Marijuana and High Blood Pressure: Media Hypes Myth

Earlier this month Reuters reported the results of a study at Georgia State University, in which researchers found that smoking marijuana can result in higher blood pressure.

The alarmist headline emphasized the study’s purported link between smoking marijuana and dying from high blood pressure related causes:

The Reuters report never tells readers what the risk is in the first place to put it in perspective.

“Marijuana use holds three-fold blood pressure death risk: study

LONDON (Reuters) – People who smoke marijuana have a three times greater risk of dying from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug…

Alarmist to be sure.

The Reuters report never tells readers what the risk is in the first place to put it in perspective.

The American Heart Association says that 65,311 people died in the U.S. in 2011 from high blood pressure related causes.

That year, the US population was 311.7 million. So a randomly selected person living in America that year had a 0.0002% chance of dying a hypertension related death.

The report is essentially saying that there is a really very trivial and negligible increase in your risk for blood pressure related mortality if you smoke marijuana.

So all the report is really saying, is that a study found that if you smoke marijuana, your chances of dying from high blood pressure related causes goes up from 0.0002% to 0.0007%.

And your individual starting risk of high blood pressure without smoking marijuana might be even lower than the 0.0002% for any randomly selected person in the population.

Depending on your blood pressure, overall health, age, sex, diet, levels of exercise, stress levels, and other relevant factors, your starting risk may be much lower.

The report is essentially saying that there is a really very trivial and negligible increase in your risk for blood pressure related mortality if you smoke marijuana.

Smoking marijuana makes basically no difference at all in your risk of hypertension related death according to this study.

That doesn’t sound nearly as exciting, nor alarming as: “Marijuana use holds three-fold blood pressure death risk: study

This is a common tactic used by unscrupulous or careless journalists to create alarm and generate attention for their story. Or sway public opinion about a policy issue.

But that’s sensationalist journalism, and it is unacceptably irresponsible journalism when that sensationalism is attached to public policy prescriptions like this, from the study’s author:

“If marijuana use is implicated in cardiovascular diseases and deaths, then it rests on the health community and policy makers to protect the public.”

This is a common tactic used by unscrupulous or careless journalists to create alarm and generate attention for their story. Or sway public opinion about a policy issue.

If you were not aware of this before, you’ll notice it everywhere now.

This article you are reading is not really about marijuana policy.

It’s about journalism.