Medical marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been used medicinally for a number of years now to treat chronic pain, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and reduce muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. Medical cannabis is being researched as a potential therapy for a wide range of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and glaucoma.
But one area in which cannabis has yet to show proven benefit is heart disease. In fact, past observational studies indicate the chemicals in marijuana, such as THC, may be connected to an elevated risk of heart attack, heart failure and atrial fibrillation. While these studies can identify trends, they do not prove cause and effect.
However, new research shows that medical cannabis may actually benefit one aspect of heart health…
Medical marijuana may be good for blood pressure
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center have discovered that medical cannabis may reduce blood pressure in older adults. The first-of-its-kind study focuses on effect of cannabis on blood pressure, heart rate and metabolic parameters in adults 60 and older with hypertension.
According to Dr. Ran Abuhasira of the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences and the BGU-Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute, older adults are the fastest-growing group of medical cannabis users, but there is scant evidence on cardiovascular safety for this population. “This study is part of our ongoing effort to provide clinical research on the actual physiological effects of cannabis over time,” Dr. Abuhasira says.
The 26 patients participating in the study had a mean age of 70.42 years and were almost evenly split between male and female. The study evaluated these patients using 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, ECG, blood tests and body measurements both before and three months after starting cannabis therapy.
Researchers saw a significant reduction in 24-hour systolic and diastolic blood pressure values, with the lowest point occurring three hours after ingesting cannabis by smoking or taking orally via oil extracts. At the 3-month follow-up point, the mean 24-hour systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings was 5.0 mmHg and 4.5 mmHg lower, respectively.
Blood pressure reductions occurred in both daytime and nighttime measures, but the most significant change was recorded at night. The proportion of “normal dippers,” patients whose blood pressure declines by at least 10percent at night, rose from 27.3percent before treatment to 45.5percent after treatment. A non-dipping blood pressure pattern, sometimes referred to as nocturnal hypertension, is associated with disease severity, organ damage, secondary forms of hypertension, several cardiovascular risk factors and poor long-term outcomes.
There were no significant changes in the different metabolic parameters assessed by blood tests, body measurements or ECG exam.
Researchers think pain relief, the indication for prescription cannabis in most patients, may also have contributed to the blood pressure reduction.
The effects of medical marijuana on the heart
Cannabis contains both CBD (popular as CBD oil and available without prescription) and THC, the latter of which causes the “high” associated with marijuana. According to some research, the THC in cannabis may cause heart rhythm abnormalities within an hour of being smoked. THC also appears to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. This can cause an elevated heart rate, increased oxygen demand for the heart, a jump in blood pressure while lying down and dysfunction within the walls of the arteries.
By contrast, studies have connected CBD with a lower heart rate and blood pressure, an increase in the arteries’ ability to open for healthier blood flow and the potential reduction in inflammation, which is linked to atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries.
Using it safely
The method of consuming cannabis may influence how it affects the heart and blood vessels. Because cannabis smoke contains components similar to tobacco smoke, smoking and inhaling cannabis, regardless of THC content, is associated with a fivefold increase in carbon monoxide concentrations and
a threefold increase in tar.
Vaping cannabis carries additional dangers, especially when mixed with vitamin E acetate oils. These oils have been linked to e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), a potentially fatal lung illness that has emerged in recent years among e-cigarette users.
If your doctor recommends a prescription for cannabis, talk to them about the potential risks associated with its consumption, as well as the safest way to consume it. CBD may be better alternative and is available in capsules and tinctures.
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Cannabis is associated with blood pressure reduction in older adults – A 24-hours ambulatory blood pressure monitoring study — European Journal of Internal Medicine
Medical Marijuana FAQ — WebMD
Marijuana may hurt heart, more research needed, report finds — American Heart Association