Should you tell your Anesthesiologist about your marijuana use?

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Medical professionals must adjust their operating procedures for marijuana users, especially if your procedure involves anesthesia.

Doctors from Colorado are advising patients to disclose their cannabis use before undergoing surgery, regardless if it’s a routine or major procedure. As marijuana use becomes more widespread in legalized states, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists must adjust their practice to safely accommodate the needs of patients.

The biggest reason medical pros need to know about a patient’s cannabis use involves the potential increase of sedation marijuana users (specifically the habitual users) might need and how to safely treat them in recovery. Doctors in Colorado currently enjoy the advantage of legalization, as their patients feel more comfortable disclosing their marijuana use.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 17% of Colorado residents had consumed cannabis in the past 30 days in 2017, a considerable jump from the 8% reported in 2006. Across the nation, only 9% of Americans admitted to marijuana use in the past 30 day in 2017.

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“It has been destigmatized here in Colorado,” Dr. Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at the University of Colorado, told Kaiser Health News. “We’re ahead of the game in terms of our ability to talk to patients about it. We’re also ahead of the game in identifying complications associated with use.”

Monte and Kaiser Health News pointed to a small Colorado study on propofol, a common sedation drug. The study analyzed 250 medical records on a routine medical procedure involving propofol, and compared between cannabis users and non-cannabis users. On average, cannabis users required three times the regular amount of sedation to non-cannabis users. That increased sedation made the study’s authors question what potential risks, particularly with regards to breathing problems, were to be considered when treating marijuana users.

To catch up with the changing trends, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has updated its guidelines to include treating habitual marijuana users. In these cases, nurse anesthetists must take special care in keeping patients airways clear and avoiding drugs that might affect heart rate.

Still, more research is needed to accurately determine how medical professionals should treat patients. For now, doctors are urging their patients to inform them of marijuana use so they can adjust accordingly. Otherwise it could hurt more than help you.

“We really don’t want patients to feel like there’s stigma. They really do need to divulge that information,” Linda Stone, a certified registered nurse anesthetist in Raleigh, North Carolina, told Kaiser Health News. “We are just trying to make sure that we provide the safest care.”

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