A new animal study suggests that low doses of the chemical that causes marijuana's high may halt the progression of atherosclerosis, a disease that narrows and hardens blood vessels.
Atherosclerosis starts when a vessel's inner wall becomes damaged. Cellular debris builds up into plaques, and immune cells called leukocytes inflame the damaged area. Eventually, this combination can completely block the blood vessel, causing a heart attack or stroke.
Previous research suggested that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, has anti-inflammatory properties. To determine whether THC could affect atherosclerosis, François Mach of Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland and his colleagues tested the chemical on mice genetically predisposed to develop a version of the disease.
The mice ate a high-cholesterol diet for 11 weeks, which facilitated the buildup of thick plaques within their blood vessels. For the last 6 weeks of the diet,