Bhang is not good for your heart, research shows

A woman smoking bhang. A new research shows bhang raises heart rate and may increase your risk of heart disease. File

What you need to know:

  • Some research has indicated that smoking bhang — like smoking cigarettes — can increase your risk for heart disease. 
  • A study by the America Heart Association, released earlier this month, shows though bhang may have medicinal properties, it can damage the heart and blood vessels.

Smoking bhang can be harmful to the heart and blood vessels, a new research shows. 

A study by the America Heart Association (AHA), released earlier this month, shows though bhang may have medicinal properties, it can damage the heart and blood vessels.

Previous studies have associated tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which are the active chemicals in bhang, to an increased risk of heart attacks.

Some research has found that within an hour of smoking bhang, THC, which causes the high or euphoric feeling in the drug, may induce heart rhythm abnormalities.

High blood pressure

According to the report, THC also appears to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight or flight" response once the drug enters the body.

This results in a greater demand for oxygen by the heart, a faster heart rate, abnormal functioning of the walls of the arteries and higher blood pressure while lying down.

On the other hand, CBD, which does not intoxicate users, has been associated with increased ability of the arteries to open, reduced heart rate, potentially reduced inflammation and lower blood pressure.

Inflammation is linked to atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of the arteries.

According to the report, research has also linked bhang use to a heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

Prof Robert Page, who is lead author of the new report, explained how bhang affects the heart and blood vessels depending on how it is consumed.

"Many consumers and health care professionals don't realise that cannabis (bhang) smoke contains components similar to tobacco smoke," said Prof Page, who is a lecturer in the department of Clinical Pharmacy and the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado in the United States.

Heart attacks 

"Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes," he said.

Smoking and inhaling bhang has been shown to increase the concentrations of carbon monoxide by five times the level found in non-smokers, with a threefold increase in tar. This harmful effect is similar to that of inhaling a tobacco cigarette, and applies across all types of marijuana regardless of THC content

Despite documented research findings showing that cannabis may be helpful for conditions such as muscle stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis, the new statement indicates that the drug does not appear to work well in the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Some studies suggest bhang may be safe and effective for older populations in reducing neuropathic pain common among people living with type two diabetes.

Other age-related diseases that bhang use has been found to treat include Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Fatal illness 

According to the report, little data on the effects of long-term use among these patients however exists.

"Unfortunately, most of the available data are short-term, observational and retrospective studies, which identify trends but do not prove cause and effect," said Prof Page.

"We urgently need carefully designed, prospective short and long term studies regarding cannabis use and cardiovascular safety as it becomes increasingly available and more widely used," said Prof Page said in a news release.

"The public needs fact-based, valid scientific information about cannabis's effect on the heart and blood vessels. Research funding at federal and state levels must be increased to match the expansion of cannabis use.

“This will help scientists to clarify the drug’s potential therapeutic properties and get a better understanding of the cardiovascular and public health implications of frequent cannabis use," added the researcher and academic.

In addition to the poisonous compounds in bhang smoke, vaping it may result in serious complications, especially when mixed with vitamin E acetate oils.

These oils which are linked to lung damage known as e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), the potentially fatal illness that emerged among e-cigarette users last year.

The AHA recommends people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs and blood vessels.

The report said the use of marijuana use, and its potential health risks, should be discussed in detail with a health care professional.

"If people choose to use cannabis for its medicinal or recreational effects, the oral and topical forms, for which doses can be measured, may reduce some of the potential harms. It is also vitally important that people only use legal cannabis products because there are no controls on the quality or the contents of cannabis products sold on the street," Prof Page said.

Cannabis studies are restricted in the US because it is listed as a schedule one controlled substance in the US Controlled Substances Act. Under this law, it is defined as a substance with a high potential for abuse, without any accepted medical use.

AHA is now calling on the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency to remove bhang from schedule one so that scientists can study its effects more comprehensively.

The association’s call comes in the wake of the growing popularity of the drug across the world as a recreational drug.

The statement advocates including bhang in comprehensive tobacco control and prevention efforts, including age restrictions for purchasing, excise taxes and medical insurance coverage of rehabilitation programs.

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