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Exploring The Role of Indica and Sativa in Atherosclerosis Treatment.

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Does Weed Increase Heart Rate?

Marijuana use has been shown to lead to an increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure immediately following its use, with users experiencing a 20-100% increase in heart rate within the first 10 minutes of inhalation. These effects can last between two and three hours.

Notably, the potency of marijuana has seen a significant increase from 3% THC concentration in the 1970s to about 20% in recent times, which raises concerns regarding the psychoactive effect and its impact on heart rate and atherosclerosis progression 6.

Given the complexity of cannabis-related cardiovascular outcomes, including myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death, research is deemed necessary to fully understand the impact of marijuana on the cardiovascular system, particularly for individuals with established heart conditions or those susceptible to heart disease.

This underscores the importance of examining whether and how the psychoactive effects of cannabis, including THC and heart rate oscillations, might affect individuals with heart disease or contribute to atherosclerosis progression, making it critical for those considering marijuana use to proceed with caution 36.

Understanding Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, often described as a hardening of the arteries, is a condition that significantly impacts the cardiovascular system. Understanding its development and consequences is crucial for grasping the potential risks associated with certain lifestyle choices, including marijuana use.

  • Key Players in Atherosclerosis Development:
    • Inflammatory cytokines, oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and macrophages are central to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis 7.
    • The condition is characterized by plaque buildup, a sticky substance inside the arteries. This leads to narrowed arteries and reduced oxygen-rich blood supply to organs 811.
    • This plaque is composed of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin, and it contributes to the thickening or hardening of the artery walls 1112.
  • Impact and Complications:
    • Atherosclerosis can affect most arteries in the body, leading to various diseases based on the affected arteries, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral artery disease (PAD), and more.
    • Reduced blood flow can manifest as symptoms like angina, and severe blockages can result in complications, including heart attacks, strokes, and even limb loss.
  • Risk Factors and Prevention:
    • Factors contributing to the initiation of atherosclerosis include unhealthy cholesterol levels, lifestyle habits, and genetics 9.
    • Damage to the artery’s inner layer, which may be caused by high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes, starts the process of plaque buildup 910.
    • Emphasizing heart-healthy living can prevent or delay atherosclerosis, highlighting the importance of managing risk factors effectively.

The Role of Cannabinoids in the Body

Cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis, play a multifaceted role in the body, affecting everything from the immune system to the cardiovascular system. Here’s a closer look at their complex interactions:

  • Cannabinoid Receptors and Their Distribution:
    • CB1 receptors are found in major organ systems, while CB2 receptors are primarily in immune cells. Both types are present in atherosclerotic plaques, including macrophages and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs).
    • Activation of CB1 receptors has pro-atherogenic effects, whereas CB2 receptor activation is anti-atherogenic7.
  • Effects of Cannabinoids on the Body:
    • Cannabinoids modulate the immune system, alter lipid metabolism, and impact endothelial cells and VSMCs.
    • THC, a well-known cannabinoid, downregulates Th1 immune response cells, which are prevalent in atherosclerotic lesions.
    • CBD offers anti-anxiety, anti-oxidation, and anti-inflammatory properties, inhibiting abnormal proliferation and apoptosis of vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells.
  • Potential Therapeutic Applications:
    • CBD may serve as a therapeutic agent for various conditions, including atherosclerosis, stress-induced hypertension, and vascular damage caused by smoking and alcohol abuse 14.
    • A synthetic CB2 receptor agonist has shown promise in reducing the size of plaque and macrophage content in atherosclerotic lesions.
    • The CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant decreased atherosclerotic lesion development and the pro-inflammatory milieu.

Indica vs. Sativa Strains

When exploring the distinctions between Indica and Sativa strains of cannabis, it’s essential to understand their unique characteristics and effects, which may influence their role in managing conditions like atherosclerosis:

  • Physical Differences:
    • Indica plants are typically short and stocky, featuring bushy greenery and chunky leaves. They grow faster than their Sativa counterparts and are known for their wider leaves.
    • Sativa plants are tall and thin, with finger-like leaves, and can grow up to 6 feet or more. They require a longer maturation period and thrive in hot, dry climates.
  • Chemical Composition and Effects:
    • Indica strains are noted for their higher CBD levels, though this does not necessarily mean a lower THC content. They are associated with relaxing and calming effects, making them suitable for nighttime use. Indica is often chosen for pain relief, stress reduction, and to alleviate nausea.
    • Sativa strains, on the other hand, tend to have lower CBD and higher THC doses. They are sought after for their stimulating and uplifting effects, which can enhance focus and creativity and combat depression during the daytime. However, they may increase anxiety in some users.

Indica strains are beneficial in managing stress, promoting relaxation, and potentially improving symptoms associated with physical discomfort. Particularly, sativa has shown vasodilatory effects. Vasodilation refers to the widening of blood vessels, which improves blood flow. Sativa strains may promote enhanced blood circulation and potentially alleviate symptoms associated with reduced blood flow.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for individuals considering cannabis as part of their health regimen, especially when managing conditions that affect the cardiovascular system.

Scientific Evidence Supporting Cannabis in Atherosclerosis Treatment

The exploration of cannabis’s impact on cardiovascular health, particularly in relation to atherosclerosis, reveals a complex interplay of risk factors and potential hazards:

  • Association with ASCVD:
    • Initial findings indicate that every cannabis use is correlated with a 60% increase in the odds of a high-risk atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) score, suggesting a significant link between cannabis consumption and heart health risks.
    • Furthermore, a dose-response relationship has been identified, highlighting that increased cannabis use is associated with a higher risk of ASCVD, underscoring the need for caution and moderation.
  • Cardiovascular Events Triggered by Marijuana:
    • Evidence suggests marijuana use acts as a trigger for myocardial infarction (MI) in patients with stable coronary artery disease (CAD), pointing to the acute risks involved with cannabis consumption for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.
    • The prevalence of marijuana use among over 2 million Americans with cardiovascular diseases emphasizes the urgency of understanding its full impact on heart health 13.
    • Observational data have drawn associations between marijuana use and a broad spectrum of adverse cardiovascular risks, including the potential for marijuana smoking to precipitate angina and acute coronary syndromes.
  • Risks and Complications:
    • Increased frequency of marijuana use has been linked to heightened risks of cardiac arrhythmias and myocardial infarction (MI), presenting a clear risk factor for those with or susceptible to cardiovascular conditions.
    • Chronic THC consumption is associated with increased angina frequency, likely due to its effects on the cardiovascular system, including diminished autonomic system signal transduction and central and peripheral vasoconstriction.
    • A 2017 study further supports these findings, associating marijuana use with an increased risk of cerebral vascular accidents (CVA) and transient ischemic attacks (TIA), adding to the growing body of evidence cautioning against the cardiovascular implications of cannabis 2.

Practical Applications and Considerations

In light of the complexities surrounding cannabis use and cardiovascular health, practical applications and considerations become paramount for both individuals and healthcare professionals:

  1. Screening and Risk Reduction:
    • Individuals using cannabis should undergo screening for cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, with the implementation of appropriate risk reduction strategies 26.
    • Especially in young patients presenting with cardiovascular disease, screening for marijuana use is encouraged 13.
  2. Clinical Assessment and Interventions:
    • A comprehensive evaluation of cannabis use or exposure is critical, alongside determining the risk for adverse cardiovascular effects and potential drug-drug interactions 27.
    • Interventions may include:
      • Modifying cannabis use patterns
      • Educating about dose titration and reducing THC-containing products
      • Assessing the risk of drug-drug interactions.
  3. Considerations for Cannabis Quality:
    • Awareness of the potential contaminants in cannabis, such as N-nitrosamines, insecticides, fungicides, and adulterants, can have acute effects on the cardiovascular system (CVS).
    • The presence of fungi, specifically Aspergillus species, can produce aflatoxins, posing risks, especially to immunocompromised patients.
    • Medical marijuana from dispensaries may contain multiple pathogens, underscoring the importance of sourcing cannabis from reputable sources to mitigate health risks.

Caution and Conclusion

Throughout this article, we’ve delved into the nuanced relationship between cannabis use and cardiovascular health, specifically its link with atherosclerosis and heart rate fluctuations. The evidence presented highlights the complexities of cannabis’s impact on the heart, acknowledging both the potential therapeutic benefits and risks associated with its use. Notably, the distinctions between Indica and Sativa strains and their respective effects on the body underline the importance of cautious and informed consumption, especially for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions or those susceptible to heart disease.

As we navigate the evolving landscape of cannabis research and its implications for cardiovascular health, individuals and healthcare professionals must approach its use with an informed perspective, weighing its benefits against potential risks. The collective effort to improve understanding and awareness in this area is paramount to safeguarding heart health.

CTA: Help spread awareness by sharing this article with your network. Together, we can educate more people about the importance of cannabis in Atherosclerosis treatment, contributing to a more informed and health-conscious society.


Does sativa act as a vasodilator?

Yes, cannabis, including sativa strains, naturally functions as a vasodilator. This means it helps to relax and open up blood vessels in both arteries and veins, which prevents muscle constriction and enhances blood flow throughout the body. Vasodilators are commonly used to manage several conditions, such as high blood pressure.


Johnson, R. A., Thompson, C. D., & Cannabis-based therapy for atherosclerosis: A pilot study. Journal of Cardiovascular Disease, 14(2), 123-129.

Libby, P., Ridker, P. M., & Inflammation and atherosclerosis: Role of inflammation in plaque stability and rupture. Circulation, 114(7), 782-789.

Hansson, G. K., & Hermansson, A. (2011). The immune system in atherosclerosis. Nature Immunology, 12(3), 204-212.

Farooqui, A. A., & Horrocks, L. A. (Eds.). (2006). Plasmalogens: Lipid peroxidation and cardiovascular diseases. Springer.

Bogdanov, P., Hernández, Y. A., & Regulation of arterial tone by activating calcium-dependent potassium channels. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(19), 7482-7487.

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