High blood pressure is a familiar condition that affects many people, and it’s also one that is linked to a host of other serious conditions. Hypertension (as high blood pressure is otherwise known) is a disease that affects one in three American adults. With this in mind, along with the number of states that are legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis, there are many people asking about the kinds of effect that cannabis might have on blood pressure.
DID YOU KNOW: High blood pressure is a disease that affects one in three American adults.
It’s a known fact that high blood pressure can be reduced by implementing lifestyle changes, but what about the link between cannabis and high blood pressure? Smoking tobacco increases blood pressure, but does marijuana have the same effect?
In all honesty, the answer largely depends on which study you read, or who you ask.
Some suggest that marijuana use increases the risk of cardiac arrest in those who already have high blood pressure, while others acknowledge that more research is needed to prove such claims. Furthermore, according to observational studies and seasoned cannabis vets, weed initially causes a slight rise in blood pressure, and then lowers it.
In this article, we try and get to the bottom of the ever-surfacing question – “does smoking weed raise blood pressure?”
What is high blood pressure?
Before we go any further into the effects that marijuana has on blood pressure, we need to understand the difference between normal blood pressure and high blood pressure. As your heart beats, it’s pumping blood through the arteries; to determine blood pressure, we measure the force of blood that is pressing against the artery walls. Systolic pressure is used to measure the force of the blood in your arteries when the heart pumps. The force that is measured at the moment of rest between the heartbeats is diastolic pressure.
High blood pressure essentially means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood, and this causes weakening and strain. In addition, it causes the artery walls to get damaged over time. Generally, a normal blood pressure for healthy adults should be less than 80 millimeters diastolic, and less than 120 millimeters systolic.
High blood pressure has been deemed as the “silent killer” because often it doesn’t have any symptoms, and is only discovered at times of a medical checkup. When symptoms do occur, it’s usually only when the high blood pressure has increased to life-threatening levels. Hypertension shouldn’t be ignored as it can cause some serious health problems if it’s left untreated.
High blood pressure increases the individual’s risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Obesity, stress, poor diet, tobacco, physical inactivity, and alcohol use are all factors which can cause an increased possibility of developing high blood pressure.
Marijuana and high blood pressure
Since multiple lifestyle choices (like drinking and smoking tobacco) likely have a significant impact on one’s blood pressure, people often wonder if cannabis use can cause high blood pressure too. There appear to be a few differences in terms of short-term versus long-term effects of weed use and blood pressure.
Some studies, for example, have suggested that when a person consumes marijuana, they will experience a moderate increase in their heart rate and blood pressure. Then, following the initial spike, they will experience a decrease in blood pressure.
Once an individual has developed a tolerance for marijuana, after using it for a period of time they often won’t experience the rise in blood pressure at all. In fact, with longer-term use of cannabis, blood pressure may be reduced overall, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that there are people who use weed as a way to help them to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level.
There is conflicting research demonstrating that cannabis has been associated with certain cardiovascular risks in the long-term, including high blood pressure. However, recent research that has been released on cannabis and high blood pressure had some issues with the methodology, which should be addressed.
Firstly, the study mentioned above was an observational study that looked at marijuana and high blood pressure, so there weren’t any controls. The study also used the term ‘marijuana user’ very loosely to refer to anyone who took part in the study and tried marijuana.
There are also a few other things to consider when looking at marijuana use and high blood pressure. For starters, marijuana use may increase your appetite and lead to poor dietary choices, which could indirectly affect your blood pressure. Also, smoking marijuana rather than consuming it in other ways, such as sublingually or through edibles, could be detrimental to your cardiovascular health, just like smoking cigarettes is.
| “Marijuana use may increase your appetite and lead to poor dietary choices, which could indirectly affect blood pressure leves…”
Marijuana and low blood pressure
There are a few studies that have found that occasional marijuana users may experience a mild to moderate increase in their heart rate, with a small increase in blood pressure about 10 to 15 minutes after consuming marijuana. These studies go on to claim that, after the initial increase, the blood pressure drops, leaving the user feeling sleepy and groggy. Sound familiar?
After the initial temporary rise in blood pressure, there could possibly be a subsequent decrease. With repeated use, tolerance to the drug effects often sets in, and this is when you may experience a net decrease in blood pressure over time.
There are even studies that suggest that ingesting marijuana while in a standing position exterminates or blunts the initial increase in blood pressure, resulting in a drop in blood pressure.
However, when we take an in-depth look at the question of whether marijuana lowers blood pressure, it’s a lot more complicated. While some components, like anandamide and CBD, could lower blood pressure, smoking marijuana with the full range of cannabinoids has different effects. Ultimately, different strains will have different effects on the blood pressure; indica strains are relaxing and may either cause less of an increase in (or possibly a reduction) in blood pressure, while sativa strains are more stimulating and could lead to a higher initial increase in blood pressure.
Marijuana and the risk of heart attack or stroke
As far as the serious risks of marijuana go, a study from UC San Francisco was recently done whereby data from 3,617 Caucasian and African-American adults was analyzed over a period of 15 years. They found no long-term causal link between marijuana use and the risk of stroke or heart attack.
There are also a limited number of human case reports and animal studies that have suggested a link between acute intoxication and heart attack or stroke. However, a 2006 report published in Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology called these findings into question by stating that reports of marijuana-related heart attacks and strokes are extremely rare.
Furthermore, human case reports seldom take into account that in these rare cases, people may have consumed marijuana in conjunction with tobacco, alcohol, or stimulants shortly before the incident.
Nevertheless, back in 2000, a Harvard Medical School publication found that, for an hour after using marijuana, the risk of suffering a heart attack is five times higher (especially in at-risk demographics, e.g. seniors). Within two hours, risk returns to normal.
| “For an hour or so after ingestion of cannabis, one can likely expect a slight rise in blood pressure.”
Final Thoughts: Does smoking marijuana increase blood pressure?
The discussion on how marijuana affects blood pressure is a complex one. On an acute level and for an hour or so after ingestion of cannabis, there is likely to be a slight rise in blood pressure. Over the next hour, there’s a slight rise in the risk of cardiac events. Thereafter, blood pressure may return to normal or could even be reduced from the baseline.
For those who are concerned about marijuana use and blood pressure, it’s advised to take and record several blood pressure readings before, right after, and several hours after smoking marijuana to ensure that it isn’t causing high blood pressure, or checking what strains and methods of consumption might help to lower the blood pressure.