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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.

Marijuana And An Acid Reflux Diet: Does Smoking Pot Make Your Heartburn Worse?

Are you often plagued by acid reflux, and do you want to get rid of heartburn fast — and hopefully forever?

You will have heard that certain foods and dietary habits can trigger heartburn, and that avoiding the main triggers of acid reflux will offer you relief. If you’re a regular marijuana user with frequent heartburn, you may be wondering if smoking pot makes your heartburn worse.

Does Marijuana Cause Heartburn? It’s Not That Simple

Look around for info about potential heartburn triggers, and you’ll quickly notice that many people will advise you to stay away from tomatoes, alcohol, spicy foods, fatty foods, chocolate, and coffee — as well as urging you to eat smaller meals more frequently, because large portion sizes can cause heartburn too [1].

Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll also ask yourself: “Should I eat citrus fruit on an acid reflux diet?” Good question, because citrus fruits are highly acidic, and acidic foods make your heartburn worse [2]. You may further want to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese, because overweight folks have an increased risk of acid reflux [3]. Oh, and preventative measures like having your least meal at least three hours before you hit the sack [4], sleeping on your left side [5], and even chewing gum after meals [6] can all be natural heartburn remedies as well.

That’s a surprise, perhaps, and it will baffle you if you’re a pot smoker who’s pretty sure that marijuana actually does make your heartburn worse or even causes it. The lack of scientific evidence suggesting that marijuana causes heartburn doesn’t mean it doesn’t, mind you. Smoking pot may lead to heartburn indirectly, and that’s what we’ll look at now.

Smoking Causes Heartburn

Many pot smokers mix weed and tobacco to make a joint — and it’s rather clear that an acid reflux diet and tobacco just don’t combine:

  • Chronic smokers are at a greatly increased risk of experiencing acid reflux while they are smoking a cigarette, because smoking causes a drop in esophageal sphincter pressure, making it easier for those stomach acids to creep up to parts of the body where they don’t belong [7].
  • Nicotine decreases salivary flow, making episodes of acid reflux last longer [8].

Nicotine itself is definitely a huge part of the problem here — even chewing tobacco and nicotine gum, which are obviously both smokeless systems, can cause heartburn.

There is also some evidence that the mechanics of smoking contribute to episodes of acid reflux by drying the esophagus out as it introduces heart into this part of the anatomy. If this is the case, then smoking cannabis on its own, even without tobacco, can worsen your heartburn.

Marijuana Causes The Munchies, And The Munchies Cause Heartburn

It so happens that the foods people are most likely to crave after smoking a joint are the same foods that often cause heartburn, in other words. Besides specific foods, large portion sizes are also a risk factor for frequent episodes of heartburn and even the development of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, the chronic form of heartburn). [10]

Smoking pot may make your preexisting heartburn worse because marijuana makes you want to eat more food, and more foods that are really bad for people with acid reflux, in other words. If you want to follow an acid reflux diet to find relief from heartburn, you don’t really want an appetite stimulant like weed to hold you back, do you?

The Bottom Line

Regular pot smokers who often suffer from heartburn, and especially those who have noticed that they often experience acid reflux while smoking pot or immediately after, should definitely listen to their (literal!) gut — despite a lack of scientific research directly indicating that marijuana has the potential to cause heartburn. As you’ve seen, marijuana can contribute to your acid reflux in three distinct ways — by introducing nicotine to your system, by drying out your esophagus if you smoke cannabis (other forms of consuming marijuana would eliminate this particular concern), and by increasing your appetite.

If you’re looking for an acid reflux diet to help you keep heartburn at bay, the fact is that there’s no cookie-cutter recipe that will work for every single person. Some people really need to say no to spicy foods, onions and garlic on an acid reflux diet, for instance, while those who have been eating spicy foods since early childhood may actually be less likely to suffer from heartburn.

(Oh, and one final note for the few curious folks who were wondering — what with the medical marijuana trend and all that — if marijuana can actually help treat of alleviate heartburn. There’s no evidence that marijuana is a natural heartburn remedy, and enough indirect evidence that marijuana may indirectly cause heartburn that you shouldn’t go try for yourself, either. If you do, however, smoking it certainly is not the right answer.)

Have you noticed that you often get heartburn after smoking pot?. Reviewed by Medical Team.