A new study claims marijuana is tied to a threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure — but there’s a catch
A new study suggests that anyone who smokes marijuana faces a threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure than people who have never used the drug.
Those findings sound alarming, but it’s important to keep in mind that, like any study, this one has limitations, including that it defines marijuana “users” as anyone who’s ever tried the drug and that it doesn’t differentiate among strains of a highly unregulated product.
However, the study highlights some key areas for future study — including how using cannabis might affect the heart. Here’s what you need to know.
‘A greater than three-fold risk of death’
“We found that marijuana users had a greater than three-fold risk of death from hypertension and the risk increased with each additional year of use,” Barbara Yankey, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student of epidemiology and biostatistics at Georgia State University, said in a statement.
For her paper, published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Yankey looked at more than 1,200 people age 20 or older who had been recruited previously as part of a large and ongoing national health survey.
In 2005, researchers asked them whether they had ever used marijuana or hashish. People who answered “yes” were classified as marijuana users; those who answered “no” were classified as nonusers.
Overall, those classified as marijuana users were found to be 3.42 times as likely to die from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who said they had never used. That risk also appeared to rise by a factor of 1.04 with what the researchers labeled “each year of use.”
Here’s the problem: The study’s authors defined anyone who said they had ever tried marijuana as a “regular user.”
Other research suggests this is a poor assumption. According to a recent survey, about 52% of Americans have tried cannabis at some point, yet only 14% said they used the drug “regularly,” defined as “at least once a month.”
Also, the study was observational, meaning it followed a group of people over time and reported what happened to them, so the researchers cannot conclude a cause and effect — they can’t say that smoking marijuana causes high blood pressure, only that the two things appear to be linked. The authors wrote, “From our results, marijuana use may increase the risk for hypertension mortality.”
Another issue is the unregulated nature of the existing, and largely illegal, cannabis market. People are using a wide variety of strains whose concentrations of compounds — there are up to 400 in marijuana, including THC and CBD — can differ drastically.
Charles Pollack, who directs the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and was not involved with the new study, told LiveScience that there were many strains of marijuana “with no quality standards,” and that was “making it tough to generalize” the effects.
Marijuana and your heart
While the study is far from conclusive, it sheds light on an important potential health risk linked with marijuana use. Scientists know that cannabis affects the heart, but because of the limited research available on the drug, it has been hard to suss out how it affects things like high blood pressure.
For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ingesting marijuana increases heart rate by between 20 and 50 beats a minute for anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours.
But a large, recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found “insufficient evidence” to support or refute the idea that cannabis might increase the overall risk of a heart attack, though it also found some limited evidence that using the drug could be a trigger for the phenomenon.
When it comes to cannabis’ effect on blood pressure, the results are also inconclusive. One very small study, for example, found a sharp increase in blood pressure immediately after regular pot users stopped using the drug.
“Abrupt cessation of heavy cannabis use may cause clinically significant increases in blood pressure in a subset of users,” that study’s researchers wrote.
And according to the Mayo Clinic, using cannabis could result in decreased, not increased blood pressure.
Francesca Filbey, the director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive disorders at the Center for BrainHealth and an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, told Business Insider that the latest study is an important area for future research, and said the links the study authors found “between death from hypertension and years of marijuana use does indicate a relationship” between the two things.
Still, Filbey said the study has important limitations, and said future studies should aim to also look at how factors like other substance use, BMI and other factors that may affect heart health could play a role in the outcome as well.
A new study suggests marijuana is linked with a threefold risk of death from hypertension. Here's what you should know about cannabis and your heart.
CBD and Drug Interactions: What You Need to Know
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Cannabidiol (CBD), has gained widespread attention for its potential to ease symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, and a host of other health conditions.
And while studies are ongoing as to how effective CBD is, many people are giving it a try.
Research to date shows that CBD is generally safe and has few, if any, minor side effects. But there’s one big caveat: CBD does have the potential to interact with some medications. The concern has to do with how the body metabolizes certain substances.
Before trying CBD, it’s crucial to talk to your doctor about all of the vitamins, supplements, and prescription and over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Here’s a deeper look at why having the conversation matters.
When you take a medication or other substance, your body has to metabolize it, or break it down. Drug metabolism happens throughout the body, such as in the gut, but the liver does a big part of the job, too.
A family of enzymes called cytochrome P450 (CYP450) does the important work of converting foreign substances so they can easily be eliminated from the body.
But some medications or substances affect CYP450, either by slowing or speeding up drug metabolism. That change in metabolism rate can alter how your body processes the medications or supplements you take — hence a drug interaction.
Why does CYP450 matter when it comes to CBD and medications?
The CYP450 family of enzymes is responsible for metabolizing several cannabinoids, including CBD, research shows. Specifically, CYP3A4, an important enzyme within the CYP450 family, does the task. But during this process, CBD also interferes with CYP3A4.
The CYP3A4 enzyme is in charge of metabolizing about 60 percent of clinically prescribed medications. But if CBD is inhibiting CYP3A4, it can’t work as effectively to break down the medications in your system.
The reverse can happen, too. Many medications inhibit CYP3A4. If you then take CBD while on these medications, your body can’t work to process the CBD as effectively.
If your body is metabolizing a medication too slowly, you may have more medication in your system at one time than intended — even if you’ve stuck to your normal dose. An increased level of a medication in your system could exaggerate its effects, including unwanted or harmful side effects.
Some substances also speed up the work of the CYP450 enzyme family. If your body is metabolizing a medication too fast because another substance is inducing the enzymes, you may not have enough of the medication in your system at one time to treat a health issue.
Trying CBD safely while taking medications
If you want to try CBD as an add-on therapy to ease symptoms of a certain condition, talk to your doctor about it first.
They may be able to help determine a CBD product, dosage, and schedule that’s safe with your medications. For some situations, your doctor may want to monitor blood plasma levels of certain medications you take.
Don’t stop any of your medications to try CBD, unless your doctor says it’s safe to do so.
Keep in mind that topical CBD, like lotions, creams, and salves, may also be an option. Unlike oils, edibles, and vaping solutions, topicals don’t typically enter the bloodstream — as long as they’re not a transdermal solution intended to do so.
CBD may interact with medications, altering their effects. Learn how and why, and get a list of types of medications that may interact.