Cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders that center on the heart and blood vessels. They are the number one cause of death worldwide and include chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. Heart attacks and strokes are also generally acute events of cardiovascular diseases, usually as a result of a blockage that prevents blood flow to the heart or brain.
But what are the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases? Common risk factors include a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and alcohol misuse. However, is there another prominent factor that can determine if someone develops a cardiovascular disease?
The genetics of cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular diseases are an example of what geneticists refer to as complex traits. This term defines the effects that follow interactions between several genes, each contributing a small result, and the environment. It’s true that much of the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease comes from environmental factors such as obesity and limited physical activity, but there is a genetic component that can predispose individuals to cardiovascular disorders.
Variations on chromosome 9p21, for example, can impact the CDKN2A and CDKN2B genes and lead to coronary heart disease. These genes are responsible for controlling cell proliferation, and researchers believe they specifically increase cell proliferation in the heart, causing the cardiac muscle to thicken or the heart to enlarge.
In addition, PITX2, a gene that’s essential for the development of the left atrium, is linked to atrial fibrillation. What’s more interesting is that examples of genetic links to hypertension are often centered around the TGFβ pathway, which is involved in a vast range of cellular processes that are connected to blood pressure, like vascular architecture and cellular homeostasis.
These genes represent a fraction of the enormous number of DNA variants that are associated with cardiovascular diseases. For instance, well-researched genes such as DMRTA1, LPA, LOC729065, MIR297, ADD1, AGTR1, and BCAT1 can also lead to a cardiovascular disease. And having any variations in these genes should convince people to consume a healthy diet and regularly exercise as those two solutions are known to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
However, if someone is interested in exploring natural remedies to mitigate their genetic predisposition for cardiovascular diseases, cannabis could also be a therapeutic treatment to implement.
A complicated relationship
While new research suggests that people with heart conditions may be at risk of developing cardiovascular issues when using cannabis, research on the link between cannabis and cardiovascular diseases is limited, owing to the complex legal environment and limited funding opportunities. There are not enough studies to prove cannabis leads to cardiovascular diseases. In fact, the few studies that have been conducted suggest that cannabis could be a potential remedy, because of the endocannabinoid system that researchers are starting to analyze.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors, endogenous cannabinoids, and enzymes that are involved in the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids. This complex network regulates a variety of physiological processes, including immune response, pain modulation, neuroprotection, and cardiovascular disease. However, endocannabinoids, as well as CB1 and CB2 receptors, can also have a positive impact on the regulation of the cardiovascular system.
Researchers have found that endocannabinoids and their receptors can help regulate blood pressure, an important aspect of cardiovascular health. What’s even more interesting is that phytocannabinoids can promote vasodilation and reduce blood pressure to further combat cardiovascular diseases.
What features of cannabis can improve cardiovascular health?
The growing body of evidence clearly suggests that the composition of cannabis has a therapeutic effect on the cardiovascular system. With multiple terpenes and over 60 phytocannabinoids that all interact with one another, the cannabis plant contains a wide range of compounds that contribute to its impact on the body. However, research suggests that three phytocannabinoids, in particular, have the most beneficial effect on cardiovascular diseases.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the main cannabinoids found in cannabis and lacks psychoactive properties. It’s posited to have many positive effects on the cardiovascular system, including vascular relaxation, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects that protect the cells of the cardiovascular system. Research also shows that CBD can influence white blood cells — even though researchers are still seeking a defined mechanism of action — and a small study indicates that CBD can help reduce blood pressure.
Ocimene is a terpene that’s found in cannabis. Research suggests that it can inhibit an enzyme connected to hypertension (ACE), making ocimene a great candidate for those who want to reduce blood pressure. Studies also show that ocimene is a potent antioxidant, allowing it to contribute to overall cardiovascular health.
Many people tout that THC has various therapeutic benefits, especially when it comes to anxiety, depression, and pain. But what most people don’t talk about is THC’s impact on cardiovascular diseases.
Studies suggest that THC has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and also helps reduce hypertension. In addition, research indicates that THC can reduce atherosclerosis and vascular inflammation in mouse models. When scientists administered THC in low doses before inducing a heart attack in the mice, THC had a protective effect on the heart tissues.
Combining cannabis with a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining an active lifestyle, healthy diet, and reducing stress are crucial ways that individuals can reduce their risk of suffering from chronic or acute cardiovascular disease. However, cannabis has various properties that could enhance the health of people’s cardiovascular systems. With the right phytocannabinoids and a healthy lifestyle, individuals can find relief from the symptoms of cardiovascular conditions and live a full life.