do not smoke cannabis at all and 23,000 who smoke it less than once a month.
Age, gender and body mass index (things that also affect heart disease risk) were taken into account.
The findings: people who smoke marijuana often (versus those who do not) are more likely to have a first heart attack before age 50.
And having one heart attack increases the risk of having another or of developing heart failure.
There have been other studies in the past that link smoking dope to increased risk of heart disease. This study, however, looked more closely at the reasons why.
The feeling of being stoned is the result of THC binding with a receptor in the brain; the research team found in lab studies that THC also binds to that receptor in blood vessels.
This potentially triggers inflammation in blood vessels and accelerates the build up of plaque in the arteries.
Joseph Wu, the study’s senior author and the director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, said in his opinion, the public perception that marijuana is harmless or even good for you is incorrect.
“In reality, this study shows a high dose of THC, the main component of marijuana, causes vascular inflammation,” said Wu.
As Stanford reported in a medical newsletter, Dr. Mark Chandy, an instructor of medicine, said he believes that as more states legalize cannabis, a rise in heart attack and stroke will follow.
“Marijuana has a significantly adverse effect on the cardiovascular system. Our studies of human cells and mice clearly outline how THC exposure initiates a damaging molecular cascade in the blood vessels,” said Chandy.
“It’s not a benign drug.”
There is some good news. The researchers found that a small molecule called genistein, which occurs naturally in soy and fava beans, can block the inflammation and atherosclerosis.
And, Stanford reported, since genistein does not really penetrate the brain, it does not interfere with the way THC fights pain and nausea, and stimulates appetite — crucial to medical marijuana users.
The researchers hope to investigate further to find out if genistein can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in marijuana users.