Cannabis is not an entirely benign drug and like all medications it has side effects and precautions. As with all drugs it must be used safely, in the lowest effective doses, and only for the medical purpose for which it was recommended.
Side Effects And Precautions
The “high effect”
Patients using cannabis, particularly first time users may experience any combination of the following effects:
- Sense of well-being or euphoria
- Heightened sensual perception
- Talkative and laughter alternating with periods of introspection
- Increased appetite
- Loss of sense of time
Short term memory loss-this can make cohesive conversation difficult because of inability to remember what was just said.
These effects are most pronounced in first-time users, are dose dependent, and tend to diminish with repeated use for a medical condition. The high effect lasts about one to three hours with inhaled cannabis and up to six hours with ingested cannabis.
As with the high effect, negative effects are most common in first-time users, are dose dependent and also diminish with repeated use.
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Rarely delusions or hallucinations
- Diminished performance
Cannabis can cause decreased coordination and reaction time. For this reason cannabis users are cautioned not to drive, operate machinery or perform any task requiring mental or physical dexterity until you are familiar with its effects.
Impairment lasts about one to three hours with inhaled cannabis and up to six hours if ingested. As with the high effect, negative effects are less pronounced when cannabis is treating conditions with severe symptoms. In other word patients who use cannabis to alleviate a medical condition are less likely to experience the high effect or the negative effects.
Some patients become either physically or emotionally dependent on cannabis. This is a relatively rare occurrence and both the degree of dependence and the difficulty of withdrawal are mild compared to hard drugs.
Cannabis smoke is similar to tobacco smoke in its effects on the respiratory tract. Chronic cannabis smokers may have an increased incidence of respiratory infections and chronic bronchitis. Prolonged smoking may lead to damage of the lining of the respiratory tree; however there is no evidence that cannabis causes cancer of the lung or upper airways. These effects can be all but eliminated by using a vaporizer which eliminates smoke. Instead, active cannabinoids are released by using heat instead of combustion. The patient inhales only the purified cannabinoids while avoiding noxious smoke.
Cannabis is not appropriate for everyone. For some patients it is not effective. Others cannot tolerate the side effects. This is no different than any prescription medication. Cannabis is generally well tolerated, generally safe, and is for many patients often superior to prescription medications. For that reason cannabis should be considered as an alternative choice for any patient not doing well on prescription medications.