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How to Avoid These 7 Medical Marijuana Side Effects

In the U.S., there’s an ongoing movement to ensure the legalization of medical marijuana occurs. However, there’s a bit of playing catch-up when it comes to warning labels and side effects. Currently, there are no states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes that have clear warning labels about the potential side effects, like the ones that are commonly seen on tobacco products.

With that being said, medical marijuana may have side effects a person needs to learn about. Particularly, this means THC-containing cannabis, which is a product that can be eaten, vaped, or smoked (not the CBD products that are THC-free).

It’s important to note that researchers are still trying to determine the long-term effects of THC containing treatments. However, here you will find some of the more common short-term affects you can encounter when using THC products. Be sure to remember, these effects can vary based on how much you use, how you use it, and your specific medical condition.

Lightheadedness or Dizziness

This is a side effect of any type of medical marijuana product that has any level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in it, which is the active ingredient found in cannabis. THC is considered a cannabinoid, which is a chemical that’s able to bind to the endocannabinoid receptors that occur naturally in the body. These receptors are found in high concentrations in certain parts of the brain, and lower levels of them are found elsewhere in the body and brain. THC can result in a temporary increase in blood pressure but also a drop when the user stands up, which is a condition called orthostatic hypotension, which makes you feel dizzy.

It’s been found that THC may also increase sensory perception, which magnifies smells, sounds, and sights. This is also something that can make it more challenging for your brain to focus on keeping your balance. Be sure to talk with your doctor about what to do about this, especially if you have a medical condition that affects your balance, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

Generally, you can reduce your dose, or use a type of cannabis that has a lower effect on the body; for example, use edibles rather than smoking marijuana. You can also make the change to a strain that doesn’t contain as much THC.

Drowsiness

Another potential side effect related to THC and how it binds to the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain is drowsiness. Marijuana also contains another substance, which is called myrcene. This relaxes the muscles, causing a sedative-like effect and may also enhance the current sedating effects of the THC. There are some types of marijuana, such as Indica strains, that are more likely to result in drowsiness compared to other types of strains, such as a hybrid or sativa. There are also some delivery methods, such as patches or edibles that will cause more drowsiness than the others.

If changing strains or switching methods of delivery does not alleviate these side effects, you can consider using a marijuana-based medicine when you go to bed. It’s a good idea to use the same precautions you would use with any medicine that can cause drowsiness, making sure to avoid driving or using heavy equipment.

Paranoia

In addition to the other side effects mentioned here, cannabis may also affect your mental health. This is something that’s most common in individuals who are already dealing with mental issues or those who may be vulnerable to them.

THC may be linked to short term memory impairment, anxiety, and a lower mood, too. These are usually short-term, and the issues do not exist for everyone. However, the use of cannabis is usually contraindicated for those who are prone to psychosis or who may suffer from a severe personality disorder.

Slower Reaction Time

THC impacts the thalamo-cortico-striatal circuit, which is a network in the brain linked to your perception of time. This is one reason that time seems to slow down when you are using marijuana. THC may also alter the flow of blood to your cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that handles movement and coordination.

Understanding the potential short-term risks of the use of marijuana, and more specifically, THC, will help you use this medicine safely and know some of the issues you may encounter. This will also help you make better decisions while using and avoid any potentially dangerous situations for yourself and others.

THC Linked to Neuropsychiatric Side Effects in Older Adults

Study data published in JAMA Network Open outline the potential adverse effects of therapeutic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) use in older adults. In a meta-analysis of the literature, THC exposure was associated with increased incidence of dizziness and light-headedness in adults over the age of 50 years. THC exposure was also associated with thought or perception disorders, including dissociation.

While the association between THC exposure and psychotic symptoms is well-documented in adolescents and young adults, the precise relationship in older adults is unknown. To clarify the potential side effects of THC exposure in older adults, investigators conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting the safety and efficacy of different cannabinoid-based medicines (CBMs) in adults over the age of 50 years. Studies published prior to November 2020 were eligible for inclusion.

The outcomes of interest were any adverse event experienced during exposure to CBMs. Pooled effect sizes were estimated for each adverse event and expressed as incident rate ratios (IRRs). The relationship between THC or cannabidiol (CBD) dose and adverse event severity was examined separately using meta-regression analyses.

A total of 30 studies assessed the effects of THC-only CBMs on a total of 1417 individuals. Mean age in the pooled cohort was 59.5 years, and 53.0% were men. Additionally, investigators identified 24 studies that described the effects of the combination of CBD and THC. The pooled cohort from these studies comprised 1917 patients (mean age, 58.2 years; 49.5% men).

In pooled analyses of THC-only studies, a significant dose-response relationship was observed between THC and dizziness and lightheadedness. At a dose of 10 mg/d, the IRR of dizziness or lightheadedness was 2.04 (95% CI, 1.51-2.75). At a dose of 20 mg/d, this IRR increased to 3.33 (95% CI, 2.43-4.58).

THC exposure was also associated with increased risk for thinking or perception disorders, including dissociative disorders, in THC-only studies. Specifically, at doses of 10 mg/d and 20 mg/d, the IRRs for thinking or perception disorders were 1.92 (95% CI, 1.32-2.80) and 3.84 (95% CI, 2.27-6.50), respectively. No other neuropsychiatric adverse events were significant in pooled analyses.

In this large-scale analysis of CBMs, higher THC exposure in older adults was associated with increased incidence of dizziness, lightheadedness, and certain psychiatric symptoms. These associations were present only in RCTs assessing THC rather than trials examining the combination of THC and CBD.

Further study is needed to better elucidate the potential side effects of therapeutic CBMs in older adults, particularly those older than 65 years of age. Additionally, the use of self-report metrics for adverse events — rather than medical records data — may have introduced bias.

“[T]hese results indicate that THC-containing CBMs should be used cautiously in those aged 50 years or older, especially considering that dizziness or light-headedness may increase the risk of falls among older adults,” the investigators wrote.

Disclosure: A study author declared affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.