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How medical marijuana can affect your heart rate

One of the most profound effects of medical marijuana can be on your heart. Users might experience sweating, an increased heart rate and higher blood pressure when using medical marijuana. Because this effect is so prominently visible it is important to know more about it, especially since that your cardiovascular health is incredibly important. In the United States alone over 630 000 deaths occur annually due to some heart disease. Taking care of your heart and knowing how using medical marijuana plays a role in that is thus of vital importance.

Your cardiovascular health

Your cardiovascular system is made up of the heart and blood vessels that transport blood throughout your body and is thus of vital importance. There are two risks associated with the cardiovascular system: an heart attack, where part of the heart muscle dies off or stops working, or a stroke, where a blockage or rupture of blood vessels means blood can no longer access your brain, thus depriving your brain cells of nutrients and causing them to die.

But how does marijuana usage impact your cardiovascular system? Sadly it is very hard to know this exactly, although many studies have been performed to investigate this. A meta-analysis of 24 of those studies found that there is insufficient evidence to say that marijuana has any effect on heart attacks or strokes, whether that means increasing your chance of getting them or decreasing that chance. The authors do however note that this does not mean that there is no link, because of the limited studies available and their relatively poor quality. These are however signs that you should not be overly worried about your cardiovascular health when using medical marijuana, but keep an eye out on new research that might prove otherwise.

How medical marijuana reacts with CB1 receptors

In order to better understand the effect that medical marijuana has on your cardiovascular health it is best to look at how cannabis interacts with it. There are basically two different receptors in your cardiovascular system that cannabis can bind to: CB1 and CB2. THC, one of the main ingredients of cannabis, can bind to these receptors and trigger certain reactions. CB1 receptors can be found on your heart muscle, the surrounding blood vessels and on the brain nerves that control heart rate. The activation of these CB1 receptors by THC can increase your heart rate by up to 25-50 beats per minute, which is necessary in order to compensate for another effect of THC on your cardiovascular system.

THC also binds to CB1 receptors in your blood vessels, increasing their diameter and thus lowering your blood pressure. In order to still pump the same amount of blood through your body the heart then has to work harder and it increases its pumping rate to do that. You do not really have to worry about the increased heart rate, since an increased heart rate for a short period of time is not necessarily bad. There are some signs that the triggering of CB1 receptors in your blood vessels increases plaque build up, but the exact effects are unknown and very hard to properly study.

Binding to CB2

CB2 is the other receptor that THC binds to and this receptor actually has positive effects. It is mostly found in immune cells and it helps mitigate the negative effects of the CB1 receptors, because it increases the anti-inflammatory effects of the immune cells. This combined effect of CB1 and CB2 makes it hard to make some general statement about the effect of medical marijuana on your heart rate and your cardiovascular health. There are however strong signs that low dosage of THC mostly affect the CB2 receptors and thus might have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health, reducing plaque build up and risk for atherosclerosis.

Two other important ingredients of marijuana are CBD and THCV, which both act as a sort of blocking mechanism for the CB1 receptors when administered in low doses. CBD also acts as a potent antioxidant on its own and has strong anti-inflammatory abilities. In the right combination, THC, CBD and THCV could be a very potent cardiovascular drug and right now clinical trials are being conducted to further investigate this. THCV has in fact already been shown to be safe in Phase II clinical trials. This also shows that when talking about medical marijuana it is also very important to consider the strain of marijuana that is being used. Some strains are high in THC, while others are high in CBD and there are many more combinations to be made. With the right combination medical marijuana could be a very potent solution for cardiovascular problems, but right now it is unclear what the actual long terms effects are. Not all is bad though: of all the medical reports related to cannabis only 2 percent was about cardiovascular events, indicating that the problem, if there is one, is not particularly big.