While much of the talk online is about the health benefits of cannabis, there’s no doubt that some people are worried about the detrimental effects that might be caused. Marijuana blood pressure issues have been around almost as long as the drug itself but as yet we don’t seem to have a definitive answer.
The problem is that this can be a little tricky to understand if you are checking the research. In some cases marijuana lowers blood pressure, in others it raises it. Many anecdotal accounts suggest that certain amounts of marijuana can improve hypertension. So, where do we stand?
Here’s our look at marijuana, blood pressure and your health:
Hypertension At a Glance
- A third of adults in the US have hypertension or high blood pressure.
- Hypertension increases your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
- There are a number of factors that can influence blood pressure including diet, lack of exercise, how much you drink and whether you smoke or not.
- There’s also genetics – whether you inherited heart problems from your parents.
There are short-term and long-term effects when it comes to marijuana and blood pressure. Take a hit of cannabis and you will probably find your BP going up or down. That’s what happens in the short-term and it’s not necessarily harmful.
The big issue is the long-term effects of marijuana on blood pressure and whether this actually increases your chances of developing heart or vascular problems. The scant research that has been carried out would suggest not.
The State of the Research
While there have been quite a few studies on the immediate effects of cannabis on blood pressure, there has been much less research investigating the longer term impact. Many of these studies have been carried out on animals and, as any scientist knows, it can be difficult to accurately associate the results with humans. That’s simply because animal studies can be poor indicators of human reactions to similar circumstances. They don’t transmit over.
Marijuana is often considered in a generalized way rather than differentiating between strains that will have specific levels of THC, CBD or other cannabinoids. All these could potentially affect blood pressure in widely different ways.
Then you have the variations you might see in someone who smokes cannabis as opposed to someone who takes edibles – there’s very little research done in this area at all. It’s safe to assume that someone who smokes cannabis with tobacco is likely to have more heart problems, but we don’t know if this is exactly true.
Marijuana and Blood Pressure: Short-Term Effects
You will expect marijuana to have an effect on you and that will include your blood pressure. If you’ve never had cannabis before, you should experience a small but significant rise in blood pressure followed by a slight decrease. This elevated marijuana induced blood pressure should take effect within about ten minutes.
More regular users of cannabis will develop some level of tolerance depending on their own physiology. That tolerance building up may lead, at least in some people, to blood pressure reducing shortly after administering. There has been anecdotal evidence that suggest taking cannabis regularly can support stable blood pressure, particularly in those with hypertension. Research has shown that endocannabinoids that are naturally in our bodies provide a protective measure in myocardial ischemia which taking marijuana might mimic.
There’s also some suggestion in recent research that your posture, whether you are sitting, standing or lying down when you take your cannabis, could have an impact on how your blood pressure is affected. This happens naturally anyway whether you take cannabis or not.
Marijuana and Blood Pressure: Long-Term Effects
There have been few reliable studies that suggest marijuana on its own leads to health conditions such as hypertension. The trouble is separating out the behaviour of the individual as well as the effect of the cannabis. For example, if you are a regular user you might also be someone who doesn’t take regular exercise or makes bad nutrition choices, both of which can have a major impact on heart health.
The most often cited piece of research is titled the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. This did not find any causal effect for heart disease in 3,617 participants but did note that poor nutritional or lifestyle choices could be a factor. That doesn’t mean marijuana on its own couldn’t cause a major cardiovascular event. If you have taken too high a dose of THC, for example, you could conceivably cause damage to your heart or vascular system. There are few if any reports of cannabis being involved in strokes or myocardial infarction, however.
It’s not all good news for marijuana users with respect to blood pressure. A study by Harvard University suggests that when you take cannabis you increase your risk of a heart attack fivefold. The biggest at-risk demographic are senior citizens. It takes a couple of hours for that risk to return to normal.
Harvard health also says:
“Most of the evidence linking marijuana to heart attack and stroke is based on reports from people who smoked it. So it’s hard to separate the effects of cannabinoid compounds on the cardiovascular system from the hazards posed by the irritants and carcinogens contained in the smoke.”
Marijuana, Blood Pressure and Heart Health: Are There Benefits?
While the detrimental health effects of cannabis are sketchy at least, is there actually some merit to the suggestion that it can actually help improve things for those suffering from hypertension?
The body’s natural endocannabinoid system has at least some role in protecting heart and vascular health, according to some studies.
We have a naturally occurring form of THC called anandamide that seems to play a role in relaxing blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. There has been some serious thought given to the potential that cannabinoids could help moderate cardiovascular health for patients. Despite this relationship having been known since the 70s, progress has been slow in this area, unfortunately. We haven’t yet seen cannabis-based medication that can be used to reduce high blood pressure and it’s not likely we will any time soon.
More evidence is required, of course, and the lack of formal studies and research is a little worrying. There is a lot of anecdotal support out there, however, with many people using cannabis to self-medicate and reduce their blood pressure.
Staying Healthy on Cannabis
There are a few things that we do know for certain when it comes to marijuana and blood pressure.
- The first is that with initial use your heart rate and blood pressure go up, with your heart having to work harder.
- If you are smoking your cannabis you will reduce the amount of oxygen that can be carried in your blood.
- That can lead to more demands on your heart. The effect, however, is generally not thought to be cumulative.
- A while after taking your cannabis you should be back to normal where blood pressure is concerned.
If you are a regular user of marijuana and want to maintain your health, there are a number of things you can do. For a start, make sure that you still get plenty of exercise and make healthy eating choices. Try to avoid taking alcohol with cannabis as this can actually be detrimental.
A lot will depend on the way that you administer your cannabis. If you smoke, it will necessarily impact on your cardiovascular health compared to if you are vaping or taking your marijuana through edibles. If you do smoke, consider switching to a safer option.
If you’re someone who currently uses marijuana to control their blood pressure and it works for you, then continue to do so. It’s also worth looking at if you have tried other medical approaches and they haven’t worked.