Smoking marijuana clogs your arteries

A joint for the heart?

THC, the active ingredient in hash, keeps blood vessels clean

Cannabis is still considered an illegal drug, even if private consumption is often no longer punished these days. However, there is growing evidence that hash is an effective drug in a number of areas. New research has now shown that the main active ingredient in the hemp plant, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), can prevent hardening of the arteries. At least with mice.

If deposits form on the inner walls of the pulse or arteries (arteries) in the human body, this is called hardening of the arteries or medically precise arteriosclerosis. This disease leads to heart attacks and strokes, which are responsible for half of all deaths in Western societies. Many risk factors are known, but drugs are also sought worldwide to slow down the hardening of the arteries.

In the current issue of the science magazine Nature, Sabine Steffens and colleagues from the University of Geneva and the University of Bonn report on their latest experiments with cannabinoids. The hemp plant Cannabis sativa is an old medicinal plant. Hashish products are increasingly being used again today to combat symptoms of illness and, in particular, pain. In many areas the effectiveness is now undisputed, in others it is still debated and tested ("Yes, I inhaled"). In the Federal Republic of Germany intensive research is being carried out into the therapeutic possibilities of cannabis, in Great Britain the approval of a hemp spray has been applied for (cannabis helps against pain).

Mice with clean blood vessels

In the beginning there is always the animal experiment. Sabine Steffens' team administered the active ingredient in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), to laboratory mice that had high blood lipid levels due to a special diet. However, in the very low dose of one milligram per kilogram of body weight per day, so that the animals did not get high. This treatment led to a significant reduction in the amount of fatty deposits in the arteries and thus the fatal risk of heart attack and stroke.

THC attaches to two different receptors, the cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and the cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). CB1 are receptors on the outer walls of nerve cells and hashish produces both the psychoactive and pain relieving effects in this area. In contrast, CB2 is found on cells of the immune system.

As the researchers had suspected, THC slows down arteriosclerosis by binding to CB2. If the mice were given a chemical agent to prevent them from attaching to these receptors, the beneficial effect did not materialize and the blood vessels continued to narrow.

The decisive factor was the dose of THC that the test animals received. If the amount of THC was increased or decreased, there was no longer any therapeutic effect on the arteries. This reminded the scientists of the positive effects of alcohol, especially red wine (In vino sanitas), on the heart, if the consumption does not exceed a small daily amount. The same applies to dark chocolate (About the effectiveness of flavonoids).

Accordingly, Steffens and colleagues also attach great importance to the fact that they do not ask anyone to smoke a joint every day to prevent a heart attack. “This study has absolutely nothing to do with smoking marijuana,” emphasizes co-author François Mach from the University of Geneva. Michael Randall of the University of Nottingham Medical School told Nature, who also looked at the potential effectiveness of cannabis in cardiovascular disease: “These results do not mean that smoking cannabis is beneficial for the cardiovascular system because of cannabis smoke contains many poisons that can even cause cardiovascular diseases. "

Michael D. Roth from the University of California at Los Angeles, who has already done research on THC and cancer (cannabis and cancer), also emphasizes this in his News & Views article and notes that this study provides a new approach that will be more detailed in the future target the various effects of THC.

The differences in the binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors must be taken into account as precisely as possible in order to develop new medical therapies - for example against chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. A study is currently underway in Munich on the effectiveness of a cannabis preparation in patients with chronic Crohn's disease (see The intestine as an unknown size and therapeutic use of cannabis in patients with Crohn's disease), which is based on research on mice in the laboratory of the Max Planck Society , with the researchers focusing on the CB1 receptors (cannabinoids used in the fight against intestinal inflammation). (Andrea Naica-Loebell)

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