Scientists at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute announced they have discovered a method to block the negative effects of THC on the cardiovascular system (source paper on Cell.com), without impairing its psychoactive effects on the brain. According to research led by Joesph Wu, MD, PhD., the team was able to identify a molecule commonly found in soybeans that can prevent THC from attaching to cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the cardiovascular system.
The researchers combed through a massive database of 500,000 people from the UK Biobank—the largest database of its kind—to confirm previously reported cases where people had cardiovascular issues from consuming THC. Finding that a significant number of these people had premature heart attacks for their age, the researchers also identified the mechanism by which THC causes unfortunate cardiovascular circumstances.
Using the results, the researchers were able to identify a neutral CB1 antagonist called “genistein” that attaches to CB1 receptors throughout the cardiovascular system, thereby blocking the actions of THC molecules. Neutral antagonist molecules are molecules that bind to cell receptors but have no effect on the cells they attach to. Once antagonist molecules attach to receptors, they prevent triggers from other molecules—in this case, genistein prevents THC molecules from having an active effect on the cell.
The exciting part for us consumers? Genistein does not enter the brain, therefore allowing THC to still have its recreational effects.
“Genistein works quite well to mitigate marijuana-induced damage of the endothelial vessels without blocking the effects marijuana has on the central nervous system, and it could be a way for medical marijuana users to protect themselves from a cardiovascular standpoint,” said Joseph Wu, MD, PhD., professor of cardiovascular medicine and radiology, and director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.
While research is still ongoing, the new findings offer an attractive way to reduce known negative effects of marijuana use on the cardiovascular system. Many people suffering from chronic ailments are increasingly interested in marijuana-based products to alleviate pain and symptoms. The new landmark findings from Dr. Wu’s team unlock new avenues for medical treatment where marijuana showed health benefits but was held back by its adverse cardiovascular effects.
While the results of the research look extremely promising, more research needs to be done before you rush out and stock up on tofu and soybean milk—although both are good for you anyway.
We’re reaching out Dr. Wu’s team for further comment.
Update: to further add to the original post, the study isn't specific to smokers, but looks at Genistein blocking interactions with THC, therefore impacting all forms of use, whether smoking, edibles, or otherwise.
Alexander Schering, PhD., contributed to this report.