A new study suggests marijuana may have the same effect as drugs commonly taken to prevent heart disease.
Marijuana contains a group of compounds that scientists believe could provide new treatments for cardiovascular disease. Experiments in animals suggest that these compounds, called cannabinoids, may protect against a wide range of conditions, including hypertension, stroke, atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
Now, scientists at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine have shown that cannabinoids can have the same effect in human patients.
Published in the journal Pharmacological Research, the team, led by Dr. Saoirse O’Sullivan, found that cannabinoids affect blood vessels by causing them to relax and widen. According to the researchers, the study was the first to demonstrate this response in human tissue samples.
Relaxation of the blood vessels is known to lower blood pressure and improve circulation.
In fact, a class of drugs called vasodilators are already used to treat diseases like hypertension, heart failure, and angina. Vasodilators are also popular for maintaining low blood pressure in patients at risk of developing heart problems.
However, the authors note that the role of cannabinoids in cardiovascular disease has not been well researched. The experiments were also carried out using a cannabinoid produced naturally by the body, known as 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol), rather than cannabinoids derived from marijuana.
On the other hand, some of Dr. O’Sullivan’s previous work suggests a compound in marijuana called cannabidiol could offer similar benefits.
The researchers conclude that more investigation is needed on the interaction of different diseases and medications with the cardiovascular effects of cannabinoids.
Recently, another team from the University of Nottingham presented findings at the annual UK Stroke Forum conference showing that cannabinoids may protect the brain after stroke.