The Relationship Between Marijuana and Hypertension

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a condition which puts strain on the heart and may lead to serious complications. Secondary hypertension generally has an underlying medical cause, such as problems with one’s kidneys or arteries. However, primary hypertension, which accounts for the vast majority of cases, is mostly due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

Hypertension is a condition that can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. Research from the past several years has also been focused on marijuana, which may prove to be a novel new management option for patients dealing with hypertension.

The Cardiovascular Effects of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a class of compounds that can be found in abundance in the marijuana plant. There have been several studies and reviews done on the role of cannabinoids in the cardiovascular system.

One of the earliest was an article out of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. The authors noted that the effect of cannabinoids on the vascular systems of humans and animals was “significant.” Cannabinoids cause blood vessels to widen, and thereby lead to a decrease in blood pressure.

Another review, which came out only a few months later, also noted that cannabinoids were able to lower blood pressure and to decrease heart rate as well. The authors reported that the body’s cannabinoid 1 and cannabinoid 2 receptors had an important role to play in controlling hypertension.  

A 2002 article from the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology echoed all of these previous findings, and added that marijuana use was not associated with health problems in healthy young adults. It did, however, caution that those with existing health conditions should consider their use more carefully.

Preliminary Research on Rats

Due to everything that was previously discovered about the relation between the endocannabinoid and vascular systems, researchers in a 2004 study decided to test the effect that stimulating the cannabinoid receptors had on hypertensive rats.

They found that by administering cannabinoids to the rats, they were able to suppress hypertension and normalize blood pressure levels. The researchers concluded that these findings could point the way to new therapeutic strategies for helping patients manage their hypertension.

Marijuana and Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Not everyone was as hopeful as the researchers in the previous study. Another study, which came out in 2006, cautioned against marijuana use because it was associated with other risky behaviors such as higher caloric intake and tobacco smoking. However, researchers admitted that several of these risk factors were also due to greater alcohol consumption in the marijuana users who were surveyed.

Higher caloric intake also does not seem to be a problem tied exclusively to marijuana use. Despite the well-known phenomenon of “munchies,” a 2013 survey of 4,657 people concluded that marijuana use was actually associated with a smaller waist circumference.

It seems safe to say that as long as marijuana users stay away from behaviors such as tobacco smoking, drinking, and excessive eating, then they are at no more risk of hypertension than non-users.