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Has the Telluride Medical Center seen an increase in patients due to recreational marijuana use?

Medical Moments

Dr. Diana Koellier

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Medical Moment by Dr. Diana Koelliker

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

The majority of 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 people who are unfamiliar with this drug to become anxious.  Some people who come to high altitude, already experience fast heart rate and nausea, and the effects of marijuana may accentuate those symptoms.  Oftentimes, people do not know the typical metabolic pattern for marijuana.  As a result, when they eat an infused gummy bear and if they feel no response 30 minutes later, then they eat 2 more…this may result in a visit to the Telluride Medical Center.

Ingested marijuana is metabolized at variable rates depending on stomach contents, medications, and potency.  It is not unusual to take up to one hour to feel the effects of ingested marijuana.  Each person is different in their appreciation for the effects.  Not everyone finds the effects enjoyable.  In general, patients seen for marijuana use are older, are new to using the drug or haven’t used it since the 1970’s.  The potency of today’s marijuana products is much stronger than it was 40 years ago.  Additionally, the older population may have health problems that may interact unfavorably with this 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 for you.  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 it, here are some recommendations.  First, take a small amount and don’t take more if you aren’t feeling the effects right away.  A typical dose of THC would be 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.  It may be reassuring to know that in most cases related to recreational marijuana use, the only treatment that is necessary is time.