You may have seen your parents or older relatives talk about watching their cholesterol levels. You’ve probably seen them watch what they eat or exercise more. They may have even quit smoking cigarettes. Research shows that smoking cigarettes can negatively affect cholesterol levels. Since there are similar compounds between cigarette smoke and marijuana smoke, could this affect stoners? Does smoking weed increase cholesterol? Here’s what we know.
What is Cholesterol?
Before we get into whether or not smoking weed increases cholesterol or impacts cholesterol at all, let’s define cholesterol.
According to American Addiction Centers, cholesterol can be described as a waxy and fat like substance found in our bodies that has essential jobs. Most importantly, cholesterol:
- Synthesizes fat-soluble vitamins
- Produces hormones and other substances
- Helps with digestion
Cholesterol travels through our body as lipoproteins which is just a scientific term for substances that are lipids and proteins, hence the name. To be more specific, lipoproteins transport lipids through blood plasma. Lipids are hydrophobic therefore they need a vehicle to transport them.
Speaking of lipoproteins, there are a couple of types that you should pay attention to Medline Plus highlights:
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDH) – Often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol, they carry cholesterol from other areas of your body to your liver. Your liver will therefore dispose of them.
- Low-density Lipoprotein (LDH) – This one is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol due to its role in clogging arteries.
- Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) – Despite the name, Medline states that they’re different from LDH. One way is that VLDL transports triglycerides. At the same time, they can play a role in clogging arteries.
So, the reason why some people are watching their cholesterol is the negative effects it can have on their health. For example, according to Medline, a buildup of plaque in the arteries can cause coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease, which is a type of heart disease, is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States.
Does Marijuana Affect Cholesterol?
As stated before, we know that cigarette smoke affects cholesterol negatively. Since weed and cigarette smoke are similar, it’s only natural to wonder if smoking a blunt or from a bong could cause similar effects.
The research is mixed. American Addiction Center says, research finds that marijuana use along with other lifestyle factors could affect your cholesterol levels and cardiovascular issues.
We already know that weed can affect the heart. If you already have heart issues, weed could exacerbate them. In addition to that, your risk of getting a heart attack is higher than normal within the hour of smoking weed.
Let’s look at some of the studies that examine weed and cholesterol to see if smoking weed increases cholesterol.
According to a 2008 study, heavy marijuana users have increased serum apolipoprotein C-III levels. Apolipoprotein C-III levels are associated with an increase in triglyceride levels. The study states that Apoc-III is a cardiovascular risk factor. In addition to that, the marijuana users who participated in the study had cardiac abnormalities. The researchers believe that their heavy marijuana use may have contributed to that.
The research also says that apolipoprotein levels are increased due to delta 9 THC. The study says, “Marijuana-induced increases in apoC-III levels might occur through chronic stimulation of hepatic cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and/or CB2) by its active ingredient….THC”
On the other hand, a small 2013 study found that smoking weed doesn’t increase cholesterol. The results showed that the LDL cholesterol was not different between stoners and non-stoners. However, it was found that stoners had lower plasma HDL cholesterol. That is a little concerning because lower HDL levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Ways to Lower Cholesterol
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, you can always check in with a doctor. There are tests available so you can get a better picture of your situation. According to MedlinePlus, there are usually no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol. If you’re over 20, Medline Plus suggests testing every 5 years.
In addition to testing, Medline Plus says you can:
- Eat a heart healthy diet – That means limiting or avoiding saturated fat since it raises LDL levels. Trans Fat is also another substance to avoid. MedlinePlus says to opt for fruits, vegetables, soluble fibers (like whole grains and legumes) and limiting salt.
- Exercise regularly – It’s important to keep active anyway so find an activity that you enjoy. You can walk, hike, dance, go to the gym or another activity to keep active. The key is being consistent.
Your risk of having high cholesterol depends on lifestyle factors as well as factors such as your family history. Medline Plus says that high blood pressure tends to run in families. If you’re at a higher risk, you’ll have to focus on what you can change such as your diet and physical activity levels.
Does smoking weed increase cholesterol? The studies have mixed information on this. On the one hand, weed seems to increase apolipoprotein C-III levels, which has implications for our hearts. Stoners also seem to have lower HDL levels, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, the study also said that the LDL levels of stoners and non stoners are similar. Of course, this was a small study, and we need more research to make better conclusions. However, if you’re concerned about your cholesterol, you can make lifestyle changes and see your doctor for tests.