Saturday November 10, 2018

By Erin Hiatt


There is pretty much nothing more anxiety-inducing than getting surgery that requires anesthesia. “I’ll just smoke a little marijuana beforehand,” you might reason, “to calm myself down.” Stop right there. Consuming cannabis before surgery can put you at a higher risk for complications both during and after the procedure. To help you stay safe during an operation, here’s everything you need to know about cannabis and surgery.

What’s the Deal with Cannabis and Anesthesia

Cannabis has a tendency to lower blood pressure and raise heart rate. This will likely interact poorly with anesthesia, which has a tendency to do the same thing, thereby attenuating the effects of anesthesia. This results in being under longer and makes waking up more difficult.

Smoking cannabis also causes an increase in sputum, and smokers have an overactive airway, which can cause coughing and lead to aspiration during and after surgery.

Coughing post-op could also cause internal bleeding and hematomas. And for those who have hypertension, the combination of anesthesia, cannabis and hypertension medicines could potentially lead to hypotension, or abnormally low blood pressure. Additionally, there is carbon monoxide in cannabis smoke, which inhibits blood oxygenation and decreases blood flow, which could lead to tissue death, more scarring and slower wound healing. And, if you smoke marijuana, you are more likely than your non-smoking counterparts to be on a ventilator and developing a nasty complication like pneumonia.

Smoking cannabis before surgery could cause unwanted complications. photo credit

Another complication comes along with the anesthetic. Research shows that a propofol, a frequently used anesthetic, must be administered in higher doses to smokers of all kinds, not just marijuana smokers.

If You Just Can’t Go Without Cannabis

Of course, when it comes to a definitive answer on whether consuming cannabis before surgery is acceptable, there are several variables that come into play – making it difficult to provide a simple yes or no answer. Ultimately, if you can go without consuming before your operation that’s probably the safest play, however, if you feel you can’t take a break from your cannabis habits, consider following the tips found in this section.

Co-founder of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, clinical expert, and author of Drugs Are Not The Devil’s Tools, Dr. David Bearman, recommends not smoking for at least several hours before surgery.

He says that most patients arrive for surgery around three hours before their scheduled time, and the effects of cannabis, depending on potency, typically last around one and a half to two and a half hours. Not smoking cannabis in that three hour window of time will also help clear sputum. Even better, add cannabis to the prescribed, pre-surgery doctor fast, usually no food or drink after 10:00 pm the night before a procedure.

If you choose to consume cannabis leading up to your surgery, edibles are the safest option.

To put cannabis use in the lower risk category, bypass smoking altogether and stick with a non-combustible method, like tinctures or edibles. This does not add to sputum production, but it does have a more variable effect on the body. Knowing how long it will remain in your system, potentially affecting blood pressure and heart rate, is important not only for you, but especially for the anesthesiologist.

Post-Op Information

It has long been known that cannabis can help reduce pain and reduce the reliance on more dangerous post-operative drugs like opioids. However, if the procedure involved the abdominal area, for example, smoking cannabis can cause coughing, which can the stitches quite literally keeping you together. Once again, using cannabis via an intake route other than smoking would definitely be the more prudent way to go.

Full Disclosure

Regardless of how much marijuana you consume by whatever method, it is important to be upfront with your doctor about your cannabis history. This will allow the anesthesiologist to be on the lookout for any potential complications, and your medical team can direct your course of care more clearly. Not disclosing your cannabis use can literally put you in danger during surgery, so spill the beans.

To really protect yourself before surgery, the safest route would be to stop consuming altogether – that includes tobacco – for four to six weeks beforehand.

Have experience with cannabis consumption and surgery? Share your feedback in the comments below!

Photo Credit: rawpixel (license)

Erin Hiatt Erin Hiatt

Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work - which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor - covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.

Erin's work and industry insights have been featured on the podcasts The Let's Go Eat Show, In the Know 420, and she has appeared as a featured panelist on the topic of hemp media. Erin has interviewed top industry experts such as Dr. Carl Hart, Ethan Nadelmann, Amanda Feilding, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Dr. James Fadiman, and culture icons Governor Jesse Ventura, and author Tom Robbins. You can follow her work on LinkedInWordpress, @erinhiatt on Twitter, and @erinisred on Instagram.

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