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Straight, No Chaser: Weeding Through the Basics of Marijuana Use and Intoxication

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD September 22, 2018

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As we survey the landscape, marijuana use is become legal in more parts of the United States. In this series, we will review the facts (and only the facts) on its clinical effects, the health risks and benefits, intoxication, public health considerations and myths, facts and fiction. Let’s get started.

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Marijuana (cannabis) is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans have used marijuana. Consumption usually occurs by smoking, which produces a rapid onset of symptoms, but some  people eat it.

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The “high” of marijuana (intoxication) is typically a euphoric, relaxed state. Other typical side effects include sleepiness and an increased appetite.
Less frequent, more serious and less desirable side effects include the following:

  • decreased memory
  • motor skills and perception
  • dryness of the mouth
  • dryness and redness of the eyes
  • panic
  • paranoia or acute psychosis

Much of the conversation about marijuana involves not just the drug itself but other drugs taken or other activities performed while using marijuana. Along those lines, additional side effects seen in marijuana users not directly attributable to the marijuana itself include abnormal heartbeats and rhythms, chest pain, headache, heart attacks with and without cardiac arrest, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, physical violence, seizures and strokes.
Treatment is largely supportive. It’s necessary to make sure that secondary injuries from irresponsible actions don’t occur. Therefore, it’s important to keep intoxicated individuals in a safe environment. In some instances when medical attention is needed, it is necessary to treat with medicines to combat anxiety and address injuries or side effects that have occurred.

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Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws. Marijuana has been known for thousands of years to have certain medicinal effects, most notably as a treatment for pain and as an appetite stimulant, which has applicability in certain scenarios. Although physicians may not yet prescribe medical marijuana without violating federal law, they may legally recommend it.
Marijuana as treatment for pain has proven useful for patients suffering from the following conditions.

  • Glaucoma
  • Nausea
  • Neuropathic pain (nerve damage)
  • Movement disorders and spasticity

Marijuana is an appetite stimulant that has been proven useful for patients suffering from the following conditions:

If this part of the conversation seemed simple to you, it’s because marijuana is a rather simple drug on many levels. That said, I know what your questions are! Next up, we’ll address many myths and controversies involving marijuana.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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