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Cannabis May Lower Blood Pressure in Older Adults, Say Researchers

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Feb 15, 2021   
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Medical cannabis use may lead to reduced blood pressure in older adults, according to new research from scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the BGU-Soroka University Medical Center, Israel.

Published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, the study is the first of its kind to look at the effects of cannabis on blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolic parameters in adults aged over 60 with hypertension.

AS older people are the fastest-growing group of medical cannabis consumers, the researchers say it is crucial to conduct more studies into the health effects of medium-to-long term cannabis use in older adults.

Cannabis causes significant reductions in blood pressure, but with adverse effects

The prospective study followed 26 patients aged 60 or older with hypertension, who had also been newly prescribed medical cannabis. Using 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, blood tests, and body measurements, the researchers assessed the cardiovascular health of the participants immediately before and three months into starting medical cannabis treatment.

The researchers initially hypothesized that cannabis use would have no significant impacts on blood pressure after only three months of use. Previous studies from other institutions looking at oral THC oils had reported mixed results on the cardiovascular effects of these oils; some studies found small increases in systolic blood pressure (the pressure exerted when the heart is beating) and small decreases in diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart is between beats), while others found no significant changes.

However, the BGU researchers found a significant reduction in 24-hour systolic and diastolic blood pressure values after three months; the lowest point occurred roughly three hours after cannabis use. They believe this trough in blood pressure after three hours could be due to the slower absorption times of orally administered cannabis oils, as over 75 percent of participants in this study reported using oral cannabis oils as their usual method of consumption.

After adjusting for the CBD and THC doses taken by each participant, the researchers found no implication of a dose-dependent relationship between cannabinoids and blood pressure. As chronic pain is associated with hypertension, and pain relief often causes decreased blood pressure, the researchers suspected that this analgesic effect could be a possible explanation for the blood pressure decrease. However, no accompanying decrease in heart rate was seen in this study.

Eighty percent of participants experienced at least one adverse event during the course of the study, most commonly dizziness. No patients reported any serious adverse events and, as the researchers explain in their paper, patients with persistently elevated blood pressure “might perceive the reduction in blood pressure as more meaningful, which can cause a sensation of dizziness.”

Still, 80 percent of patients reporting adverse events is a noticeably higher fraction than other medical cannabis studies with young and healthy participants, highlighting the need for larger randomized trials that can evaluate the safety of cannabis use for older adults.

“Older adults are the fastest growing group of medical cannabis users, yet evidence on cardiovascular safety for this population is scarce,” Dr Ran Abuhasira of the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences and the BGU-Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute, said in a statement. “This study is part of our ongoing effort to provide clinical research on the actual physiological effects of cannabis over time.”

Cannabis use and cardiovascular health

The official position of the American Heart Association (AHA) is that cannabis use brings “substantial risks, no benefits” to heart health.

In a scientific statement published last fall, the AHA reviewed a number of recent heart-related studies into cannabis use, concluding that cannabis use does not appear to provide any strong benefits to heart health. Some of the studies reviewed even linked cannabis to an increased risk of experiencing heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure – risks that the AHA wants users to be more aware of.

“People who use cannabis need to know there are potentially serious health risks in smoking or vaping it, just like tobacco smoke,” said Rose Marie Robertson, the deputy chief science and medical officer for the American Heart Association and co-director of the AHA Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science, in an accompanying news release.

“The American Heart Association recommends that people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.”

Just like the BGU researchers, the AHA also wants to see more studies evaluating the safety of medical cannabis use, particularly among older patients, but also in people with pre-existing heart conditions or who have other relevant underlying health problems.

Robert Page II, a professor at the University of Colorado and chair of the writing group that authored the AHA statement said that “attitudes towards recreational and medicinal use of cannabis have changed rapidly, and many states have legalized it for medical and/or recreational use. Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes.”

“We urgently need carefully designed, prospective short- and long-term studies regarding cannabis use and cardiovascular safety as it becomes increasingly available and more widely used,” Page added.


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