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6 Conditions That Marijuana Can Mimic

Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Marijuana is touted as the safest of all recreational drugs. There is considerable debate about that, but the good news is that deaths from marijuana only are rarely reported. Marijuana used in conjunction with other drugs, however, is a much bigger problem. Even alcohol potentiates the effects of weed significantly. After hearing how mellow marijuana is supposed to be, many folks who try it for the first time are surprised by their reactions.

As drugs go, especially naturally occurring drugs, marijuana is one of the most complicated. Made from the cannabis plant, it contains more than 113 active ingredients, called cannabinoids. These cannabinoids all affect the body in some way, and not always in the same way. Those who are well versed in the different choices have the ability to choose the sort of high they want.

Those who are new to the scene, however, can be surprised by the reaction they feel. There are plenty of stories of folks trying weed for the first time—or more precisely, the first time since college—and discovering that the high isn’t exactly what they expected. A quick internet search will find a bevy of 911 calls from people who didn’t quite enjoy the high they were feeling.

More Harsh Than Mellow

Some people go to the hospital thinking they’ve had a medical emergency.

The various psychoactive substances in marijuana are likely to create all sorts of different reactions to its consumption and even the way the drug is consumed makes a difference.

Eating a marijuana brownie metabolizes the weed differently than smoking a joint, which means the same bud could have different effects when eaten than it does when smoked. It also takes longer to feel the effects after ingesting the drug than it does after smoking it, which often leads newcomers to eat too much, thinking they aren’t getting anywhere. When the weed starts kicking in, it comes on all at once.

The two most well-known cannabinoids in pot are tetrahydrocannibinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).   Medical authorities aren’t entirely sure how each works exactly, but it’s generally believed that the paranoia and anxiety produced by THC are partly offset by the anti-anxiety properties of CBD. Some people are using CBD extract medicinally for things like seizure control and anxiety reduction with some success. Other folks go for the most extreme concentrations of THC they can find, which leads to a high that looks more like that of a stimulant than the sedative most people expect marijuana to be.

To meet the demand, modern marijuana farmers are very good at improving their yields. The same advances in agriculture that have increased food production per acre—and even per plant—around the world have also increased the concentration of THC in weed. THC in confiscated cannabis samples increased from 3.4% in 1993 to 8.8% in 2008.   On top of that, there are other forms of marijuana besides the usual bud. Hash oil, sometimes called butane honey oil or BHO, is known for being extremely potent, up to 80% THC.   The more THC in the product, the more anxiety, and stimulant-like reaction can be expected.

Not only is there great agricultural advances pushing the limits of farming efficiency, but there are also synthetic copies of marijuana. K2 or Spice are examples of synthetic cannabinoid compounds that mimic the effects of natural weed and act on the same cannabinoid receptors in the body. It sounds great to say we can make weed instead of growing it, but the reality is that you really don’t know what you’re getting. Beyond the fact that weed can mimic certain medical conditions, synthetic cannabinoids might have other drugs either as part of their chemical make-up or can be laced with other drugs to enhance their effects.

Can Weed Feel Like a Heart Attack?

With well over a hundred more cannabinoids in the marijuana compound besides THC and CBD, there’s a whole lot we don’t know about how weed affects the body. Because of the fact that it gets you high, scientists have focused on the effects of marijuana on the brain and central nervous system. But, evidence shows that weed also affects the heart.  

There are several documented cases of marijuana causing heart rhythm disturbances and even one death through a fatal arrhythmia. It’s very possible these people could have had pre-existing cardiac conditions, even if they didn’t know it, but the weed certainly affected the way their hearts were functioning while they were high. In at least one case of atrial fibrillation, the effect persisted after the high wore off.

With the cardiac effects of marijuana largely still not well understood, the fact that some folks may feel as if they are having a heart attack after consuming weed is not to be ignored. Marijuana dulls pain; in fact, it’s one of the many benefits touted for medicinal use.   So, even if the weed is affecting the heart in a negative way that could lead to chest pain when sober, people might not feel the pain. You can’t ignore feelings of distress, including palpitations or chest pressure, when taking marijuana. The fact is, it might not be mimicking a heart attack so much as causing one.

Hypoglycemia

Weed slows down your mental processes.   It’s one of the main parts of marijuana that users remember (well, if you can remember anything). It’s that slow, gentle, absentmindedness that is the butt of so many pot jokes.

Imagine a person with diabetes smoking a little weed and having someone visit. The slow, halting movements and difficulty finding words are exactly what you’d expect to see during a bout of low blood sugar. Just don’t reach for the pot brownies to help fix the problem.

Is All That Vomiting From Pot or Gastroenteritis?

Pot makes some folks vomit. It even has a name: cannabinoid hyperemesis. Typically associated more with chronic marijuana use, cannabinoid hyperemesis leads to severe, uncontrollable vomiting.   Some people have discovered that hot showers can reduce nausea temporarily, but the only surefire way to completely stop the condition is to stop smoking weed.

Not a lot is known about cannabinoid hyperemesis. While it is known to affect chronic tokers, uncontrollable vomiting has been documented in other examples of folks who simply took a lot of marijuana. There is a debate about whether or not you can actually overdose on weed, but the medical community generally agrees there is such a thing as marijuana poisoning. Vomiting is one of the effects that gets mentioned often.

For folks who start vomiting after smoking marijuana, the presence of vomiting while high could be easily mistaken for some infection or gastroenteritis. It’s very important to be honest about the use of cannabis. Those around the patient are going to have a really hard time identifying the cause of nausea unless they are aware of the patient’s marijuana consumption. This is particularly bad news for the folks who started smoking weed to treat their nausea, common use by chemotherapy patients.

Indigestion

Besides vomiting, pot is also known for causing a fair amount of heartburn among those who use it the most.   There are a few options that chronic users can take to try to calm their indigestion, but the only guaranteed cure is to stop smoking.

Panic Attacks

While most panic attacks are psychiatric in nature, weed can definitely push the panic button. It’s not unheard of to see patients hyperventilating and scared of nothing in particular when high.   Unfortunately, like many other adverse reactions of marijuana, time is the only cure. There isn’t an antidote on the market that will reverse the effects of marijuana. Indeed, for those who are susceptible to the panicky feelings that weed might produce, abstinence is the only option.

THC’s anxiety-inducing properties are notorious. Even in the past, when the amount of THC in a joint was nowhere near as potent as today, some folks didn’t like the way weed made them feel as if the police were coming any minute. The anxiety felt by consuming a drug that was unequivocally illegal was probably worse than in today’s more tolerant environment. Whatever the barriers to marijuana use that have been removed, however, are probably offset by the potency of the product.

Marijuana Psychosis

One step beyond panic is paranoia. It’s a fine line, but when weed takes you there, it might not bring you back. Psychosis that is induced by marijuana doesn’t always subside when the pot is all metabolized in some vulnerable individuals.   In most cases of THC-induced psychosis, cessation of use is the eventual cure, but there are examples of marijuana being the trigger of longer-term psychotic symptoms.

This is one reason to definitely stay away from the highest concentrations of THC. Whether you choose to use or not, pushing the THC limit can be a dangerous game.

Marijuana is a complicated drug with lots of different faces. We don't yet know everything that it can do or all of its dangers.

Is It Safe to Smoke Weed If You Have a Cold or the Flu?

The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products . We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.

There isn’t any evidence that smoking weed while you have a cough, cold, or the flu is inherently unsafe. But does it make sense?

If your throat and lungs are already irritated, smoking may exacerbate your discomfort. Smoking weed has short- and long-term effects on lung and respiratory function.

You may also find that your body responds differently to weed when you’re sick. Both smoking weed and common illnesses such as the flu can cause fatigue, chills, and headaches. You may feel these effects more intensely when you’re sick.

If you already smoke weed on a regular basis, doing so while you’re sick probably won’t have a drastic impact on your symptoms. Still, you should proceed with caution. This probably isn’t the time to experiment with new dosages and strains.

You should also keep in mind that you can spread your illness to others by sharing a joint, bowl, or bong.

Read on to learn more.

At this time, there isn’t any available research on smoking weed while sick with the cold or flu. Research exploring the use of weed for medicinal purposes is still extremely limited.

Although there may be benefits to smoking weed while sick, it’s unclear if they outweigh the potential negative effects.

Anti-inflammatory

According to a comprehensive 2017 review , there’s evidence that weed smoke has anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation plays a role in a number of cold and flu symptoms, including:

  • sore throat
  • swollen nasal passageways
  • fever

Weed’s anti-inflammatory properties might help relieve some of these symptoms, but more research needs to be done to understand the exact benefits.

Pain relief

The same 2017 review concludes that weed is an effective treatment for chronic pain among adults.

Chronic pain is ongoing. It’s different than the acute aches and pains caused by a cold or the flu.

Still, it’s possible that smoking weed could help relieve pain associated with short-term illnesses such as a cold or the flu.

Sleep aid

A 2017 review of research on cannabis and sleep indicates that weed’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), may help sleep in the short term.

Given this, smoking weed might help you sleep, but when you’re sick with a cold or the flu your sleep cycle might already be altered.

However, long-term weed use is associated with tolerance to the drug’s sleep-inducing effects. In other words, if you’re a regular user, weed might not be as effective in helping you sleep.

Although there’s no serious risk, combining weed with OTC cold and flu medications that have sedative effects, such as NyQuil, can intensify drowsiness and affect cognitive function. You may find it more difficult to concentrate or make decisions.

Can smoking or ingesting marijuana while taking OTC medications for cold and flu result in any adverse effects?

Marijuana should be used with caution while taking OTC medications for cold and flu. Some OTC remedies alter how the body processes the psychoactive components of marijuana, which may lead to an accumulation of excess effects.

Additionally, many OTC options have dry mouth, sedation, confusion, blurry vision, heart rate alterations, and loss of balance as typical side effects in susceptible users; marijuana consumption may lead to worsening of these effects.

To avoid risk of adverse effect, wait to use marijuana (if an occasional or rare user) or do not increase your typical dose consumed (if a routine user) if you require OTC cold or flu medications.

Daniel Murrell, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Remember, there hasn’t been any research on weed use while sick with a cough, cold, or flu. In addition, studies on the use of weed for medicinal purposes are limited.

There’s moderate evidence that smoking weed can lead to the following side effects, but this list may not be complete due to the lack of research.

Worsened cough

According to a 2017 review , smoking weed in the long term is associated with a chronic cough and excess phlegm production.

If you’re sick with a cough, cold, or flu, smoking weed could make your respiratory symptoms worse. This is because weed smoke irritates the throat and airways.

Other routes of administration, such as vaping, generally don’t have the same effect on the respiratory system.

Dizziness

Dizziness is a common side effect of both inhaling and ingesting cannabis. Cannabis use can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure that may leave you feeling faint or light-headed.

If you already feel weak or dizzy while sick with a cough, cold, or flu, weed could make it worse.

If you’re a regular user, you may be able to minimize dizziness by decreasing your dosage.

Stomach pain

Inhaling or ingesting cannabis activates cannabinoid receptors in the gastrointestinal system. This can cause a variety of effects, including stomach pain and inflammation.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a rare condition linked to long-term cannabis use, causes severe stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Weed use could exacerbate stomach symptoms caused by a cold or the flu, especially if you tend to experience stomach pain when you use weed. You may be able to minimize these effects by decreasing your dosage.

There isn't any evidence that smoking weed while you have a cough, cold, or the flu is inherently unsafe. But if your throat is already irritated, smoking may feel uncomfortable. Your body may also respond differently to weed while you’re sick. Here's what you should know about toking, vaping, edibles, and more. ]]>