Medical Moment: Marijuana & Patient Visits

Medical Moment: Marijuana & Patient Visits

Telluride Inside… and Out is proud to feature the Telluride Medical Center’s MEDICAL MOMENT, a weekly column that answers common medical questions in pop culture. Have a question for the doctors? Click here to send.

Dr. Diana Koelliker answers this week’s question: Has the Telluride Med Center seen an increase in patients due to recreational marijuana use?

Dr Diana Koelliker


Bottom line: Yes.

Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, the Telluride Medical Center has seen more marijuana-related cases and the ER team has seen many more marijuana-related complaints. Thankfully, there have been no deaths or patients requiring hospitalization. However, patients have been injured due to poor judgment associated with marijuana use, usually in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol.

Most marijuana patients have received care due to side effects or over-ingestion. Under normal circumstances, marijuana use can cause fast heart rate, dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. These symptoms can cause many unfamiliar with the drug to become anxious. Some people experience fast heart rate and nausea when they come to high altitude; marijuana can accentuate those symptoms. People are generally clueless about typical metabolic patterns for marijuana. As a result, when they eat an infused gummy bear and feel no response 30 minutes later, they tend to ingest more..Such behaviors often land them at the door of the Telluride Medical Center.

Ingested marijuana is metabolized at variable rates depending on stomach contents, medications, and potency. It is not unusual for it to take up to one hour to feel the effects. Every person is different in his or her appreciation for the experience and not everyone finds the effects enjoyable.

In general, patients seen for marijuana use are older, are new to the drug or have not used since the 1970s. Today’s marijuana products are much stronger than those from 40 years ago. Additionally, the older population may have health problems that interact unfavorably with the drug.

If you have heart disease, particularly if you are prone to arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythms, or if you have lung disease, including asthma, COPD, emphysema, or you are prone to anxiety, trying marijuana may not be a good choice.

If you are pregnant, do not use marijuana, alcohol, or other recreational drugs.

The long-term health effects of marijuana for teenagers or young adults is not known, so this population should also abstain.

If you aren’t in any of these groups and you wish to try marijuana products, here are some recommendations.

First, take a small amount and don’t take more if you don’t feel the effects right away. A typical dose of THC is 5-10 mg.

If you are older, weigh less, or are sensitive to medications or substances, start with the lower dosage.

Do not mix marijuana with other drugs or alcohol and never drive a car (or even a bike) when using any kind of drug.

If you do have a medical concern, the providers at Telluride Medical Center are always available. And it may be reassuring to know that in most cases related to recreational marijuana use, the only treatment  necessary is time.

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