Learn why some cannabis users experience hallucinations as a side effect and how to combat side effects to get the most out of your cannabis. People using marijuana edibles should be cautious. Edibles are 268 times more likely than inhaled marijuana to cause users in Colorado to seek help at an ER
Whether you’re a caregiver or a patient, it’s essential to understand the potential side effects any medication may cause. One of the rarer but completely possible side effects of medical weed is hallucinations.
Additional Side Effects of Medical Cannabis
Like any medication your physician may prescribe, medical cannabis can cause side effects. A notable difference with medical weed, however, is that it can also trigger beneficial side effects for some patients, including an increased appetite. For patients with cancer or eating disorders, for instance, an appetite stimulant is helpful.
When you meet with your medical cannabis doctor, they’ll discuss the side effects of medical marijuana with you. If you both feel its potential benefits outweigh its side effects, your physician will issue a recommendation for medical weed.
How Does Medical Weed Cause Hallucinations?
Hallucinations from medical weed are rare. Those in the medical field, as well as researchers, believe medical weed-induced hallucinations result from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive cannabinoid. Studies have shown that when THC lowers the activity of the caudate nucleus in your brain, it creates hallucinations.
During this study, researchers eliminated the possibility that other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), were causing hallucinations by testing them. They found that instead of decreasing activity in the caudate nucleus, CBD increased it.
Because hallucinations are so rare, it’s thought that medical weed must have a THC content of more than 20 percent to cause visual or auditory hallucinations. On average, medical cannabis strains have a THC content of 10 to 20 percent.
Signs of Hallucinations From Medical Cannabis
A significant sign of a hallucination includes perceiving something that doesn’t exist. While visual hallucinations are less common, they can range from seeing geometric shapes, colors, lights or even lifelike images of people.
With an auditory hallucination, you may hear sounds that are defined as elementary and include:
More advanced auditory hallucinations are referred to as complex and can produce voices and music. If you or a loved one are experiencing hallucinations from medical weed, contact your physician.
Long-Term Side Effects of Hallucinations
In most cases, hallucinations from medical weed don’t pose long-term effects. Most patients recognize they’re hallucinating, which prevents them from becoming confused or taking irrational action during an episode. In some cases, however, hallucinating can be a symptom of a much more serious condition.
Some of these illnesses include:
Due to the risk of these conditions on a loved one’s well-being, it’s critical they visit their doctor.
How to Avoid Hallucinations From Medical Marijuana
Because the medical community understands why medical marijuana can cause hallucinations, physicians often recommend a few techniques for avoiding this side effect, including:
- Using an Indica Strain: Three different strains of medical cannabis are available: indica, sativa and hybrids. Sativa is more prone to causing a cerebral effect, which is why your physician may suggest using an indica strain instead to avoid hallucinations.
- Limiting THC Consumption: Switching to an indica strain is one way to lower your THC consumption. Dispensaries can also recommend strains that are low in THC and high in CBD, which offer a more relaxing experience.
Before making any changes to your medical cannabis treatment plan, meet with your physician.
Talk to Your Medical Marijuana Doctor About Your Hallucinations
When it comes to managing your health, medical cannabis typically offers more benefits than risks. It’s essential to work with your medical marijuana doctor, however. They can offer the advice, recommendations and answers you need to make an educated decision about whether medical weed is right for you.
Five things you should know about marijuana edibles
The Rocky Mountains beckon. So, too, do the pot shops.
Many visitors to Colorado come for the state’s natural beauty, but also are curious about marijuana dispensaries.
Marijuana edibles can send people to the ER if they take too much or have a bad reaction. Photo: Getty Images.
Before indulging in edibles, take some advice from Dr. Andrew Monte, an emergency medicine and toxicology specialist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Monte cares for patients in the ER and has done extensive studies on marijuana use.
His advice: be very cautious about edibles. While Monte says some edibles may help patients for medical problems like pain, they’re not a good choice for recreational users, especially for novices who haven’t used weed or tried edibles in the past. For some people, edibles can cause scary symptoms like a racing heart, anxiety, and hallucinations.
If you are planning to try marijuana edibles, here are five things you should know:
- Start small. Go slow.Edibles affect individuals in different ways. It can take up to four hours for the high from an edible to take effect. The biggest mistake new users make is continuing to ingest edibles if they don’t feel high right away. Then, the high hits hard and can last for several hours, leading some people to feel sick or anxious and seek help in ERs.
- Edibles are much more likely to cause people to seek medical help compared with inhaled marijuana. In a new study to be released in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Monte found that ER visits due to edibles were 33 times higher than expected, when controlled for product sales in the state. That’s true even though inhaled forms of marijuana are much more common than edibles.
- The state-recommended dose for edibles is 10 mg, but even that dose can make some people feel sick or anxious. Monte has had patients who have consumed the recommended dosage and still suffered negative side effects. He does not recommend recreational use of edibles. But, if people are trying them, they should start with no more than 2.5 to 5 mg. and see how they respond before eating or drinking more. Never mix edibles with alcohol or other drugs.
- The negative side effects from edibles can be scary. For those who have a negative reaction to edibles, the symptoms can include a racing heart, excessive sweating, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. “They can cause people to freak out. Clearly edibles have a more severe toxicity than inhaled forms and the effects are psychiatric in nature,” Monte said. Sometimes people flying out of Colorado decide to finish all the edibles they’ve purchased before heading to the airport. Then, the high hits right when they’re going through security or trying to board a plane. Some end up in the ER instead of catching a flight home. In extreme cases, three deaths in Colorado have been linked to consumption of marijuana edibles. A l9-year-old college student from Wyoming jumped to his death after consuming six times the recommended dosage of edibles. A 23-year-old graduate student killed himself in Keystone and his family blamed the marijuana edibles he consumed. And a Denver man killed his wife after consuming as much as 50 mg. of edibles. He blames the edibles for his psychosis and violence.
- Kids and dogs accidentally ingest edibles. Safe storage is essential. Both toddlers and canines are notorious for popping whatever they find into their mouths. And edibles are designed to taste and smell good. They come in a variety of forms from brownies, cookies and candies to drinks and popcorn. Both veterinarians and doctors in Colorado, like Monte’s colleague at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Dr. George “Sam” Wang, have seen an increase in accidental poisonings linked to edibles. Users should keep edibles locked up and out of reach from children and pets.
About the author
Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, UCHealth
Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.
Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.
She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.
Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.
Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.