Cholesterol isn’t something we think about in our younger years, but as we age it becomes an issue – it and something called a “turkey neck.” But cholesterol isn’t inherently bad; our bodies need it to build cells. Yet there can be too much of a good thing: when our cholesterol is high it retires from its cell building job and starts doing damage to the body.
There are a lot of things people can do to help control high cholesterol – eating diets low in saturated fat, not smoking, maintaining a slim waistline, and adopting a lifestyle high in aerobic exercise may control it. Some prescription medicines may too – we’ve all seen the commercials for these types of medications – “This medicine may cause you to grow a third arm. If you grow a third arm, please contact your doctor.” But what about something a little more natural…like a plant? Can cannabis work on cholesterol as it has worked on so many other things?
According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a waxy substance inside our bodies that comes from two places: the liver and the foods we eat. The liver makes the cholesterol needed for survival – your friendly, neighborhood cell building kind. The other isn’t as desirable.
Cholesterol in food is derived from animal products: meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and dairy products contain it. Some oils can do this too – palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil found in baked goods can inadvertently tell the liver to work harder.
Cholesterol isn’t that black and white though, because it comes in two types: good and bad.
LDL is bad. HDL is good. Too much LDL or too little HDL increases health risk. The most potent risk is to the heart: cholesterol forms into a thick and hard deposit that sticks to the arteries, causing a heart attack.
It doesn’t just hurt the heart: high cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke. Other risk factors – cigarette use, diabetes, and high blood pressure – increase the risk even more.
Cannabis and Cholesterol
Cannabis and cholesterol have an interesting relationship. According to the Phoenix New Times, this may have to do with marijuana’s ability to decrease insulin resistance. People who use cannabis experience reduced fasting insulin levels (as long as they continue to use – the same result wasn’t seen in former users). They also had smaller waist circumferences and higher HDL levels (the good cholesterol).
This lead researchers to wonder if THC will, in the future, be prescribed for patients with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Per Medical Daily, metabolic syndrome isn’t really one condition but several – it’s a cluster of high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal fat that increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s also something that’s been studied in relation to pot.
Scientists from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to uncover how weed influences metabolic syndrome. This study involved over 8,000 people between the ages of 20-59. They were classified as having metabolic syndrome if they had three of the following: high glucose levels, high LDL, low HDL, hypertension, or increased abdominal fat.
After separating the participants into three categories – former smokers, present smokers, and never smokers – the scientists found 19.5 percent of the never-smokers had metabolic syndrome, 17.5 percent of the former smokers had it, and only 13.8 percent of the present smokers had it.
Another study buoying the cannabis for cholesterol claim was conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals. According to Jezebel, GW revealed that two compounds in cannabis leaves increase the amount of energy the body burns, no matter what the body is doing.
The animals tested with these compounds show reduced levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduced fat in the organs (particularly the liver). Clinical trials on humans have begun to see if the same thing happens to us.
You Should Probably Still Excercise
The best way to control cholesterol has always been through diet and exercise. And working out increases your HDL – thus, if you do eat a lot of animal products, exercise may help keep your levels in check. But, even then, genetics play a role too…..so, yes, totally have your parents pay for your medication.
Whether or not cannabis will be a player in the game, well, it’s too soon to tell. That’s the theme with weed, after all. We’re just scratching the surface of the potential, but odds are strong that marijuana is beneficial rather than neutral (and presumably not negative).
Still, it isn’t a cure-all: you probably can’t eat double bacon burgers every day, never work out, and maintain low cholesterol levels because you’re a pothead. Or maybe science will discover you can – that’s one of the exciting things about Mary Jane. She’s just full of surprises.