It’s quite likely that you’ve heard of people having high blood pressure, and you may experience it yourself. Maybe your doctor told you to cut out salt from your diet, start exercising and reduce stress to help lower your blood pressure. But could you add cannabis to your regimen to help bring your blood pressure to better levels?
What Exactly Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries—to carry oxygen and energy to tissues—is too forceful. Although there’s no single cause for high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, risk factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive smoking
When high blood pressure goes untreated, blood vessels may be permanently damaged and could even lead to serious health problems. Folks with hypertension can experience:
- Vision problems
Normal blood pressure ranges should be around 135/85 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg, and less than 130/80 mmHg for diabetics. The first number in blood pressure readings represents the blood pressure when the heart contracts, while the second number is blood pressure when the heart relaxes.
Is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?
In short, yes, high blood pressure is risky. Prolonged high blood pressure levels cause physical effects such as:
- Damage to artery walls
- Hardened arteries
- Heart failure
Plus, chronic hypertension can mean an increased risk for other serious medical problems like:
- Kidney failure
- Loss of eyesight
Overweight Canadian adults between 60–80 years old are most likely to suffer from high blood pressure. However, high blood pressure isn’t uncommon in younger folks, too. So, if you experience some of the symptoms mentioned above on a recurring basis, schedule an annual check-up with your doctor.
There’s no shortage to treatment options for high blood pressure. Diuretics are popular as they minimize fluid in your blood vessels to lower pressure. Meanwhile, other common prescriptions for high blood pressure include:
- Beta blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- ACE inhibitors
Nonpharmaceutical prescriptions that help lower blood pressure are omega-3 supplements and increased dietary intake of fatty fish types (think salmon, sardines, herring and tuna).
Lowering caffeine and alcohol intake and reducing sodium may also lower blood pressure, as can regular moderate exercise.
What Do Studies Say About Cannabis to Help Lower Hypertension?
On to the big question: Can cannabis help lower blood pressure?
Well, the results are mixed. So far, scientists looking at this question have really only tested cannabinoids in isolation, not the cannabis plant as a whole. And several of the studies used animal models, not humans.
In one study looking at cannabis to lower blood pressure, some participants received a dose of 600 mg of cannabidiol (CBD), while others took a placebo. The study was double blind and crossover, with results showing that acute administration of CBD does indeed reduce resting blood pressure.
Although this trial was done with healthy volunteers and measured only blood pressure in relation to cardiovascular responses to stress, the results show promising potential for CBD as a treatment for lowering blood pressure in other individuals, too.
But it must also be noted that 600 mg of CBD is a very large dose of the cannabis compound. For comparison, an entire bottle of CBD oil could clock in anywhere from 150–1,000 mg.
Another study showed that clinical trials in which the researchers gave tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to rats produced positive results. Blood pressure was significantly lower after initial THC injections, A downside was that the rats seemed to build up a tolerance to daily administrations of THC over time.
A similar trial study on cats showed decreases in blood pressure and heart rate, possibly due to the interaction of THC with the sympathetic nervous system. However, more research is necessary to fully understand the effects of THC in lowering hypertension.
The Controversy Around Marijuana for High Blood Pressure
One of the main reasons that cannabis for lowering blood pressure remains questionable is the fact that first-time and recently active cannabis consumers will often experience higher systolic blood pressure. Basically, higher blood pressure when the heart contracts (the first number of a blood pressure reading).
Although this study notes that cannabis use cannot be positively associated with hypertension, recent active cannabis use may indeed lead to temporary bouts of higher blood pressure. For people with hypertension—whether former cannabis consumers or not—it’s advised that they stop cannabis use, even though the increase of systolic blood pressure after cannabis use is usually minimal.
For now, it seems that the jury is still out on this one.
Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo