Study: Can Cannabis Increase High Blood Pressure Deaths?

Cannabis' effect on heart heath is under the microscope.
Cannabis’ effect on heart heath is under the microscope.

A recent study shows there is a connection between cannabis use and death from hypertension, or high blood pressure. But, the research has some significant design flaws.

Cannabis users may be more likely — three times more likely — to die from high blood pressure than non-users, according to a recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology today.

To measure the connection with cannabis use and disease, researchers followed-up on a 2005-2006 survey of 1,213 participants. They compared the participants’ marijuana use information with mortality data from the National Centre for Health Statistics and looked for an association between cannabis use and death from cardiovascular diseases.

Marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of dying from high-blood-pressure-related causes like primary hypertension (high blood pressure with no known cause) and hypertensive renal disease (high blood pressure caused by kidney disease). They found no association between marijuana use and death from heart disease or cerebrovascular disease (a common cause of stroke).

There is uncertainty in the survey design, however, according to the study’s lead author, Barbara Yankey, a PhD student in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

For example, the team identified a “marijuana user” as someone who had ever tried marijuana. To calculate the duration of marijuana use, the researchers subtracted the age participants reported first trying weed from their current age.

For example, if you first tried cannabis at age 20 and are now 40 years old, you’d be a 20-year “marijuana user.”

“In this specific study, authors conflate subjects’ reporting of having ‘ever used’ cannabis as evidence of current and habitual use. This is likely not the case,” said Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), in an email.

Over half of America has tried weed, and according to Armentano, 12 percent of Americans say that they are current cannabis users.

While it is established that cannabis can affect blood pressure, other studies indicate cannabis isn’t a large risk to cardiovascular health.

In one 2017 study, for example, researchers tracked marijuana use of 5,113 young adults for 25 years and estimated lifetime exposure to marijuana by conducting exams every two to five years. They found no connection between cannabis use and incident cardiovascular disease.

“Based upon the findings of prior studies, the authors’ interpretation with regard to the degree of this risk potential appears to be sensational, and the methods used in this particular study appear to be highly questionable,” said Armentano.

For now, don’t let this study raise your blood pressure.

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