Marijuana use increases risk of death from high blood pressure, study finds

Narjas Zatat
Man smoking a marijuana joint: Getty

Marijuana use increases the risk of death from high blood pressure, a new study has found.

A survey published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology calculated the risk of death resulting from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular causes. In the years 2005-2006 a total of 1,213 participants were asked if they smoked marijuana.

Those who answered ‘yes’ were then considered to be marijuana users, and the age they said they first tried the drug was subtracted from their current age. This calculated the duration of use.

Results found that 34 per cent used neither marijuana nor cigarettes, 21 per cent used only marijuana, 16 per cent used marijuana and were past smokers and 4 per cent smoked only cigarettes.

The average duration of marijuana use based on the calculations was 11 and a half years.

Those who smoked marijuana had a 3.42 times higher risk of dying from hypertension, and the risk grew by 1.04 each year of use.

There was however, no association between marijuana use and death from heart disease or cerebrovascular disease.

Lead author of the study, Barbara A Yankey, a PhD student in the School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta told Science Daily: “Our results suggest a possible risk of hypertension mortality from marijuana use. This is not surprising since marijuana is known to have a number of effects on the cardiovascular system. Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Emergency rooms have reported cases of angina and heart attacks after marijuana use.

"We found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking.

"This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking. However, the number of smokers in our study was small and this needs to be examined in a larger study.

"Needless to say, the detrimental effects of marijuana on brain function far exceed that of cigarette smoking.”

The study does not deny the medicinal properties of the herb, but cautions against prolonged recreational use, stating: "We are not disputing the possible medicinal benefits of standardised cannabis formulations; however, recreational use of marijuana should be approached with caution. It is possible that discouraging recreational marijuana use may ultimately impact reductions in mortality from cardiovascular causes."