How does cannabis affect blood pressure?
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- Does marijuana lower or raise blood pressure?
- What are the cardiovascular effects of cannabis?
- Weed and blood pressure medication
- Other effects of weed on blood pressure
Since smoking a joint can lead to a relaxing high, you might wonder about cannabis use and its effect on blood pressure. We know that weed can make your eyes red , but does it also raise or lower blood pressure, or does it not have any effect at all? If you have high blood pressure, is marijuana safe to consume?
Here we’ll address how smoking weed, including medical marijuana, could factor into your blood pressure levels.
Does marijuana lower or raise blood pressure?
To answer this question, we should focus on two of the primary cannabinoids present in cannabis : cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both may exert an influence on blood pressure levels.
Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a medical adviser to Weedmaps and the director of Canna-Centers in Lawndale, California, outlined the potential effects of THC on blood pressure:
“THC can affect blood pressure depending on the dose, the route of administration, a person’s experience with THC, and a person’s underlying health. Healthy volunteers that took THC had an increase in heart rate and decrease in blood pressure. In studies where people used THC while lying down, they had elevated blood pressure. When they stood up, their blood pressure dropped and they experienced low blood pressure.”
These sudden drops in blood pressure, also known as white outs or green outs, may indeed be linked to cannabis use. Dr. Melanie Bone, a board-certified OB-GYN and cannabis specialist who practices in West Palm Beach, Florida, told Weedmaps that “cannabis may cause a drop in blood pressure on standing — known as postural hypotension.” This type of drop in blood pressure is not desirable, as it can cause vertigo and even fainting. So, when we talk about “lowering blood pressure,” we do not necessarily consider that effect beneficial to health.
Both THC and CBD may lower blood pressure in different ways. However, neither CBD nor THC should be considered a medical treatment for high blood pressure. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
And how does CBD affect blood pressure? The consensus is that CBD tends to relax the blood vessels and decrease anxiety, which ultimately leads to a lowering of blood pressure. This type of blood pressure reduction is more favorable, as it is associated with decreased levels of anxiety. Both THC and CBD may lower blood pressure in different ways. However, based on available research, neither CBD nor THC should be considered a medical treatment for high blood pressure.
What are the cardiovascular effects of cannabis?
Another frequently asked question about cannabis and cardiovascular health is: can weed cause a heart attack?
First, let’s again distinguish between the cannabinoids THC and CBD. For example, CBD oils containing trace levels of THC may have very different effects than smoking a high-THC strain of marijuana. Various studies have indicated that THC may have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, whereas CBD could be helpful to the heart.
Goldstein added, “CBD does not appear to have the same risks for the heart as THC and in fact, appears to be somewhat cardioprotective.” To support this assertion, Goldstein cited a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in which researchers concluded that CBD has therapeutic potential in treating complications of diabetes, as well as some cardiovascular disorders. Most notably, CBD could reduce inflammation, a condition that can ultimately damage the blood vessels, arteries, and vital organs. So, if you apply CBD oil to your skin or swallow a few tablespoons, the impact could differ greatly than if you smoked a blunt.
To this point, there is some research that suggests smoking THC could directly or indirectly lead to a heart attack. One 2019 study titled “The Cardiovascular Effects of Marijuana: Are the Potential Adverse Effects Worth the High?” and published in the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association showed that some people experienced a heart attack within an hour of smoking cannabis.
Bone, however, argued, “On careful study, many of the patients also smoked cigarettes and were obese, making it hard to draw absolute conclusions. Also, the observations were made on cannabis of unknown origin, not cannabis from a dispensary.” The fact that the cannabis did not come from a registered dispensary is significant, as there is no available lab testing to determine what other compounds may have been present.
The bottom line is that there have been studies demonstrating a questionable association between smoking weed and having a heart attack, and more research is necessary.
Weed and blood pressure medication
You might also be wondering, what if you’re smoking weed while taking blood pressure medication? Will there be an adverse reaction? If you are smoking THC-rich cannabis and taking medication for high blood pressure, the answer is that there could be.
Goldstein explained, “Smoking cannabis can be harmful for those with heart disease or hypertension since the smoke contains carbon monoxide. This gas binds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, displacing oxygen off of the red blood cells which results in less oxygen going to the body’s tissues, including the heart. People with heart disease or high blood pressure should avoid smoking.”
Instead, Goldstein recommends other methods of cannabis use, such as sublingual tinctures or edibles, which she says are safe to use if someone is on blood pressure medication. Further, Bone stressed that people who use cannabis and are on blood pressure medications need to be mindful of the possibility of an interaction with other prescription medications. This means monitoring blood pressure and reporting any dizziness to your doctor, who can adjust your dosages accordingly.
People who use cannabis and are on blood pressure medications need to be mindful of the possibility of an interaction with other prescription medications. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
In particular, the blood thinner warfarin was shown in a 2017 study published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior Case Reports to interact with cannabidiol (CBD) in certain epileptic individuals . In line with Bone’s advice, researchers concluded that patient lab work should be monitored closely.
While it is possible for warfarin and other medications to interact with cannabis, there are no guarantees, and the 2017 study focused on patients with epilepsy rather than on the general population. As Dr. Bone reported, “In my private practice, I have not encountered a significant negative interaction between blood pressure medication and cannabis.”
Other effects of weed on blood pressure
There may be other effects of marijuana on blood pressure that health practitioners have yet to discover. All potential effects depend on the individual’s existing health problems, especially co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and obesity.
Can people without these conditions safely indulge in marijuana? A healthy individual’s body may appear as a well-oiled machine, but Bone disputes that analogy, pointing out that, “Unlike a car, where we replace the brakes or tires, the heart never gets a vacation and the blood vessels need to keep working forever. And the nervous system, which directs the show like a conductor, is on duty 24/7.”
Moderation, then, may be key in integrating a cannabis regimen into your healthcare plan. Consult with your physician before you begin using cannabis or CBD products and discuss any medications you are currently taking.
Learn how cannabis affects blood pressure and what questions you should ask your doctor before starting a regimen.
Does weed increase blood pressure
It’s happened to even the most experienced cannabis consumers: Someone took a massive rip of some weed labeled “sativa,” a hit so big that it filled every microscopic lung sac with THC-laden smoke, and shortly after coughing it out, the daring toker began to experience paranoia. Sweat beaded across their forehead. And soon, they swore their heart was racing.
But no one has ever died from smoking too much weed, right? Right.
Heart disease contributes to roughly a quarter of all deaths in the US. In 2017, roughly 2,800,000 Americans died from heart disease, making it the number one killer in the Land of the Free. (In case you’re wondering, cancer comes in second, and traffic fatalities rank third.)
The science on whether cannabis harms or heals the cardiovascular system remains contentious and unresolved. After all, the legendary cannabis activist Jack Herer experienced four cardiovascular events over his lifetime: a heart attack and a stroke in 2000; another heart attack in 2009; and another heart attack in 2010, which took his life. So, did cannabis protect Herer through each of these events, or did it contribute to them? Or does it depend on who’s smoking and what they’re smoking?
Some Studies Say Cannabis Enhances Cardiovascular Health
Basically, some studies suggest that marijuana protects our heart and blood vessels, preventing hypertension, cardiac arrest, and even strokes. But other studies say just the opposite, that weed can ramp up the heart rate — and blood pressure — which could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Let’s first take a look at the research that suggests weed helps with heart rate, blood pressure, and protecting our blood vessels.
A 2013 review paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology looked at CBD’s, or cannabidiol’s, effects on the human cardiovascular system. According to his research, CBD could potentially treat diabetes and inflammation, two conditions that contribute to serious cardiovascular damage. CBD can also reduce stress, another major contributor to heart and blood issues. And the same guy who wrote this paper also looked at 2-AG — which could be considered the body’s natural version of CBD (the two are chemical analogs) — and found similar positive effects from the endocannabinoid as he found with CBD, a plant-derived cannabinoid.
Another study from 2017 found that just a single dose of CBD could lower blood pressure. That could be good news for anyone living with hypertension.
THCV, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is another cannabinoid found in cannabis, but one that’s much rarer than either CBD or THC. THCV can suppress appetite, essentially making it the anti-munchies component of weed. Researchers also know that it regulates insulin activity — meaning it could treat or prevent diabetes, which, as noted above, is a major contributor to heart disease.
But what about THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in cannabis that gets everyone lit? A 2008 study found that THC could prevent plaque buildup in arteries, the same plaques that cause heart attacks. But, as we’ll discuss below, THC could also be the thing in weed that worsens heart conditions, so let’s not get too excited about everyone’s favorite party molecule.
However, all-in-all, cannabis may not do much to help or harm the cardiovascular system. In 2018, researchers looked at 24 studies regarding heart health and marijuana use. The studies ranged from 1975 to 2017. After four individual reviewers graded the studies on legitimacy, they concluded that there wasn’t enough data to show that weed protected or damaged either the heart or the blood vessels. Does that settle the issue? Not really, but it does mean we need more research on this topic, which is currently being obstructed by the federal government’s stance on cannabis.
Other Studies Say Cannabis Can Compromise Cardiovascular Health
OK, now for the not-so-fun portion of this discussion.
We know that THC can cause our blood vessels to loosen and expand through a process called vasodilation. Vasodilation is why some tokers’ eyes turn red after they get lifted. When the blood vessels dilate, blood pressure drops, which is usually a good thing, especially in people with high blood pressure. But the heart will adjust to lower blood pressure by pumping blood harder to make up for the pressure loss. Studies show that the heart can increase blood pressure by as much as 30 percent after someone gets lit, averaging 30 to 50 additional beats per minute.
Furthermore, we can look at states with lax marijuana laws to glean further insight. If medical marijuana states have more people smoking pot within their borders than states under full prohibition, then we should see higher rates of heart disease in medical states, too, yeah? According to a 2018 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, medical states saw a 2.3 percent and a 1.3 percent increase in heart disease diagnoses among men and women, respectively, shortly after the passage of their medical marijuana laws. But, to be fair, it’s not accurate to compare the number of cannabis users in medical marijuana states to prohibition states, since there’s no way to track how many people consume cannabis in prohibition states. Plus, correlation does not imply causation.
However, that 2018 study didn’t look at data after 2014, either, which is when Colorado and Washington started selling legal recreational weed. It’d be interesting to see how the data pans out now that 11 US states now have legalized commercial cannabis.
There are also studies that show that someone’s risk of heart attack is five times higher after smoking weed than when they’re sober. Another study found that regular cannabis consumers were four times more likely to suffer a stroke than non-consumers. Note that both of these studies only looked at pot smokers, and we know that smoking anything — whether cannabis or tobacco — exposes the user to smoke particles that can damage cells and DNA. It’s possible that regular consumption of non-smokable forms of cannabis, such as edibles, drinkables, tinctures, topicals, or vaporized products, may not contribute to heart disease. Or, some other factor such as stress (like stressing out over being arrested for smoking weed) could be higher in some weed smokers than in those who abstain from the plant.
I find it quite ironic that the most dangerous thing about weed is getting caught with it.
Basically, if you’ve got heart issues, talk with a doctor before you pick up a bong or a vaporizer. And always keep track of how you’re feeling when you’re lit. If smoking a doob ain’t working out for you, try another, non-smokable form of cannabis. The science is still out on whether cannabis helps or hurts your heart, but one thing we know for sure is that weed alone will not kill you.
Studies disagree on whether cannabis use can protect the heart or harm it. But what do we currently know about THC and your ticker?