In this post we will explore the potential benefits of CBD for atherosclerosis, and whether the compound can be used to treat the condition.
CBD is one of the most prominent of the cannabinoids, and has a host of effects – many of which appear to be beneficial from a health standpoint. That can include improving the risks associated with atherosclerosis, and possibly even reversing it to some extent. In this post, we’ll explore precisely what that means and whether you should consider using CBD to treat atherosclerosis.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a condition that is characterized by narrow and inflexible arteries, caused by high cholesterol levels. This can then cause a number of unwanted side effects. Cholesterol in turn is caused by triglycerides. These are a type of fat, which are deposited on the inner walls of arteries – blood vessels carrying blood away from the heart. As these deposits increase, the arteries become stiff and rigid, eventually making it very difficult for blood to pass through. This will in turn raise the blood pressure and heart rate, and increase the chances of heart attack or stroke.
Early symptoms of atherosclerosis include the following:
- Chest pain
- Radiating pain throughout the body
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Passing out
The Benefits of CBD
CBD is a cannabinoid that works by attaching to the CB1 receptors located in the brain and throughout the body. These are found on the surfaces of cells throughout organs, including the heart, brain, and vascular smooth muscle cells – which we’re interested in.
CBD has a calming effect and is able to help mitigate some of the stronger effects of THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes users feel “high.” It can also reduce the amount of a substance called anandamide, and upregulate the “feel good” hormone known as serotonin. Serotonin not only enhances the mood, but also helps to relieve pain and even encourages sleep. It does this by being converted in the body to melatonin – the sleep hormone.
What causes atherosclerosis
What might come as some surprise to learn for many is that we don’t fully understand how plaque forms in the body. While it is generally understood that we get cholesterol from our diets, it isn’t clear how this leads to fatty deposits – if in fact it does.
Once, it was thought that fat in general would lead to fatty plaque – that triglycerides could be found in everything from cheese, to red meat, to cooking oil. Regular advice for patients then was to avoid any foods containing fat when struggling with atherosclerosis or generally high blood pressure.
Today, this is no longer understood to be the case.
First, it was found that there was such thing as “good” and “bad” fat. The good fat contained good cholesterol, called High Density Lipoprotein. This type of fat is found in things like eggs, meat, butter, and cheese. That cholesterol is used to form our sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and therefore to help maintain normal metabolism.
At the same time, that cholesterol might actually help to lower blood pressure!
Suddenly, the advice has changed. With many people actually recommending practices such as sticking large amounts of butter into your morning coffee!
The latest news is that there might be no such thing as “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and that we actually need both HDL and LDL in our system!
What we do know, is that atherosclerosis is caused by smoking, which irritates the lining of the blood vessels. It can also be caused by general high blood pressure, and inflammation. It may be that LDL is not so much bad in itself, but that when the walls of the blood vessels are damaged, they begin to collect it. THAT is when it becomes “bad” and that is what can lead to a blood clot. And this is how CBD can help to combat the problem.
The potential benefits of CBD for atherosclerosis
As we have seen, there are CBD1 receptors located directly on the vascular smooth muscle, which is on the inside of the blood vessels. These muscles are responsible for directing blood around the body by altering pressure. When they become narrow however, they increase that pressure – which in combination with other issues can be a problem.
Firstly, the higher your blood pressure, the greater your chances of suffering from stroke once the plaques form. This is because it is harder for the heart to pump blood around the body when pressure is high – imagine it like trying to suck water through a very narrow straw that also has been blocked by fat!
This is further enhanced by reducing the body’s stress response and by easing the “sympathetic nervous system.” This is the branch of our nervous system that is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, also known as the “stress response.” As we become stressed, our heart-rate increases, our blood vessels constrict, and we begin to feel anxious. This is designed to help us escape quickly in a fight.
The problem is that when we face chronic stress and our blood vessels remain narrow, it can become dangerous. CBD can help to alleviate this by reducing daily stress and anxiety, thereby allowing blood to pass through more easily, diminishing the risks associated with atherosclerosis.
What’s more, is that this will also reduce the amount of plaque that continues to gather, as it can pass through without getting stuck more easily. More impressively, CBD may help to reduce inflammation in the cell walls. This in turn would once again prevent the obvious risks, but also prevent further adhesion.
CBD may additionally help to improve the strength of the immune system, thereby helping the body to reverse the effects of the condition. Several studies have shown that CBD is capable of strengthening the immune response and this way helping the body to heal itself.
Finally, CBD has an indirect benefit on atherosclerosis by enhancing sleep. By reducing stress and increasing melatonin, CBD can be a powerful and natural sleeping aid. Author Matthew Walker directly makes the link between good sleep and atherosclerosis in his book “Why We Sleep”, and simultaneously advises against taking melatonin and other sleep aids directly.
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology has likewise shown the causative correlation between poor quality sleep and atherosclerosis. In fact, a lack of sleep (getting less than six hours) can increase the chance of developing the problem by a significant 27 percent.
While CBD does not directly work to destroy plaque build-up or treat atherosclerosis itself, it does have a number of powerful effects on the body that can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms AND to prevent the condition from worsening. With all that in mind, CBD might be a useful tool in the fight against this serious condition.