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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why your chest might hurt after smoking weed
Marijuana use can offer a massive array of potential benefits for both medical and recreational consumers and is often viewed as the safest possible alternative due to its non-toxic status and very few side effects. Despite it’s growing popularity as a healthy alternative to either alcohol or pharmaceutical medications, there are a few possible adverse effects that should be taken into consideration. There is, of course, the potential of motor impairment, which might hinder your ability to drive, walk, or perform other essential tasks that require a fast reaction time, but the most uncomfortable is generally described as a pain or tightening of the chest that happens immediately after smoking weed. Here we will help you to understand the possible causes behind this negative reaction and offer alternative solutions that might help to ease this problem.
The effects of marijuana use on the lungs are impossible to deny. Though it is much safer than chemical laden cigarettes, there are still plenty of elements in cannabis that have the potential to inflame the lungs immediately after inhalation. This is caused by the body as it reacts to the introduction of a noxious smoke entering the lungs and agitating the lining. The other unfortunately difference between cigarettes and marijuana use is how long a toke is held and how deep a user inhales when they smoke it. A cigarette is typically smoked by taking light, gentle puffs that are immediately exhaled, where consumers who are smoking weed will take much deeper breaths and attempt to hold them in as long as possible. This causes a significant amount of irritation that is almost equal to cigarette smokers in the short term. Luckily, these symptoms will leave pot smokers in approximately 72 hours or less after obtaining unlike cigarettes that can take years, but it’s still an issue.
A lot of people don’t realize that marijuana use can harm the user’s overall heart health which is a common contributor to complaints of chest pain immediately after smoking weed. Cannabinoids interact with the bodies endocannabinoid receptors to trigger a release of natural chemicals and hormones within the person’s body. Quite often the result is a slightly increased pain tolerance that keeps troubling symptoms to a minimum, but they after often still felt for several reasons. Smoking weed will increase blood pressure and heart rate which can cause additional strain on the heart. This can be especially dangerous for anyone who has prior heart problems and increases the chance of heart attacks and stroke. In chronic users, it can also line the ¼ inch thick valves of the heart with the natural sticky coating from the introduction of cannabis smoke into the bloodstream.
The lungs are lined with hundreds of muscles and ligaments that work in combination with one another every time to move or breath. Those who have problems like prior muscle damage or anxiety are especially susceptible to this kind of chest pain since their muscles are already over extended or inflamed. Typically, the pains will be sharp and short and fluctuate with intensity as the muscle contract through regular movements. These pains may seem worrisome, but they should begin to subside as the injury heals.
Bacteria or other illness
Medical conditions and colds like bronchitis, pneumonia, or the introduction of a bad bacterial virus can also cause chest pains after marijuana use. If you feel pain or discomfort for weeks or longer after smoking weed, than it is recommended to seek medical treatment for an underlying condition.
How to avoid chest pain after marijuana use
Now that you know some of the most common reasons for chest pain after smoking weed, you are probably wondering how to prevent chest pain altogether. Smoking cannabis may, unfortunately, lead to some of the listed problems here, but there are a few things you can alter to still gain the benefits of the cannabinoids without the discomfort.
Take manageable hits.
Smoking weed doesn’t have to be a competition based on who can take the biggest hits. Though it might be fun in a group of close friends, that’s the best way to end up experiencing some form of chest pain after marijuana use. Instead take smaller, more manageable tokes and release them immediately. Since the cannabinoids are absorbed within seconds, so there is no need to hurt yourself by holding on to it longer.
Use a device that suits your lung capacity.
Every person has their own unique build and design leaving some of us with a lower lung capacity than the rest. Lung capacity is normally measured by the amount of air you can inhale at one time, and each device will suit a different capability in that area. Joints and smaller weed pipes will offer a much smoother hit that will be much less likely to induce any unwanted chest pains.
Try a vaporizer.
Vaporizers are the all the rage these days and for very good reason. They are a much healthier and smoother way to consume marijuana without the harmful carcinogens that are found in smoke. Not all vaporizers are created equally, and those that use dry herb and oil concentrates will be relatively smooth, while those with shatter should be avoided by anyone who experiences chest pain after smoking weed.
Consider marijuana edibles or tinctures.
Smoking weed is easy which is why so many still to this day do it despite the hundreds of other options out there for consumption. Other alternatives are recommended if you are sick or already experiencing pain like oral tinctures, oils, or other marijuana extracts which can be made into a base ingredient and then cooked with. They can also be encapsulated for a completely smoke and taste free way to enjoy cannabis without the potential chest pains.
Pills, patches, and inhalers.
Medical marijuana has come a long way since legalization just last year, with many different companies releasing new and exciting methods of administering cannabinoids like THC or CBD without any harmful consequences which might come from smoking weed. Pills can be taken orally, tinctures are meant to drink, and inhalers will release a thin and properly measured dose that is easy to use without harming the lungs.
When to worry about chest pain after smoking weed
Though we have touched on some of the most common reasons for chest pain after marijuana use, there are thousands of other possibilities that can be caused by an underlying issue. If you or someone you know ever experiencing any of the following symptoms it is highly recommended that you seek medical assessment immediately.
- Severe pain
- Sudden pain
- Pain longer than 15 minutes.
- Pain during exercise.
- Pain that travels from the chest to the jaw, left arm and/or upper back.
- Pain alongside other symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, short breath, trouble breathing, dizziness or nausea.
Here we will help you to understand the possible causes behind this negative reaction and offer alternative solutions that might help to ease this problem.