Cannabinoids and Atherosclerosis
Current research has shown that cannabinoids may help in the prevention of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease that affects the coronary artery and is caused by inflammation. Cannabinoids have biological effects which they perform through the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and are essential for proper overall function. They also act as anti-inflammatory agents that help regulate the activities of the immune system.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Inflammation is a protective mechanism. It is the body’s natural response to infection. The purpose of inflammation is to eradicate pathogens or remove damaged tissues from the body, though it is actually important that the location of damage be monitored carefully. If the inflammation lasts longer than is necessary, then it may result in harm to the body. Atherosclerosis, an inflammatory disease, also referred to as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a factor that contributes to life-threatening heart conditions, including heart attacks and strokes.
Atherosclerosis features stiffening and narrowing of the lumen of arteries, impeding blood flow to the brain and the heart due to the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries. Substances in the blood, such as fat and cholesterol, line the inner walls of the arteries–known as the endothelium. As the plaque accumulates, the immune system responds with an inflammatory action which causes damage to the arteries. A total or partial blockage may result, stopping the flow of blood through the arteries of the pelvis, the brain, the legs, arms, kidneys, and the heart. When this occurs, the site of the plaque determines the type of coronary disease. These include:
- coronary artery disease
- peripheral artery disease
- carotid artery disease
- chronic kidney disease
During the initial stages of the atherosclerotic disease, no visible symptoms may be experienced for some years. This may be compared to plumbing issues with pipes that have been overlooked.
As the disease progresses, it may get to a point where you begin to experience some symptoms either during activity or at rest. Such symptoms include:
- pains in the chest
- pain radiating throughout the body
- issues with breathing
- heart palpitations
- loss of consciousness
Why atherosclerosis develops is not known. However, smoking cigarettes, high glucose levels, high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, etc., can increase one’s risk of developing the disease.
Medications are usually prescribed for the treatment of this disease. Such medications include thinners and blood statins. Though these medications may be life-saving and prevent the occurrence of cardiac events in the future, their effectiveness is only moderate, and they have some side effects. These include:
- bleeding gums
- prolonged bleeding
- bloody feces or urine
- heavy menstruation and nosebleeds
Studies have shown that THC and other cannabinoids greatly benefit the cells of the immune system. THC reduces the secretion of pro-inflammatory substances and their movement to the wall of the artery vessel.
Cannabinoids and the Treatment of Atherosclerosis
Before the role of cannabinoids in the treatment of atherosclerotic disease can be determined, it is important that we understand the mechanism of action of the endocannabinoid receptors. The ECS, comprised of cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids, plays very essential roles in the maintenance of proper cell function in the various body systems. There are two types of receptors in the ECS–The CB1 and the CB2 receptors. The former receptors are found in brain cells and are responsible for the chemical’s psychotropic effects. CB2 receptors are abundant on the immune cells.
A lot of cannabinoid receptors are present on the cell surfaces in the human body. Vital organs such as the liver, the brain, the heart, and cells of the vascular smooth muscle have CB1 receptors. These receptors are activated by endocannabinoids and act as the body’s natural tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, THCV, CBG, CBN, and CBC, interact with both receptors (CB1 and CB2). At once, the cannabinoids bind to the CB2 receptors and combat atherosclerosis by triggering changes in brain signals and also by regulating cardiac functions and blood circulation.
A lot of research is needed on the use of cannabinoids in the treatment and prevention of coronary diseases. We still need to better understand the mechanism by which cannabinoids perform the regulation that would be most optimal for someone with atherosclerosis.
There are several options for those who still desire to regulate and prevent problems caused by arterial plaque without the conventional pharmaceuticals. Vaporizers and edibles have been prescribed for patients over the years. They are known to be a healthier and safer way to take cannabis, especially for sick patients. Certain lifestyle changes could also assist in the management of atherosclerosis. It is important that you:
- Regularly check your blood cholesterol level
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat and low sodium
- Perform regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight to minimize risk factors such as hypertension
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