Hypertension

PrintHigh blood pressure, or hypertension, afflicts an estimated one in four American adults. This condition puts a strain on the heart and blood vessels and greatly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The endogenous cannabinoid system plays a role in regulating blood pressure, though its mechanism of action is not yet fully understood.[1] Animal studies demonstrate that anandamide and other endocannabinoids profoundly suppress cardiac contractility in hypertension and can normalize blood pressure,[2-3] leading some experts to have speculated that the manipulation of the endocannabinoid system “may offer novel therapeutic approaches in a variety of cardiovascular disorders.”[4]

The administration of exogenous cannabinoids has yielded a range of cardiovascular effects on humans and laboratory animals.[5-9] These effects may be influenced by various factors, including dose, route of administration, and tolerance.

Some human subjects administered cannabis and/or cannabinoids in experimental conditions experience a mild, temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. However, tolerance to these effects tends to develop quickly over time following repeated use and the risk of serious cardiovascular events due to the administration of either purified or synthetic cannabinoids appears to be low.[10-12]

Cannabinoid administration in animals has been associated with vasodilation, transient bradycardia and hypotension (lowering of blood pressure),[13] as well as an inhibition of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) progression.[14-16]

Recently, human data has replicated some of these preclinical results. A 2018 observational study reported that the lifetime use of cannabis is not independently associated with any increased risk of atherosclerosis in younger to middle-age adults.[17] A 2021 study assessing the relationship between cannabis use and cardiovascular disorders in a nationally representative sampling of 57,000 US adults concluded, “After controlling for several confounding variables, we found that there was a decrease in the prevalence of cardiovascular events with marijuana use.”[18] However, other observational studies have yielded contradictory results.[19]

In one recent observational trial involving elderly subjects with hypertension, the ingestion of cannabinoids (either via oil extracts or by the inhalation of cannabis flower) over a three-month period “was associated with a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as heart rate.”[20] Similarly, a recent literature review of 46 clinical trials involving the medical use of either purified or synthetic cannabinoids, including THC, reported that their use was frequently associated with hypotension over the course of treatment.[21]

Most recently, the results of a 2021 literature review of 67 studies published in The American Journal of Medicine concluded, “[M]arijuana itself does not appear to be independently associated with excessive cardiovascular risk factors,” although authors did caution that “it can be associated with other unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol use and tobacco smoking that can be detrimental” to cardiovascular health.[22]

At this time, clinical research assessing the administrations of cannabinoids for hypertension is still in its infancy[23] and those higher-risk populations – such as those with underlying cardiovascular conditions — are typically cautioned by experts to limit their exposure to cannabis smoke.[24]

REFERENCES

[1] Franjo Grotenhermen. 2006. Clinical pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. In Russo et al (Eds) Handbook of Cannabis Therapeutics. Binghampton, New York: Haworth Press.

[2] Batkai et al. 2004. Endocannabinoids acting at cannabinoid-1 receptors regulate cardiovascular function in hypertension. Circulation 110: 1996-220.

[3] Pacher et al. 2005. Blood pressure regulation by endocannabinoids and their receptors. Neuropharmacology 48: 1130-1138.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cecilia Hillard. 2000. Endocannabinoids and vascular function. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 294: 27-32.

[6] Kunos et al. 2000. Endocannabinoids as cardiovascular modulators. Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 108: 159-168.

[7] Reese Jones. 2002. Cardiovascular system effects of marijuana. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 42: 58-63.

[8] Ribuot et al. 2005. Cardiac and vascular effects of cannabinoids: toward a therapeutic use? Annales de Cardiologie et d’Angeiologie (France) 54: 89-96.

[9] Steven Karch. 2006. Cannabis and cardiotoxicity. Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology. 2: 13-18.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rodondi et al. 2006. Marijuana use, diet, body mass index and cardiovascular risk factors. American Journal of Cardiology 98: 478-484.

[12] Watanabe et al. 2021. A systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials for cardiovascular toxicity of medical cannabinoidsThe Journal of the American Pharmacists Association [online ahead of print].

[13] Reese Jones. 2002. op. cit.

[14] Steffens and Mach. 2006. Towards a therapeutic use of selective CB2 cannabinoid receptor ligands for atherosclerosis. Future Cardiology 2: 49-53.

[15] Steffens et al. 2005. Low dose oral cannabinoid therapy reduces progression of atherosclerosis in mice. Nature 434: 782-786.

[16] Steffens and Mach. 2006. Cannabinoid receptors in atherosclerosis. Current Opinion in Lipidology 17: 519-526.

[17] Auer et al. 2018. Lifetime marijuana use and subclinical atherosclerosis: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Addiction 113: 845-856.

[18] Jivanji et al. 2021. Association between marijuana use and cardiovascular disease in US adults. Cureus [online publication].

[19] Shah et al. 2020. Association of marijuana use and cardiovascular disease: A Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data analysis of 133,706 US adults. The American Journal of Medicine [online ahead of print].

[20] Abuhasira et al. 2021. Cannabis is associated with blood pressure reduction in older adults: A 24-hours ambulatory blood pressure monitoring study. European Journal of Internal Medicine 86: 79-85.

[21] Watanabe et al. 2021. op. cit.

[22] Pasha et al. 2021. Cardiovascular effects of medical marijuana: A systemic review. American Journal of Medicine 134: 182-193.

[23] Francois Mach. 2006. New anti-inflammatory agents to reduce atherosclerosis. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry 112: 130-137.

[24] Thomas et al. 2014. Adverse cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and peripheral vascular effects of marijuana inhalation: what cardiologists need to know. American Journal of Cardiology 113: 187-190.