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Adverse Effects of Medical Cannabis

June 1, 2020

Caduceus Cross

Understanding the side effects and contraindications of using herbal cannabis as a medicine will make a patient’s experience both safer and better informed. It is important to speak with a physician or healthcare professional if a user experiences any side effects from any medication, including cannabis. The easiest approach to limiting cannabis side effects is by reducing the cannabis dose consumed.

A commonly held belief among certain circles is that cannabis is completely safe. This is based on the misconception that plant medicines are inherently harmless, but the reality is that cannabis is a potent drug, capable of producing noteworthy side effects. Cannabis can also cause significant interactions with certain other medications. The side effects of larger doses of THC-rich cannabis medicines can be frightening to novice users, who may be unaccustomed to the psychoactive effects associated with THC. Older patients without prior experience of THC can become very uncomfortable indeed, at doses that cause no issues in younger patients.

Most of the cannabis side effects noted opposite are solely associated with THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient. By using cannabis medicines that also contain CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, some of those side effects can be reduced or even eliminated. Patients who are either new to cannabis medicines, or who have accidentally overmedicated, can occasionally experience a condition called postural or orthostatic hypotension, which can result in sudden lightheadedness and even loss of consciousness upon standing from a seated or reclining position. Suddenly passing out upon standing up has become increasingly common among users of highly concentrated cannabis oils. It has also been observed that, while reclining, novice cannabis users tend to experience an upward spike in their blood pressure. This should be noted with caution if concurrent high blood pressure is already an issue.

By far the most commonly experienced, acute psychological side effects of cannabis medicines are confusion, anxiety, and feelings of panic. These are dose-dependent side effects. If these psychological symptoms escalate, the patient must seek medical attention. The risk of these side effects can be reduced by significantly lowering the cannabis dose until a comfortable baseline dose is identified. Baseline doses are easier to establish using smoked and vaporized cannabis medicines than with oral and sublingual cannabis preparations, because the onset of effects is faster when medicines are inhaled.

There can be long-term adverse effects from using cannabis medicines, which is why physicians should recommend a defined course of treatment with cannabis medicines for their patients. Heavy, long-term smokers of cannabis can develop severe and chronic bronchitis. A range of cognitive deficits (that is, affecting the ability to think) has been noted in long-term cannabis users. On the plus side, evidence indicates that most of these cognitive deficits are likely reversible after abstinence from THC or by combining THC with a CBD safety buffer. A recent brain-scanning study of heavy cannabis users has shown that the density of their CB₁ cannabinoid receptors had declined considerably. This receptor density was completely restored in all the study participants after 28 days of abstinence from cannabis, except in the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and learning. Increasingly, evidence points to the importance of using a “CBD buffer” as protection from many of the short- and long-term cognitive side effects associated with THC-dominant cannabis flowers and preparations.

The following information is presented for educational purposes only. Summit Releaf distributes this information to provide an understanding of the potential benefits of medical marijuana for patients living with one of the approved Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program qualifying conditions for an Ohio marijuana card. Links to third party websites do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Summit Releaf and none should be inferred.

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