Can Marijuana Help Lower Blood Pressure?


Jason Mueller

June 6th, 2017

Policy, Top News


“Medical marijuana” is often debated, but most opponents don’t realize marijuana has a distinct effect on the cardio-vascular system.  Since the late ‘70’s, correlations between marijuana and blood pressure have been s­­pecifically documented in medical publications.1  In the early 80’s, effects of cannabis specifically on hypertension and glaucoma were published2, and since then, many recent publications establish their research upon the bedrock of J.C. Merritt’s papers on the subject of cannabinoids effect on blood pressure3,4. Despite decades of research, causality of the effects of cannabinoids on blood pressure is still a mystery.

While research into the endogenic cannabinoid system may reveal the exact mechanics behind cannabis’ effect on blood pressure, more is known about the effects of cannabis on the cardiovascular system than why those effects occur.  What is certain is that cannabis intake has a reliably predictable effect on blood pressure.  Since the late ‘70’s – early ‘80’s, research on cannabis’ effects on blood pressure have been well documented1-4, yet Federal policy has influenced a negative slant on findings4,5, hampering progress in treating a widespread illness across the US and stunting growth of a multi-billion dollar industry6.

Beginning with key publications from J.C. Merritt in 1978, cannabis’ active ingredient, Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol and its effect on blood pressure has been a long studied relationship.  In 1978, “Tetrahydrocannabinol effect on elevated blood pressure in humans” was published by WJ Crawford, PC Alexander, and JC Merritt, cataloguing that hypertensive subjects demonstrated greater decreases in blood pressure and intraocular pressure than normotensive subjects.1  Furthering the research done in 1978, J.C. Merritt went as far as to say that after initial tachycardia (heart rate increase) resulting from cannabis use, blood pressure and intraocular pressure decreased, “invariably”, and that the subjects returned to baseline cardiovascular performance within three hours and thirty minutes after cannabis use.  He went on to say that even topical application of a low THC infused mineral oil resulted in six to twelve hours of relief in glaucoma patients and rats used as research subjects2.  Studies in the 90’s and 2000’s further explored the relationship between cannabis and blood pressure. Some slanted studies have been floated through the scientific community, condemning cannabis for complications related to its hypotensive properties. Other authors and researchers have remained reserved, and rather than correlating cannabis with potentially severe medical complications, they reported findings and went as far as to decry adverse health effects as a result of cannabinoids3,4,5.  A clear understanding of cannabis’ effect on hypertensive and normotensive subjects’ blood pressure has been established through trials and studies, yet not all studies have unbiased objectives.

As a result of strict Federal requirements on cannabis studies, researchers have been faced with tight parameters and negative slants on their research for decades7; regardless, cannabis’ benefits shine through even the most deliberate attack pieces.  In 1991, the “Just Say No” campaign had finished cementing an anti-drug position from the White House, with marginal success8 over Nixon’s policy of publicly demonizing and jailing drug users: this spurred a litany of negative-slanted research on all illegal drugs, but especially cannabis5.  Despite beneficial uses for cannabis’ hypotensive properties, the deeply-seeded anti-cannabis rhetoric initiated by the Federal government has affected research as recently as 20134.  Poking holes in anti-cannabis slanted research takes little more than reading the publications: studies with handfuls of subjects and stretched hypotheses are conjecture at best4,5.  Seemingly sabotaging their own population, the US Federal government’s anti-cannabis position8 has kept a large percentage of at-risk Americans from a viable treatment for hypertension, most likely linked to the enormous market cap of the blood pressure treatment industry6.

Treating hypertension in the US alone is a multi-billion dollar industry that cannabis threatens to shake, should a cannabinoid treatment for hypertension be developed.  In the US alone, an estimated 29% of all Americans suffer from Hypertension, aka: high blood pressure [~75,000,000 Americans]6.  According to TrueMedCost.com9, the cost of a commonly prescribed hypertension medication, Losatran, aka: Cozaar, ranges between $43 – $68, for 25, 50, or 100mg doses in a 30 day supply.  If you take the average cost of the medicine ($55.50), multiplied by the number of hypertensive Americans (75 Mil.), market capitalization in this niche of the healthcare market nears $50 Billion.  Annual, hypertensive-related health emergencies including stroke and heart attack cost even more.  An important reiteration of fact: in both animal and human trials, administration of cannabis has resulted in predictable hypotension paired with minimal health risks10.  Despite loose correlations between isolated incidents of stroke and deliberately negative headlines touting “adverse effects” and “dangers”, all research has pointed to two major facts that cannot be stressed enough in relation to marijuana and blood pressure:

1) cannabis use lowers blood pressure, and,

2) cannabis-based blood pressure medicine stands to shave a significant stake out of the approximately $50 billion dollar hypertension treatment market in the United States.

Many have heard the arguments from politicians against easing cannabis law: “we don’t know enough about it” and “it’s not legitimate medicine”.  In terms of controlling blood pressure, the science has been clear on cannabis and its active ingredients for nearly half a century.  Cannabis lowers blood pressure in general, while having its most profound impact on hypertensive subjects1.  Ramifications of this could mean a decrease in use of currently accepted blood pressure medications in favor of a newly developed cannabis-based treatment. This could cut into the profitability of the hypertensive treatment niche of the healthcare industry, or at very least, for the large manufacturers of common blood pressure medications.  Though fought tooth and nail by big pharma, cannabis-based medications for hypertension and a host of other illnesses will become the norm, as they are cheap and effective alternative treatments for ailments killing over a quarter of all Americans.  In short – yes, marijuana *can* help lower blood pressure: “if you can keep it!” ~Benjamin Franklin

Citations

  1. Crawford WJ, Alexander PC, Merritt JC, et al. “Tetrahydrocannabinol effect on elevated blood pressure in humans.” Prev Med 1978; 7:54.
  2. Merritt, J. C. “Glaucoma, Hypertension, and Marijuana.” Journal of the National Medical Association Aug 74.8 (1982): 715-16. Print. PMCID: PMC2552967
  3. Reese, T., and M. D. Jones. “Cardiovascular System Effects of Marijuana.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 42.S1 (2002): 58-6 Print.
  4. Thomas, Grace, MD, Robert A. Kloner, MD, and Shereif Rezkalla, MD. “Adverse Cardiovascular, Cerebrovascular, and Peripheral Vascular Effects of Marijuana Inhalation: What Cardiologists Need to Know.” The American Journal of Cardiology 113.1 (2013): 187-90. Print. Subheading; “Cardiovascular Effects of Marijuana Use”
  5. Zachariah, S. B. “Stroke after Heavy Marijuana Smoking.” Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association 22.3 (1991): 406-09. 406.full.fpd. American Heart Association | American Stroke Association | Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. Web. 31 May 2017. <http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/strokeaha/22/3/406.full.pdf>.
  6. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “High Blood Pressure Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Nov. 201 Web. 31 May 2017. <https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/faqs.htm>.
  7. University of New Mexico. “How the federal government limits valid scientific research on Cannabis sativa: Researchers attempt to navigate difficult system.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160624154712.htm>.
  8. Wikipedia. “Just Say No.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_Say_No>.
  9. Losatran Price – True Med Cost. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.truemedcost.com/losartan-price/ on May, 31st, 2017.
  10. Cannabinoids Lower Blood Pressure to Normal Levels. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.medicalmarijuana.com/medical-marijuana-treatments-cannabis-uses/cannabinoids-lower-blood-pressure-to-normal-levels/ on May 31st, 2017.
Jason Mueller

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