Cannabis and the ER: How Weed Can Land You in the Hospital

Cannabis and the ER: How Weed Can Land You in the Hospital

Legalization means positive things for cannabis enthusiasts: access to clean, safely handled weed being just one of many. One little-discussed upside is that in cannabis-legal states, those who’ve gone one (or more) tokes over the line can get quick medical help without fear of arrest. A just-published review points to the top reasons cannabis side effects land people in the emergency room (ER).

Before we dive in, it’s worth taking a step back and recognizing that even a few years ago, being high while visiting the ER was cause for real anxiety, never mind the actual cause for the visit, such as a potentially life-threatening injury!

We’d like to point out that even in states where cannabis isn’t yet legal, hospitals typically don’t report suspected or admitted drug use to the police unless the staff is concerned that a life may be in danger. One of the many positive benefits of increasing legalization is that patients can now get what they need—qualified medical help—without the fear of arrest or censure.

Cannabis Side Effects: When Being High Makes You Feel Low

That said, for all its positive health benefits, there are some adverse cannabis side effects. Here are a few of the major reasons it can lead to an unintended trip to the ER.

Acute Intoxication

We get the eternal soft-rock hit “One Toke Over the Line” courtesy of Brewer & Shipley, but real cannabis overdoses are considerably less fun. Though it would be close to impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis, consuming too much—as often occurs when inexperienced cannabis users ingest too many edibles without waiting for them to take effect—cannabis side effects include acute anxiety, paranoia, and uncomfortably high heart rate or high blood pressure.

Fortunately, these conditions are all readily treatable with fluids, anti-anxiety medications, and patient, gentle—and typically brief—care from an ER nurse or doctor.

Word to the wise: If cannabis has merely made you feel paranoid, you may want to try an old household remedy before getting a lift to the hospital.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

This poorly understood condition—typically abbreviated to CHS—was first described in a study from 2004. While relatively rare, and tending to afflict those who consume cannabis 3-5 times a day over a period of years, it is rather nasty. Characteristics of the hyperemetic phase include persistent, hours-long vomiting and retching, abdominal pain, and dehydration.

The good news is that the cure couldn’t be simpler: discontinue using cannabis (it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for the symptoms to disappear). If you then decide to continue cannabis use, try a reduced intake.

Pediatric Ingestion

One of the major reasons people end up in the hospital due to cannabis use is, tragically, entirely unintentional: pediatric ingestion, or the accidental consumption of cannabis—typically edibles—by minors. That’s the main reason several states, most recently California, have moved to restrict the sale of edibles whose design could be construed to appeal to children. It’s a notoriously sticky issue, as even many adults have a hard time resisting a delicious-looking brownie or other potentially cannabis-infused treat. As you may expect, the same dosage in adults can lead to exaggerated cannabis side effects in children.Just another reason we strongly advise you to exercise good safety precautions around kids and cannabis and initiate a discussion frankly and early with your kids about why cannabis is only for adults.

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