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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.

Acid Reflux

Updated on July 19, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Acid reflux disease, an irritating condition that can interfere with your enjoyment of foods and beverages, can be potentially curtailed through medical cannabis. Finding relief for the symptoms of acid reflux is often imperative, and fortunately, marijuana may help. Learn more about acid reflux, its symptoms and how medical marijuana can relieve your symptoms.

Medical Marijuana as an Alternative Treatment for Acid Reflux

Marijuana has been found to help significantly with gastrointestinal system disorders such as nausea, poor appetite, and acid reflux, and can be better than many other treatments.

Good health starts in your gut. In pharmacological terms, medical weed acts more like a dietary supplement or food than a drug in how your body absorbs it and uses it.

Cannabinoids found in marijuana are similar to chemical compounds produced by the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). Your ECS regulates various body functions, including your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It also allows you to experience the effects of marijuana.

When you ingest medical pot, the plant’s cannabinoids attach to your ECS cannabinoid receptors, activating them to produce various effects. For instance, your ECS can initiate the feeling of pleasure or hunger. This is a part of the reason why some people who use weed experience an increased appetite.

Your ECS fulfills several roles within your upper GI tract, including:

  • Reducing acid reflux-related inflammation
  • Reducing stomach acid secretion
  • Increasing pain threshold
  • Affecting esophageal relaxation

Your stomach and intestines are home to a vast microbial ecosystem that helps with digesting your food and carrying out other biological activities. Researchers are now working on proving the microbiome, as well as the ECS within the body, may make neurological connections easier as well.

Since you have many CB1 and CB2 receptors in your gut, your digestive system naturally attracts endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) enter your body through receptors in your gut and send signals to your brain to begin regulating your systems differently while also acting as an anti-inflammatory.

A few studies show the effect cannabinoids have on the GI tract and acid reflux. One study showed a reduction of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations (TLESRs) in individuals otherwise healthy who took THC. The THC decreased episodes of acid reflux.

How Medical Marijuana Treats Acid Reflux

Medical marijuana is a safer alternative than antacids for combating the symptoms of acid reflux and has many properties that can relieve pain and improve acid reflux. Many individuals don’t realize there can be harmful consequences of taking antacids long-term.

There are anti-inflammatory properties in CBD which make it a useful treatment in individuals with acid reflux. It also helps tackle nausea, another common symptom of acid reflux.

The symptoms of acid reflux that marijuana can help treat include:

1. Burning or Discomfort in the Upper Abdomen

Medical weed is well-known for being a pain reliever and has been found effective in treating severe abdominal pain. Chronic acid reflux causes a burning, painful sensation in your chest and upper stomach and frequently into your throat. Stomach discomfort can impact your life negatively. It can easily lead to difficulty enjoying social activities, lost sleep and difficulties eating and drinking.

Most individuals with acid reflux have either regurgitation or heartburn and feel as though things are coming back up into their throat. However, a small percentage of individuals with acid reflux can also experience the same “epigastric” pain that individuals with ulcers experience.

  • Afghan Kush (Indica)
  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica)
  • White Widow (Hybrid)

2. Nausea

Chronic, severe nausea can lead to poor quality of life. For years, researchers have studied cannabinoids and their effects on nausea. One study conducted in 1975 found certain types of THC can alleviate nausea. Patients receiving chemotherapy took THC or a placebo over a few chemo courses. During most of the courses, all 20 patients found nausea relief after using certain types of THC but didn’t find relief with any of the placebo courses. The researchers also took note CBD has potential as an antiemetic and could tackle nausea and vomiting as well.

You can try these strains to address any nausea you may be experiencing:

  • Lavender (Hybrid)
  • Northern Lights (Indica)
  • Super Lemon Haze (Hybrid)
  • White Fire OG (Hybrid)

3. Inflammation

The Journal of the American Medical Association published research suggesting that in acid reflux, acid isn’t what directly causes esophagus damage. Instead, the secretion of cytokines, a type of proteins, creates an inflammatory response inside the esophagus, and that inflammation causes the damage.

Marijuana also offers anti-inflammatory properties helping to reduce stomach inflammation.

  • Green Crack (Sativa)
  • CBD Shark (Hybrid)
  • Remedy (Indica)
  • Blue Haze (Hybrid)

4. Stress and Anxiety

Medical pot might address factors that exacerbate or trigger symptoms of acid reflux like stress and anxiety. Taking medical cannabis as recommended by a cannabis doctor can help you feel less worried and overwhelmed. Because of this, you may experience fewer stress- and anxiety-related ailments like stomach pain and nausea.

Some research shows mental health affects GI health. For instance, studies of individuals with gastric fistulas have found anger increases acids in the stomach.

  • Sour Diesel (Sativa)
  • OG Kush (Indica)
  • White Widow (Hybrid)
  • Royal Jack (Sativa-dominant)

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana

Like most medicines, cannabis might cause side effects. You can determine the right levels of CBD or THC for your acid reflux and the best consumption method by speaking with a cannabis doctor. By doing this, you’ll reduce your chances of experiencing adverse side effects.

Some individuals don’t experience any side effects, while others might have one or more side effects depending on their experience, marijuana strain, and dose. Cannabis could potentially cause side effects such as:

  • Dry mouth: Cannabis can cause your mouth to become dry. Chewing on gum or drinking fluids can help.
  • Hunger: Marijuana can cause “the munchies,” causing you to crave food.
  • Red eyes: Your eyes can become bloodshot after using marijuana.
  • Drowsiness: Marijuana can make you sleepy.
  • Slower reaction time: The THC in cannabis is said to cause this.
  • Respiratory issues: There are a few ways to use medical cannabis, but smoking continues to be the most popular. With smoking, you burn marijuana and inhale the smoke produced. Some conflicting findings exist in regards to the long-term use of marijuana causing respiratory issues, possibly even lung cancer.

The Best Ways to Use Medical Marijuana for Acid Reflux

Along with picking out the best strain, you’ll also want to decide on the best method of delivery for your treatment. Each delivery method will create a different effect, and you should do some experimenting to find the method that works best for you and your symptoms.

Some common methods of consumption include:

  • Smoking: You’ll experience the quickest relief when you smoke your medical cannabis, but be aware — there are some risks of irritating your lungs or throat with smoking, so you’ll need to take this into account.
  • Vaporizing: Like smoking, vaping also offers you with fast symptom relief, but it doesn’t expose you as much to the harmful effects of smoking. Vaping might be ideal if you are looking to soothe your heartburn quickly without irritating your throat.
  • Tinctures: With tinctures, you can measure your exact dose. You can add cannabis tinctures to your food or drinks or take them sublingually for quick symptom relief.
  • Capsules: These work a bit slower than tinctures you take under the tongue, but they also provide the effects in a more controlled dose. Capsules might be ideal if you don’t want to smoke medical weed and are trying to avoid taking too big of a dose at one time.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a condition in which stomach acids flow backward into the esophagus. If you have acid reflux, you may often experience the taste of regurgitated food or sour liquid along with a burning sensation in your chest. Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to close immediately after food passes. The open LES allows the backflow to occur.

Around 20 percent of individuals in the U.S. suffer from acid reflux, and between the years 1998 and 2005 alone, there was a 216 percent increase in the number of people hospitalized for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a specific kind of acid reflux. If you experience acid reflux two or more times per week consistently, you may have GERD.

Causes of Acid Reflux

The primary cause of acid reflux is the LES remaining open so that the acids from the stomach can flow backward into the esophagus. However, there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of this, including:

  • Abdominal pressure: This pressure can be the result of pregnancy, obesity or even being slightly overweight.
  • Medications: Pain medications, asthma treatments, sedatives, antidepressants and calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure are associated with causing acid reflux.
  • Smoking: Smoking or breathing in second-hand smoke can contribute to a higher frequency of acid reflux.
  • Diet: Consuming a diet filled with fatty, fried, spicy and acidic foods and drinks can significantly contribute to acid reflux prevalence as can foods with mint flavorings.
  • Eating habits: The timing and types of meals you consume may also prove to be probable causes of acid reflux with people who consume large meals soon before going to bed having higher risks.
  • Diabetes: This health condition brings a host of negative side effects to the table, including greater risks of developing acid reflux.
  • Posture: Poor posture can increase your risks of experiencing acid reflux.
  • Hiatal hernia: A hiatal hernia is when the upper portion of your stomach pushes through your abdominal muscles, reducing the pressure on the esophageal sphincter.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

Heartburn is the leading symptom of acid reflux. It is characterized by a burning sensation originating near your breastbone and radiating upward toward your throat. If acid reflux is allowed to continue and become GERD, you may experience other unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Wearing away teeth and tooth enamel

Consider over-the-counter treatments or lifestyle changes for mild, occasional bouts of acid reflux. If it becomes more intense or more persistent, consider consulting with your physician about treatment options.

Complications of Acid Reflux

It’s best to address acid reflux early and to make changes so you can reduce your risks and avoid some of the more severe potential complications. The most significant complication of acid reflux is allowing it to remain a problem for you without seeking treatment until you have GERD, which can lead to these complications:

  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Erosive esophagitis
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Chronic laryngitis
  • Dental cavities
  • Asthma

Current Available Treatments for Acid Reflux

Many treatment options for acid reflux are available on the market today. The most effective treatments involve a combination of lifestyle changes for preventive measures combined with over-the-counter medications to treat the immediate symptoms or to add another layer of preventive protection.

1. Lifestyle changes: Changing the foods you eat daily is an essential first step toward reducing your exposure to the pain and inconvenience of acid reflux. In addition to the food you eat, also consider changing the way you eat food. Instead of eating three large meals, eat five smaller ones with the last one being the smallest of the day and well over an hour before going to bed. Add exercise into your daily routine and stop smoking immediately.

2. Antacids: Antacids provide fast-acting relief for heartburn pain and burning. You can carry them around with you if you need them frequently during the day and even keep them on your bedside table for easy access at night. In addition to popular name brands, most pharmacies and major retailers stock off-brands of antacids as well.

3. H-2 receptor blockers: These are preventive medications that target the histamine receptors in the stomach to reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce.

4. Proton pump inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are preventive treatments that reduce the production of acid by blocking certain enzymes in the stomach wall.

Learn How to Start your Medical Marijuana Treatment for Acid Reflux

For more information on medical marijuana treatment for acid reflux, you can visit our vast resource section. Here you can obtain all the information you need on medical cannabis and related products. We can also connect you with a qualified cannabis doctor and offer an extensive list of dispensaries in your area.

Once you’ve consulted with the cannabis doctor, they can give you a recommendation for medical marijuana. They’ll also be there to answer any questions and to help you explore different medical pot options.

Marijuana has been found to help with symptoms of acid reflux like reducing inflammation, acid secretion, pain, asophageal relaxation and more.