Because cannabis is the most widely used (and abused) illicit drug in the United states and the world, both for medicinal and recreational uses, it has received substantial interest from scientists, who have until recently found studying the drug very difficult. The endocannabinoid system was discovered through exploration of THC, the psychoactive molecule in cannabis. The two endocannabinoid receptors (there might be more), CB1 and CB2, have turned out to be essential to dozens of metabolic, signaling, and regulatory processes in the body and are therefore ideal targets for therapy.
One condition it is known to play a role in is atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in arteries. This is one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke (combined the biggest killers in the world) and effective treatments that are also tolerable are not well tolerated. Some recent studies have shown that smoking cannabis contributes to angina and acute coronary syndromes. This study explores the history of cannabis and the role of cannabis in the development of diseases, particularly atherosclerosis.
Smoking cannabis has been linked to the development of acute coronary events and lowers the threshold of angina. This is probably due to the inflammation caused by inhalation of toxic chemicals, like smoking tobacco. Free radicals, toxins, and other damaging compounds are formed by the burning of cannabis. If inhaled, it follows that it would cause harm and it does.
Conversely, the administration of cannabinoids in safe ways, for example by eating, drinking, or vaporizing, seems to help modulate atherogenesis, or the production of plaques. The role of cannabinoids in cardiovascular health has yet to be fully explored, however, it is known that lipid metabolism, immune cells, the renal, lung, nervous, and gastro intestinal systems, endothelial cells, muscle cells, and heart tissues are all rich in endocannabinoid receptors.
THC has been found to be “atheroprotective”. This is potentially via the CB1 receptor, the receptor THC has greatest affinity. There is a complex regulatory system of the lipid content of the blood and therefore the amount of plaques that develop on coronary vessel walls. This is in part mediated by the endocannabinoid system and is certainly affected by THC. The exogenous administration of THC seems to have a protective effect, reducing the amount of lipid plaques in the cardiovascular system.
Because THC is psychoactive, it is not as tolerable as other cannabinoids. Some synthetic cannabinoids bind to the same CB1 receptor but do not affect the central nervous system, making them potentials for further research.
Cannabis remains illegal in most of the world. This includes even the non-psychoactive constituents of the plant, of which many are potential or existing medicines. Because of the risk of punishment, it is impossible to recommend the use of cannabis for the treatment of atherosclerosis. The lack of extensive clinical data is also limiting. More study needs to be carried out before it could be prescribed.
The biggest killer in the world is heart disease and the relatively poorly understood endocannabinoid system is a strong candidate for further research into using it as a target for therapies. Cannabinoids are largely tolerable and safe, they have few side effects and the long term safety profile is positive. This makes them ideal candidates for exploration, but as long as they remain illegal, this will be very difficult to implement.
In conclusion, atherosclerosis can potentially be treated with safely administered cannabinoids, possibly through eating, drinking, or vaporizing cannabis. Other cardiovascular and metabolic conditions are also potentials for cannabinoid treatment. This is preclinical data, so it should be approached with caution. Illegality and the lack of substantial understanding limits the clinical applications of cannabis.