Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
With the prevalence of high blood pressure cases increasing and the development and implementation of marijuana laws, people are starting to wonder if the herb can help with their high blood pressure. Many are asking whether cannabis for high blood pressure is effective — and a handful of studies and research says yes.
High blood pressure is also called hypertension. It’s a common ailment where the blood pressure in your arteries persistently gets too high. The pressure depends upon how much blood your heart pumps and its resistance in your arteries. The narrower your arteries and the more blood pumped by your heart, the higher your blood pressure gets. Hypertension can lead to serious health issues, such as heart disease.
You may have hypertension for years without showing any outward signs, but it still causes damage to your heart and blood vessels. When you don’t control your high blood pressure, it increases your chances of a stroke, heart attack or other dangerous health problems.
Hypertension typically develops over the course of many years, and it affects almost everyone eventually. The good news is that hypertension is easily detected. Once you realize you have it, your doctor can get you started on a treatment plan.
There are two main types of hypertension. Ninety-five percent of individuals who have hypertension have primary or essential hypertension, where there’s no known cause of their high blood pressure. Others who know the cause have secondary hypertension.
Doctors diagnose essential hypertension after they observe your blood pressure being high on three or more visits, and they’ve eliminated all other causes of your high blood pressure. While most individuals with essential hypertension don’t have symptoms, you could experience:
Also, even though there’s no known cause for this type of hypertension, researchers do know of certain influences such as:
Other factors can contribute to essential hypertension, so consult with your doctor to see if any others apply to you.
A common cause of this type of hypertension is an abnormality in the way your arteries supply blood to your kidneys. Other causes may be:
Fortunately, once your doctor determines the cause, they can help you control your secondary hypertension.
Here are other variations of hypertension that exist as well:
Around one percent of individuals with high blood pressure have malignant hypertension. It’s most common in women with pregnancy toxemia, young adults and African-American men. It occurs when you have a rapid increase in your blood pressure and when your diastolic pressure reaches more than 130. Doctors consider your blood pressure “normal” when it’s under 120/80.
Common in individuals over 65 years old, the cause of isolated systolic hypertension is when you experience a loss of elasticity in your arteries. When your systolic pressure increases over 140, but the lower number keeps below 90 (normal range), you have isolated systolic hypertension.
You might have resistant hypertension if your blood pressure continues to be high even after your doctor has already prescribed you three different forms of antihypertensive medications. This type of hypertension could occur in around 20 to 30 percent of all cases of high blood pressure. Resistant hypertension is more common in individuals who are female, obese, older and African-American and could have a genetic component. It’s also common in people with an underlying condition like kidney disease or diabetes.
Although blood pressure measurement dates as far back as the 19th century, clear evidence of what normal blood pressure is and how to treat an elevated pressure goes back to the latter half of the 20th century.
In the 1950s, doctors considered elevated blood pressure to be necessary for perfusion of vital organs. Even though insurance companies knew the mortality and morbidity rates of high blood pressure at that time, and they often rejected people who had hypertension, there was a delay in the medical community to recognize the danger of hypertension.
After researchers pioneered population studies and clinical trials, hypertension management improved rapidly. These days, many patients are receiving successful treatment, and hypertension-related disease is decreasing dramatically.
There’s a reason high blood pressure is called the “silent killer.” Most of the time, high blood pressure has no noticeable symptoms to indicate there’s something wrong. You can protect yourself by knowing the risks and making necessary changes, though.
If your blood pressure continues to stay high for a long duration, it can cause damage to your body and create complications such as:
High blood pressure can also affect you psychologically. Some mental effects of hypertension include:
When in a stressful situation, your body generates a rush of hormones to cause your blood vessels to narrow and your heart to beat faster, increasing your blood pressure temporarily. While there’s no association between stress and long-term hypertension, you should still take steps to keep your stress level down to improve both your physical and mental health.
Studies indicate a link between hypertension and depression, anxiety and psychological distress.
It’s not difficult to see how living with anxiety or depression can cause tension and make it difficult for both you and those around you. Individuals struggling with depression often wish to be alone and don’t feel up to interacting with others. When dealing with anxiety and confronted with social situations, people often react negatively.
High blood pressure statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:
Your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan for your hypertension based on your diagnosis. The treatment plan likely includes healthy lifestyle changes and medication to control your blood pressure.
Lifestyle habits can help keep your high blood pressure under control. They include:
You don’t have to make all these lifestyle changes at once as it could become overwhelming. Instead, start by choosing one healthy lifestyle change and gradually add on another. As you continue to create healthy habits, your blood pressure may begin to lower, and you’ll be able to maintain a recommended blood pressure reading.
Hypertension medications work in their distinct way to slow or stop some of the body functions causing your high blood pressure. Some hypertension medications include:
Diuretics are fluid or water pills which flush your body of excess sodium to help lower your blood pressure. Your doctor may advise you to combine diuretics with other hypertension medications, sometimes in one pill.
Side effects of diuretics may include:
Beta blockers work by slowing down your heartbeat. This causes your heart to pump less blood in your blood vessels, lowering your blood pressure.
Side effects of beta blockers may include:
Alpha blockers help reduce the nerve impulses that cause your blood vessels to tighten, allowing your blood to flow freely.
Side effects of alpha blockers may include:
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers keep calcium from getting into the muscle cells of your blood vessels and heart. Your blood vessels relax, and your blood pressure decreases.
Side effects of calcium channel blockers may include:
Other medications you can discuss with your doctor include:
These all come with side effects, so be sure to go over them with your doctor.
First, know that a recent study claims cannabis users, versus nonusers, may be facing a threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure. There are limitations to the study, however. For example, it suggests regular users are anyone who has ever tried marijuana.
But, other research conveys this is a weak assumption. According to a survey, around 52 percent of Americans have tried weed at some point, but only 14 percent admitted to being regular users, meaning they used it at least once a month.
Additionally, the study was observational. What this means is it followed a group of people over an extended period, and then reported their experiences. Therefore, researchers can’t establish a “cause and effect” and say that smoking cannabis causes hypertension. They can only claim that there appears to be a link between the two. The Mayo Clinic, however, says using marijuana can decrease your blood pressure, not increase it.
Time and time again, medical marijuana has been clinically shown to lower blood pressure effectively. Cannabis has two primary types of anti-inflammatory components:
Medical weed has new strains that offer different portions of CBD and THC, so those who can’t handle THC or would rather not get the “high” feeling from it, have an alternative treatment. Your body has an endocannabinoid system (ECS), and the ECS has neurotransmitters equipped with biochemicals to control emotional and immune functions.
These relate directly to hypertension. Cannabis cannabinoids mimic your body’s endocannabinoids, reducing feelings of stress and lowering inflammation-causing high blood pressure.
In one study, researchers injected hypertensive rats with THC and took a record of how it affected their blood pressure. Immediately after the rats received the injection, their blood pressure significantly dropped. The rats continued to have lower blood pressure even days after they received the injection when compared with rats that did not get a dose.
Another study where cats were injected with THC had similar findings — their blood pressure decreased. And, since the cats didn’t have hypertension as the rats did, it seems THC lowers blood pressure even when a pre-existing condition isn’t present.
When you have elevated blood pressure, you may experience symptoms such as:
Hypertension can also lead to anxiety, stress and depression. Certain high blood pressure medications can have side effects marijuana can help with as well, such as muscle cramps, sleep disturbances and tremors. Cannabis can also help to reduce nausea.
Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a doctor who has cannabis experience before trying medical marijuana for hypertension. You should also monitor your blood pressure and attend regular doctor visits if you have any serious medical conditions.
Some of the best strains for helping with high blood pressure include the following:
After you choose your strain, the next thing to consider is your method of use. How you consume marijuana can determine the physical and mental benefits you’ll experience, since each method provides a host of unique effects.
There are three basic methods of delivery: inhalation, oral and topical.
With topical, you get the full cannabis extract. Once activated, the cannabinoids are absorbed directly into your skin.
There’s only one way you can legally obtain your cannabis for high blood pressure treatment, no matter where you live — through a qualified medical pot doctor. After consulting with you, the doctor will give you a recommendation for medical cannabis. To begin the process, you have to search for a marijuana doctor and then locate a medical cannabis dispensary.