How cannabis can affect anesthesia and surgery


Cannabis offers a number of health benefits, including relieving chronic pain and insomnia, and making it easier to deal with anxiety, depression, and PTSD to help you find peace and enjoy life. However, cannabis does not always interact well with other drugs and, depending on the drug, can be downright dangerous. This is certainly the case when it comes to cannabis and anesthesia.

Preparing for surgery can be daunting for a number of reasons, so we’re going to talk about the importance of speaking to your anesthesia provider about your cannabis routine and the effects of various methods of cannabis use on anesthesia so that you can reduce your risk of complications .

Be honest with your cannabis routine

If you currently live in a cannabis prohibition state, or even a state where cannabis has been legalized for medical use only, you may be wondering whether it is legally safe to speak to your anesthesia provider about your cannabis routine.

Under the HIPAA Privacy Act, conversations between you, your doctor, nurses, and other health workers are considered proprietary health information, as is information that health care providers add to your medical record.

Healthcare providers are only allowed to share your protected health information with members of law enforcement agencies under very specific circumstances, such as when the safety of an individual or the public is at risk, or to comply with a court order.

“The only breach in this agreement is the legal and ethical responsibility to report circumstances that have the potential to cause serious injury to yourself or others,” said Dr. Daniel King, CRNA and member of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). . “In my practice, our focus is on fully understanding the medical background of our patients and achieving positive results for them.”


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In fact, it’s important to speak to your anesthesia provider about your habits, as cannabis can have cardiovascular and respiratory effects that can pose a greater risk than normal during anesthesia.

“These risks include spasms of the vocal cords or small airways in the lungs,” King said. “There are also concerns about cross-tolerance to commonly used anesthetics, and cannabis users may require higher doses and / or the use of other agents.”

Patients should trust their anesthesia provider that they are knowledgeable and well prepared to care for them, and know that cannabis use is becoming increasingly accepted in the medical community.

When talking to your anesthesia provider about your cannabis routine, include information on: the type of cannabinoid consumed (THC, CBD, etc.), any periods of abstinence from the product, usage patterns such as dose, method, frequency, and duration of use and whether it is for used for medical purposes.

How CBD and THC products affect anesthesia differently

There are many differences between the effects of THC and CBD on anesthesia. In particular, the effects between the two in the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems are practically opposite.

“THC is more likely to cause rapid heart rhythms and high blood pressure, while CBD slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure,” said King. “In the gastrointestinal tract, THC stimulates the appetite, but with long-term use has also been linked to slower gastric motility – this could increase the risk of adverse events such as aspiration pneumonia.”

He continued, “THC tolerance tends to develop fairly quickly – meaning that after just a few doses, the patient becomes dose-tolerant and needs higher doses to get the same effects.”


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He went on to say that THC is broken down in the body through a similar cellular process as traditional anesthetic, so there is a concern that high tolerance to THC may require higher doses of anesthetic.

Commented, King commented, “We do not currently have the level of researched evidence to make formal recommendations for the use of one or the other in the preoperative or postoperative period.”

For example, this scientific review cites more than one study in which cannabis users had higher pain scores and a greater need for pain reliever medication after surgery. More research is definitely needed on how THC interacts with anesthetic agents.

How different methods of cannabis use can affect anesthesia

Anesthesia providers are very familiar with the anatomy and physiology of the airways, as patients routinely require procedures such as intubation and mechanical ventilation during surgery. Hence, respiratory treatment in relation to smoking or vaping cannabis is of great importance.

“Patients who smoke or vape are more likely to have symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or cramping of the vocal cords and small airways,” said King. “Cannabis burns at a higher temperature than cigarettes, weakening the lining of the airways and even possibly scarring the lung tissue over time. All of this makes breathing management more important compared to oral intake when the patient smokes or vaporizes products. “


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King gives some basic recommendations for use before and after surgery: “Quit smoking 24-72 hours before surgery to reduce airway reactivity and improve wound healing, but ideally for as long as possible.”

In addition, patients should not resume cannabis use until the effects of their anesthetic and pain relievers have completely wore off after surgery.

In addition, mixing cannabis with opioids or alcohol can lead to decreased reflexes and increased levels of sedation, and can impair memory and cognitive function, according to King.

He said there are also concerns that mixing cannabis products with opioids or alcohol can lead to addiction and use disorders in the long term.

Elisabeth of Enoch

Liz Enochs is a writer and journalist from a small Missouri town that you’ve probably never heard of. In addition to Leafly, her work has been published by Bustle, Narratively, USA Today, HelloGiggles, POPSUGAR, and many others. Mostly you can find them in the forest.

View article by Elizabeth Enochs

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