Exploring The Relationship Between Marijuana and High Blood Pressure

marijuana and high blood pressure needs more research - blood pressure meter reads

One in three adults experience high blood pressure, so it’s no wonder cannabis users are concerned about what might happen if they combine marijuana and high blood pressure. The answer is not that simple; overall, it depends what kind of cannabis products you use, which studies you look at, and what your lifestyle is like.

Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, is a medical condition that affects the blood flow to and from the heart. When you have high blood pressure, it means your blood exerts more force onto the walls of your blood vessels, making it harder for your heart to pump the blood. High levels of stress, poor diet, kidney disease, tobacco use, and being overweight can cause hypertension.

If you already have high blood pressure, you should not smoke cannabis. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t combine marijuana and high blood pressure. Instead, you should opt for cannabis products that are high in CBD and can be vaporized, applied topically, or eaten.

Marijuana Might Be A Treatment For High Blood Pressure

When high blood pressure goes untreated, it can lead to heart attacks ad strokes. Medical professionals have posed the question whether smoking marijuana can aggravate high blood pressure and bring on heart attacks or strokes for middle-age to elderly people. Since 2006, there have been numerous studies performed, but the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

According to a study done by Harvard Medical School in 2006, marijuana can increase the risk of heart attack within the first hour of smoking. In the study, the medical professionals interviewed 3,880 men and women ages 20 to 92 who had experienced heart attacks in the past. As part of the survey, they asked what activities the person was doing before the heart attack came on. They coined this time frame as the “hazard period.” Several participants – 124 of them – had smoked marijuana the same year they had a heart attack.

These findings basically put marijuana on the same level as sex and any kind of strenuous activity in terms of risk.

There are many important factors lacking in that study as well; the researchers did not explore what strain of cannabis the participants were smoking, the mode of ingestion, and there was no specification between using THC or CBD. Also, the medical professionals conducting the study admitted that other lifestyle factors definitely come into play, such as smoking cigarettes, being overweight, and inactivity. Additionally, the study brought up questions about smoking marijuana in general. The researchers were unsure whether the active ingredient THC caused negative effects or whether it was just the effect of inhaling smoke, carbon monoxide, and burned plant matter.

How CB1 Receptors Affect The Heart

Medical Marijuana expert Dr. Rachna Patel explains that cannabis can temporarily raise blood pressure within in the first hour of consumption, but it quickly lowers blood pressure following that hour and marijuana can actually be a long-term treatment for high blood pressure.

Marijuana and high blood pressure have a complex relationship. In a 2004 study conducted on rats, marijuana only raised the blood pressure of rats that already had hypertension. Rats that had normal blood pressure did not see any influx in blood pressure levels. The rats with high blood pressure had more CB1 receptors in their hearts and blood vessels. Those receptors are tiny structures on the cells that enable you to feel the effects of marijuana. When a cell has more CB1 receptors, you feel the effects stronger. This is why people with high blood pressure are more sensitive to the effects of cannabis.

However, the results of that study were actually positive in proving marijuana can be an effective treatment for high blood pressure. The researchers found that after the initial spike in blood pressure, the rats began to relax and their blood pressure went down. Once the marijuana entered the blood stream and fired up the CB1 receptors, it decreased the force of the heart pumping and caused the blood vessels to dilate. It’s like widening the opening of a garden hose; if you make the container larger, the pressure will decrease.

In the conclusion of the study, the researchers claim “endocannabinoids tonically suppress cardiac contractility in hypertension and that enhancing the CB1-[receptors]...can normalize blood pressure. Targeting the endocannabinoid system offers novel therapeutic strategies in the treatment of hypertension.”

While those results are pretty interesting, there is one clear issue with the study. It’s done on rats, not people! While animal studies are widely accepted by the medical community, it still isn’t perfect proof about the effects of marijuana and high blood pressure on humans.

Another Study on Marijuana and High Blood Pressure

The School of Public Health in Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA did one of the most recent studies on marijuana and high blood pressure. The study took place in 2017. Researchers compiled data taken from the surveys conducted in 2006 and compared it to mortality data reported in 2011 by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The researchers were interested in seeing how marijuana consumption impacts people with hypertension, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease. They set up control variables to account for sex, age, ethnicity, and cigarette use. The findings were as follows:

“Among a total of 1 213 participants, 34% used neither marijuana nor cigarettes, 21% used only marijuana, 20% used marijuana and smoked cigarettes, 16% used marijuana and were past-smokers, 5% were past-smokers and 4% only smoked cigarettes. The average duration of marijuana use was 11.5 years.”

The participants who consumed marijuana had a higher risk of dying from hypertension compared to non-marijuana users. The risk was exactly 3.42 times higher, and increased by 1.04 for each year of consumption. Researchers from the same study also found there was no increased risk of death for patients with heart disease or heart disease or cerebrovascular disease.

The lead author of the study Barbara A, Yankey, a PhD student, claimed, “we found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking...This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking. However, the number of smokers in our study was small and this needs to be examined in a larger study.”

Just as Yankey states, the cannabis industry needs to see more studies on marijuana and high blood pressure before any definite claims can be made.

How CBD Effects High Blood Pressure

Another incredibly important study to look at was done by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Programme. In this study, they looked just at the effects of CBDs on people with normal blood pressure. What they found was pretty amazing. To be clear, the participants were given an isolated does of 600 mg CBD – a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid that has very different effects than THC. Researchers found that CBDs had numerous cardiovascular benefits, including reducing blood pressure in response to stress, increased heart rate, and lower stroke volume.

Of course, it is unclear what the effects of CBD would be if you already had hypertension. Currently, the general consensus is that smoking marijuana can raise blood pressure but there is hope that ingesting or using marijuana in another way might have a different effect. More studies need to be conducted before marijuana can be recommended or discouraged for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and hypertension. If you are healthy and don’t have any of these risks, marijuana will not cause hypertension according to the studies mentioned above. But if you do have high blood pressure already, you will want to be careful with marijuana products and avoid self-medicating. Instead of smoking, choose cannabis products that are high CBD and can be vaporized, applied topically, or taken orally.