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Researchers check the effects of cannabis on the heart

While in the short term it generates arrhythmias, chronic consumption improves heart function.


Researchers at CONICET used fruit fly as a study model. While in the short term it generates arrhythmias, chronic consumption improves heart function.

A paper has just been published in the journal Biology Open that brings together the results of a team of researchers and fellows from  CONICET  that constitutes the first evidence about the long-term effects of cannabis use on heart function and its relationship with the management of cannabis calcium levels inside the heart.

“Our main objective is to characterize the effects that phytocannabinoids generate on the heart, that is the organic compounds of the   Cannabis plant  sativa   that can potentially be used for therapeutic purposes, since they carry certain active ingredients that act on pain control or the modulation of appetite, mood and sleep, among other things,” says  Paola Ferrero , CONICET researcher at the Cardiovascular Research Center “Dr. Horacio E. Cingolani” (CIC, CONICET-UNLP) and director of the work team. “It is known that these components have implications for cardiac function and is quite studied what happens in situations of acute consumption, that is short-term, where among other things can provoke tachycardia and hypotension, but the idea in this case was to begin to describe what happens in a chronic treatment”, expands  Ivana Gómez , a fellow from the National Inter-University Council (CIN) at the CIC and one of the first authors of the recently published paper .

The team of experts focused their research on Drosophila melanogaster , the so-called fruit fly, whose heart shares many characteristics with that of humans, allowing to evaluate their behavior and extrapolate some results to predict what would happen in the fruit fly.  Ferrero  and his group have extensive experience on D. melanogaster as they have used it as a model to study various cardiovascular diseases and particularly the effects of tobacco use on cardiac function.

The selected flies were healthy , i.e. they were not a model of study of any disease, and were divided into two groups. Both were exposed during various periods of time to cannabis steam —which contained the main phytocannabinoids — generated from strains grown and characterized in the Environmental Research Center (CIM, CONICET-UNLP).

One group inhaled two daily doses of cannabis vapor within 5 to 8 days, while the other inhaled between 11 and 13 days. Complied with this process, “the behavior of heart cells, heartbeat, heart rate, arrhythmia index was analyzed and how it affects consumption compared to a group of control flies that had not been exposed to  cannabis ,” says Maia Rodríguez , an intern at the National University of the Northwest of the Province of Buenos Aires (UNNOBA) and also the first author of the study.

According to  Gomez , “in the group that inhaled    cannabis  for less time what we saw corresponds to the known effects for acute consumption. This could be seen in the experiments as there is an increase in the arrhythmia rate.” But the most important finding of the work is what happens in the long term: “What we can see in flies that were exposed between 11 and 13 days is that it is giving an effect of accustoming and increasing the contractility of the heart, that is the force with which it contracts. A heart with greater contractility responds better to stressful conditions, for example,” says  Rodriguez . For researchers, this increased contractility is related to an increase in calcium levels inside the heart cells, “which allowed us to have an idea about the cellular mechanism that would cause that process.”

The work provides a very important additional fact: the effect of cannabis on the heart occurs even in the absence of cannabinoid receptors typical of humans and other mammals, known as CB1 and CB2. “Phytocannabinoids are known to be activated in contact with these terminals, but in the fruit fly they are not and the effect takes place the same. That means there is another path that is not yet known either in the fly or in humans, by which phytocannabinoids are exercising the action,” says  Ferrero .

The team's next goal is to continue studying the effects of cannabis in relation to diseases associated with cardiac disorders, and they are already working on  Parkinson's  and epilepsy to see how the administration of certain types of phytocannabinoids compensates or improves those deficiencies.


Publication Date: 02/09/2019

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