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Cannabis Compound Tackles Blood Vessel Disease

Julie Gardener

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Cannabis Compound Tackles Blood Vessel Disease​
Article Date: 12 Apr 2005

The main compound in cannabis can prevent blood vessels from developing atherosclerosis, an inflammatory condition that is the primary cause of heart disease and stroke in the developed world.

A study in this week's Nature shows that disease progression is halted when mice are given low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Atherosclerosis occurs when the accumulation of immune cells in blood vessels causes narrowing of the arteries, lipid accumulation and plaque formation. THC prevents immune cell recruitment by binding to proteins called CB2 receptors on the cell surface, report Francois Mach and colleagues. When given chemicals that prevent THC binding to these receptors, the therapeutic effect of THC is abolished and the mice continue to develop disease symptoms.

In the brain, THC binds to a different cell-surface receptor, called CB1. The THC doses given to the mice (about 1 milligram per kilogram body weight per day) were lower than the level required to activate the CB1 receptor, so the psychoactive effects of cannabis were not observed. This suggests that a possible treatment for atherosclerosis might be to use pure, isolated THC - this would avoid other harmful effects of cannabis, such as increased blood pressure. "These findings should not be taken to mean that smoking marijuana is beneficial for the heart," writes Michael D. Roth in a related News and Views article.

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