Cannabis for Hypertension: Can Marijuana Help High Blood Pressure?


Lukas Barfield

January 8th, 2018

Policy


According to the Mayo Clinic, blood pressure is determined by how much blood the heart pumps and the amount of constriction in the blood vessels. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, heart attack, impotence and stroke. There are two types of high blood pressure, primary hypertension, a gradual increase in blood pressure related to age, lifestyle, stress, weight and other factors and secondary hypertension, which is more acute and often a sign of more serious health problems such as sleep apnea, thyroid issues, medication side effects, and alcohol and drug abuse. Serious symptoms of high blood pressure may include head ache and nose bleed, but often due to its gradual on set, hypertension may not be detected outside of a doctor’s visit. Current CDC estimates say 75 million Americans, or 1 out of 3, have hypertension, which cost an estimated 46 billion in health care services, medication and missed days of work in 2011. Often an adjustment in lifestyle such as diet change, lowering salt intake,  quitting smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol are enough to lower blood pressure, but in some more serious cases medications are prescribed, some of which come with unwanted side effects. With the loosening of cannabis laws around the United States, many people are wondering the effect cannabis use has on blood pressure, and can it be a viable alternative to pharmaceuticals to manage hypertension.

Due to its Federal designation as a Schedule 1 narcotic, a drug with no known medical use, research on cannabis’s medicinal properties has been minimal. However, the acute, or short term, effects of cannabis on blood pressure and heart rate, are well known. New cannabis consumers usually have a spike in heart rate and blood pressure when first starting use. After a tolerance is developed to cannabis’s unique chemical makeup, cannabis consumption is usually characterized with a drop in blood pressure. Anecdotally, this is thought to be related to the relaxing effects of cannabis, especially when consuming indica or indica dominant hybrid strains. There has been virtually no research into the effect different consumption methods have on blood pressure.

Scientist do know both CB1 and CB2 receptors, sites in the body where cannabanoids bind which make up the endocannabinoid system, are present in the cardio vascular system. Although not completely understood, recent research has demonstrated that the body’s own supply of endocannabinoids help regulate blood pressure. In animal studies, annadamide and other naturally occurring endocannabinoids have been shown to have hypotensive,the opposite of hypertensive, effects. This has led some to speculate that by manipulating the endocannabinoid system with cannabis, patients who suffer from hypertension may lower their blood pressure using a medicinal plant.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigations showed that a dose of Cannabidiol (CBD) lowers blood pressure after and before acute stress. The study acknowledges the role stress can have in the development of cardiovascular disease, and was based on the hypothesis CBD can help lessen the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system. In a rigorous research design known as a Randomized placebo controlled double blind cross over study, 9 healthy volunteers were given 600 milligrams of CBD or placebo. The volunteers were given mental, isometric and cold stress tests. Researchers concluded,  “Our data show that a single dose of CBD reduces resting blood pressure and the blood pressure response to stress, particularly cold stress, and especially in the post-test periods. This may reflect the anxiolytic and analgesic effects of CBD, as well as any potential direct cardiovascular effects.” However, researchers go on to say more research is needed to explore the effect CBD has on hypertension overall.

An investigation conducted by the Georgia School of Public Health at Georgia State University found that people who used cannabis were 3.4 times more likely to die from hypertension than people who had never used cannabis. According to the study a person’s likelihood of dying from hypertension increases by 1.04 times for every year of cannabis use. The retrospective follow-up study, which was widely critizised by experts, was published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. The Study involved 1200 people over age twenty Who were asked in a National Health Survey in 2005 and 2006 “Have you ever used Marijuana?”  This information was then merged with mortality data from 2011 U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, while accounting for factors like tobacco use, age, sex and ethnicity. Barbara Yankee, coauthor of the study and doctorial student, said there are some limitations to the study, but the results suggest there may be some risk because cannabis is known to affect the cardiovascular system. The study showed no relationship between cannabis use and heart attack, stroke or other types of cardiovascular disease.

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