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How Hemp Works for Heart Health (CVD)

April 27, 2020

how hemp works for heart health cardiovascular disease

If you’re wondering how hemp works for heart health you’ll find this article potentially enlightening as we delve into the mysteries and complexities of cannabinoids and the endocannabionid system and its impact on cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Cardiovascular Disease Stats

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States (this could also be said for most western countries). One person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.

According to the CDC, 647,000 people die from this disease every year in the US alone. That's 1 in every 4 deaths. Heart disease costs the United States about $219 billion each year from 2014 to 2015. This includes the cost of healthcare services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.

The CDC also notes that approximately 21.8 million adults are diagnosed with heart disease yearly. 

This all makes CVD very threatening to the health of our loved ones, our population and our economy, with plenty of room for potential treatments and applications to prevent or arrest this disease.

Common Forms of Heart Disease

  • Coronary heart disease: Coronary artery disease can range from no symptoms, to chest pain, to a heart attack.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): High blood pressure often has no symptoms. Over time, if untreated, it can cause health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
  • Cardiac arrest: The main symptom is loss of consciousness and unresponsiveness.
  • Heart failure: Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen legs and rapid heartbeat.
  • Arrhythmia: There may be no symptoms. Alternatively, symptoms may include a fluttering in the chest, chest pain, fainting or dizziness.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Symptoms may include leg pain, particularly when walking.
  • Stroke: Symptoms of stroke include trouble walking, speaking and understanding, as well as paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg.
  • Congenital heart disease: Symptoms include abnormal heart rhythms, blue-tinted skin, shortness of breath, failure to feed or develop normally, and swollen body tissue or organs.

How Heart Disease Is Created

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention state on their website, “As plaque builds up in the arteries of a person with heart disease, the inside of the arteries begins to narrow, which lessens or blocks the flow of blood. Plaque can also rupture (break open). When it does, a blood clot can form on the plaque, blocking the flow of blood.”

how hemp works for heart health

They went on to say this about risk factors, “High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, overweight and obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.”

How Cannabinoids Work for Heart Health

While there are many prescription medications currently on the market for heart disease, cannabinoids are drawing attention for their benefits with regard to heart health.

One of the ways cannabinoids help to keep the heart healthy is by maintaining lower blood pressure. Cannabinoids, specifically cannabidiol, is considered to be a vasodilator, which opens up blood vessels and allows blood to flow more easily.

In addition to treating high blood pressure, vasodilators can treat or prevent heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and angina. High blood pressure can cause damage to the arteries and result in heart conditions like an enlarged heart or coronary artery disease. Cannabinoids help by reducing the issues caused by damaged blood vessels.

In addition to naturally lowering blood pressure, whole plant products are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which can cause blood pressure spikes. This is exceptionally helpful in lowering heart rate. Increased heart rate only causes the heart to work harder than it has to. 

A 2010 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology found mice treated with cannabinoids experienced a reduction in heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. The research points towards the ECS working to support regular, balanced function of the heart.

Myocarditis is a viral inflammation within the heart that affects the muscle and electrical system. This can result in a reduction in the heart's ability to pump and irregular heartbeats. Cannabidiol can work with the immune system to reduce the inflammation caused by myocarditis.

how cannabinoids work for cardiovascular disease

A study done by the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel, found a reduction in the amount of cell death in the heart when cannabidiol was administered to mice with myocarditis. Cannabinoids are also strong antimicrobials, fighting bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Whole plant products can support the immune system in killing the viral infection, this reducing the inflammatory response to the infection.

In a meta analysis (study) published in 2018 reviewing all the available literature on cannabinoids effects on cardiovascular health, researchers concluded

“Cannabinoids are increasingly being recognized for their wide range of therapeutic effects both in the cardiovascular system and on other systems in the human body. Both endocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoid compounds have been widely studied and proven to be useful in treating a large number of cardiac disorders... It is, therefore, required that the cannabinoid compounds with promising effects in animal studies be taken to the next stage and studied in humans.”

Another study from 2018 stated, “The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is upregulated in cardiovascular disease states, and cannabinoids in general influence disease progression.2 Moreover, there are paradoxical indications as to whether therapies directed at the ECS, or exogenous drugs derived from marijuana, could have therapeutic impact in CVD.”

They went on to say, “Endocannabinoids and cannabinoid‐related compounds may be a promising approach as therapeutic agents for cardiovascular diseases.

The endocannabinoid system is highly active in cardiovascular disease states. Modulation of the ECS, CB1, and TRPV1 antagonism, as well as CB2 agonism, have proven to modulate disease state and severity in CVD. Studies are underway to develop drugs to change the course of cardiovascular diseases. 

Areas of promise include: CB1 antagonism which has an anti‐inflammatory effect and reduces smooth muscle cell proliferation, as well as CB2 agonism which results in decreased expression of adhesion molecules, reduced inflammatory response, reduced plaque size in atherosclerosis and inhibits the action of oxidized LDL. Of particular interest is the fact that TRPV1 antagonism protects the heart from heart failure‐associated remodeling, especially given the plethora of available TRPV1 antagonists tested in Phase II clinical trials for pain, and other indications.”

What this means is they are finding multiple applications for the way cannabinoids interact with the body to regulate and potentially improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of CVD.

They also mentioned that due to the nature of whole plant cannabis products, it can be difficult to produce hemp products with the consistent levels of cannabinoids needed for FDA approval. Whereas with single extracts such as cannabidiol, which is just one of the cannabinoids present in the hemp plant out of 113, it is much easier to control the amount and dose. 

This doesn’t mean whole plant or full spectrum hemp products aren’t of value. It just means regulating them is more challenging. When you think about it, if just one of the cannabinoids can produce a powerful effect as with cannabidiol, imagine what could happen when you add the other 112 to the mix? Synergy and efficiency occurs creating the “entourage effect”, as stated by cannabinoid researcher Dr Ethan Russo.

As you can tell, heart disease has lifestyle components that are completely under our control, making a large chunk of the rates of this illness largely preventable. If we were to focus on the root cause of CVD, specifically, what causes the plaque build up on the arteries, and how to keep those arteries supple, wide, and flexible, free from plaque, we would see a dramatic reduction in the rates of heart disease, more time with our loved family members affected by this disease, and a boost to our economy through less loss of productivity.

If lifestyle factors that increase our risk of developing heart disease are diabetes, overweight and obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use, then the opposite of those would surely decrease our risk, yes?

This would include regular exercise, a healthy diet (a wholefood plant-based diet, WFPB, has actually been shown to reverse heart disease in several studies), maintain a healthy body-weight (BMI), or specifically, a healthy body composition, limit or moderate alcohol use and cease the use of tobacco. Breathe fresh air, and spend time in nature.

If you found this post of value around how hemp works for heart health, share it, or take a look at our other posts covering a variety of conditions and the leading research on cannabis and hemp over on our blog.