Since 2001, marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been legal for medicinal use in Canada. As of 2018, a variety of cannabis-based products have also been permitted legally for recreational use. This variety includes dried cannabis, cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, and cannabis seeds for cultivation. Added to the list in 2019, cannabis edibles and topicals and extracts, such as cannabis-based vaped products, also became legal. So now that marijuana is legal and therefore “acceptable,” we need to take a closer look at how it affects one’s heart health.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is also known by its street names: weed, pot or dope. It derives from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which acts as a mood-altering compound. It also has other active compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD), which are not mind-altering. The latter is becoming more widely accepted and used for medicinal purposes.
What is THC?
THC is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC acts similarly to the cannabinoid chemicals produced naturally by the body. NIDA explains that the cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain, which are responsible for our thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors, activating them and affecting the user’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception.
What is Medicinal Marijuana?
Marijuana has two biologically active chemicals: THC and CBD. THC can make a person feel intoxicated or “high,” whereas CBD can treat pain and other symptoms. As well, medicinal marijuana can treat symptoms including pain, nausea and even lack of appetite. People who have conditions like cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis also benefit from using CBD-based products. HealthLink BC states that medicines that include THC also are available. These include:
- THC and CBD (Sativex) – This is a combination medicine that can relieve pain in people with advanced cancer and relieve muscle stiffness in people with multiple sclerosis. This drug has naturally occurring THC and CBD.
- Nabilone (Cesamet) – This medicine is used to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by chemo. It may also improve the appetite of people who have AIDS. Nabilone is a synthetically produced THC.
How Does Cannabis Affect Your Heart Health?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation emphasizes that high-quality scientific evidence about the impact of recreational marijuana use on heart health and stroke is minimal. However, there is emerging evidence that points to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to the effects of marijuana on blood pressure, inflammation of blood vessels, and cardiac arrhythmias. The Heart and Stroke Foundation also states that some research supports that long-term or excessive use of marijuana increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. There have been reports linking marijuana-use to cardiovascular emergencies, including heart attack, arrhythmias, heart failure, stroke, and cardiac arrest.
What’s the Harm?
It’s advised that marijuana users review the Lower-Risk Cannabis User Guidelines to assess the safest methods of use. When it comes to vape-related products, consumers should always follow the guidance and health advisories from Health Canada and only purchase THC extracts for vaping from authorized dealers. Buying off-market can have devastating consequences on your heart health.
Are There Benefits to Using Marijuana for Heart Health?
While marijuna use is legal in Canada, there is no supporting evidence (yet), which shows it has heart health benefits. Aside from being useful for pain management, Medical News Today says many cardiology patients are on medications that can interact with marijuana in unpredictable ways, depending on the formulation. This indicates that more research and data are needed to better guide patients. As always, please consult with your medical doctor before using marijuana to treat any ailments.
Using marijuana products to help manage pain from heart disease and stroke is a very personal decision and certainly suitable for every patient. To obtain marijuana for medical purposes, patients will need a prescription from a healthcare provider. There are discussions currently taking place about allowing Canadians access to marijuana-based health products for minor ailments, such as muscle soreness and pain relief without a prescription.
Even if marijuana is legal in Canada, it can have a negative effect on one’s heart health. Make sure to assess your own personal health before making the decision to use marijuana, whether medically or for recreational use. Always speak to your healthcare provider before deciding to treat yourself for any ailments or medical conditions.