Updated on December 15, 2017.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Approximately one in every three American adults has high blood pressure — that’s roughly 75 million people. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and strokes. The leading cause of disability in this country, strokes affect about 795,000 Americans each year.
Medical marijuana is used for an approved list of conditions in most states. Some states even allow marijuana doctors to recommend cannabis therapy for patients who don’t have one of the named conditions at the doctor’s discretion. Hypertension is not an approved cannabis condition on any of the state lists.
The medical benefits of cannabis are still being researched. A few decades ago, the psychoactive properties of marijuana were the focus of almost all research done on the plant. Now, we know it’s useful in relieving nerve pain, reducing seizures and treating many other debilitating conditions. As we learn more about what cannabis can do, it could end up becoming a holistic treatment for high blood pressure.
How Cannabis Works
The cannabis plant contains several chemical compounds called cannabinoids. These substances produce various effects when they’re introduced to the brain and central nervous system. They mostly mimic natural brain chemical messengers and alter the messages your brain sends and receives.
In the case of pain relief, for example, cannabinoids bind with certain receptors to block pain messages from getting through. Cannabinoids in marijuana work in several areas of the brain inducing euphoric messages and calming anxieties.
The physical mechanisms of marijuana are not well known. Most studies have focused on the psychoactive effects, so more research is needed to fully understand its physical effects. Any drug that changes brain chemicals has some physical effects, even if they’re benign.
Some reports of increased heart rate during the first 10 to 15 minutes of smoking marijuana are reported. That increase can be significant but is usually short-lived. Any increase in heart rate puts added pressure on the heart and blood vessels. People with existing heart conditions should be cautious.
This increased blood pressure is mostly associated with first-time or occasional users. Regular cannabis users develop a tolerance that keeps their hearts from responding to marijuana this way. There’s no medical evidence linking marijuana with negative heart problems.
Controlling Blood Pressure With Medical Marijuana
High blood pressure can be caused by several different medical conditions, many of which are associated with a malfunctioning of the heart or circulatory system. However, mental health also affects blood pressure.
Stress is one of the most dangerous mental issues that’s becoming prevalent in our society. Although it’s a natural mechanism we have for avoiding danger, prolonged stress creates its own dangerous results — it can be associated with both heart disease and high blood pressure.
Cannabis is proven to reduce anxiety and stress and induce relaxation. Taking an occasional break from stress and allowing your brain to relax and your body to “stand down” can improve your physical health and quality of life. Stress reduction can lower blood pressure and allow the heart to heal itself.
The relaxation induced by medical marijuana is not just all in your head. Cannabinoids have been scientifically proven to reduce muscle tension and relax blood vessels so blood flows more freely. Reduced blood pressure is one result of the physical relaxation that cannabis causes.
What You Need to Know About Cannabis and Blood Pressure
What we know for sure is that cannabis can influence blood pressure. There are many variables that can alter this effect, including a prior heart condition, age, overall health and the strain of cannabis used. It’s not possible to predict with any amount of certainty when a medical dose of cannabis will increase blood pressure to an alarming level or cause a negative outcome.
A change in heart rate is documented by some marijuana users, so you might notice the same result from your first dose, or even your first several doses. An increased heart rate, if it occurs at all, will not persist for more than a few minutes — when the marijuana leaves your system, your heart rate will be back to normal. There shouldn’t be any instances of increased heart rate when you’re not under the influence of cannabis.
Cannabis doesn’t seem to cause heart disease, but it could exacerbate an existing condition. If you have a heart condition, your doctor should be made aware of that before he recommends marijuana therapy. An existing heart condition won’t preclude you from qualifying for medical marijuana — it’s just a condition that needs to be considered when deciding what strain and dosage you should take.
People with heart conditions need to be cautious with all medications, dieting and exercise. Any medical or lifestyle changes should be supervised by a doctor. Medical marijuana therapy is no different, so professional guidance is recommended for undertaking this treatment.
Scientists are still researching the mechanism by which marijuana may alter your heart rate. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor about any recent findings that he thinks could be relevant to your condition. You also should get information from your doctor on how marijuana would work with any other medications you’re already taking.
If you have high blood pressure, the right marijuana therapy could lower your blood pressure without the negative side effects of other blood pressure medicine. Working with a qualified doctor and licensed dispensary might help you improve your health and quality of life.
If you don’t have a marijuana doctor or primary dispensary yet, use our online search feature to find one in your area. Connecting with a marijuana doctor can help you move forward with the registration process in your state and become a medical marijuana patient. Cannabis could bring you the relief you need from symptoms that make your life harder.