An analysis of medical research regarding marijuana’s effect on the heart has reached a not-so-surprising conclusion: We still don’t know whether weed is good or bad our cardiovascular health.
In a systematic review published today in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of researchers led by Dr. Divya Ravi of the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Scranton presents a solid argument for why more cannabis research is needed.
They set out to find research about cannabis based on known or believed cardiovascular effects in some cannabis-consuming populations already researched.
The problem is, there is not enough credible research to draw any firm conclusions. The authors did conclude that preconceived notions about Ding-Dong stuffing potheads ballooning to obesity just don’t add up.
“Despite the popular belief that marijuana use causes ‘the munchies,’ we found no evidence that it is associated with weight gain or obesity,” the researchers reported.
The researchers explained that cannabis is believed to:
Impact your sugar levels, resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or diabetes (chronic dysfunction of sugar regulation), which increases cardiovascular risk.
Cause dyslipidemia, which is high cholesterol/high triglycerides.
“In vitro and animal studies have reported that THC can modulate cannabinoid receptors on human cardiomyocytes and vascular smooth muscles, resulting in ischemia [lack of blood supply, especially dangerous in reference to the heart],” the researchers explained.
“In vitro studies also have demonstrated that THC influences the regulation of glucose [sugar} and lipid [fat] metabolism, suggesting a possible effect on vascular risk factors. At the cellular level, THC may cause inflammatory cytokine release, alteration in lipid metabolism, and reactive oxygen species formation,” they continued.
Still, the researchers explained they did not find sufficient evidence to show marijuana leads to stroke or acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).
They found no evidence to support any of this. On the contrary, they did find studies showing metabolic benefit from cannabis (marijuana may actually cause you to lose weight) but they deemed those studies irrelevant because they were based on cross-sectional designs.
In other words:
Arcane and sweeping generalizations that marijuana smokers munch all day on candy, making them fat and causing their blood sugar to spike, leading to an eventual early death by cardiovascular disease, appears to be false.
In fact, six studies showed that marijuana may actually help people lose weight.
But the researchers say more studies are needed to draw firm conclusions.
“Many articles in the lay press have suggested to the public that marijuana use has cardiovascular benefits, reduces blood pressure, stabilizes blood sugar levels, or improves cholesterol profiles. Our review found insufficient evidence to support these claims,” the researchers concluded. “Given public opinion that marijuana is safe or even beneficial, the insufficiency of the literature is concerning. An active research agenda in this area is needed to provide the public with accurate information.”
Therein lies the rub: The federal government does not allow cannabis research to be conducted as it should be. Only government-issued weed that looks like grass clippings can be used.
Cannabis research often wildly flawed by excluding CBD, trichomes
Even if the federal government allowed researchers to use commercial-quality weed with high THC levels, research still would be insufficient.
Medical research continues to wholly disregard the power of terpenes, the compounds on the plant’s flower. Those smelly, sometimes sticky terpenes also contain trichomes, which are what convey each strain’s unique medicinal qualities.
Finally, much research doesn’t even use strains with CBD content, the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that has medicinal powers of its own. That’s changing, however, with the federal government now beginning to grow plant with CBD content.
Cannabis used for medical research must come from the federal cannabis garden at the University of Mississippi.
Like Pharma’s dizzying dictionary of pills, each of the hundreds of marijuana strains (with more emerging all the time due to cross-breeding) convey different benefits.
You would not give a person with a heart condition a powerful, uplifting sativa as a first treatment choice for anything, most likely. Conversely, a depressed person not wanting to get out of bed probably won’t find much relief with strains such as Lavender Kush.
The sad truth: Marijuana best consumed in ways other than smoking it
Smoking cannabis is harder on our lungs than we want to admit, and this research should serve to remind us of that.
“Marijuana smoking, the predominant method of use, causes a five-fold increase in the blood carboxyhemoglobin level and a 3-fold increment in the quantity of tar inhaled compared with tobacco,” reported the authors of the study.
The dispensaries all push vaping and edibles, it seems….as they should!
My personal story: A case study
Sadly, I don’t practice what I preach. Perhaps it’s because smoking out of a pipe is always how I did it even before I became legal. At least I upgraded to a glass pipe, which definitely is lots better.
I love my pepper pipe.
Does that make me the Pied Pepper?
Here, I conserve money by holding in my medical cannabis for my chronic PTSD for as long as I can after inhaling. I love my pepper pipe. Does that make me the Pied Pepper?
I firmly believe medical cannabis helps control my blood pressure – in fact, I know it does. That’s not to say it works for everyone.
Medical cannabis comes in so many strains it almost seems impossible to get a good handle on its qualities (or dangers) research-wise without researching the many, many strains.
And another thing: Illinois has the most tightly controlled medical cannabis program in the country. We only have 30,000 patients after two years. Our cannabis is made without pesticides by cultivators in greenhouses.
Unlike some other states, we can get strains with extremely high CBD and THC content, and a smorgasbord of strains, including all the emerging ones, specifically bred for certain conditions.
My elderly neighbors (the only people I regularly see and talk to) are shocked to learn that I am not given a supply of generic cannabis that insurance pays for.
Think about it: How could cannabis be medically effective for all of these varying conditions if there only were one kind? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The authors admit the study has several limitations.
“We excluded articles not published in English; thus, we may have overlooked relevant studies,” they reported.
“The diverse representation of outcomes across studies, variation in study design, and frequent lack of effect size reporting precluded a meta-analysis. In addition, most studies inadequately assessed marijuana exposure. Finally, most studies in this review were rated as high ROB, so their results should be interpreted with caution.”
Unfortunately, don’t hold your breath about the NIH funding loads and loads of medical cannabis research anytime soon.
You can find me on Twitter @DavidHeitz