Nobody has ever died of a cannabis overdose, but recommending medical marijuana for the wrong condition can have life-threatening consequences, according to Dr. Bonni Goldstein, Medical Director for Canna Centers Wellness and Education, who once refused to recommend cannabis to a patient looking to relieve his nausea - and likely saved his life.
"I once had an adult patient who had the proper documentation," she told Civilized. "On the paperwork it read ‘chronic vomiting.' He had been treated for acid reflux, but he wasn’t responding to those medications and had decided to come in to be seen for cannabis."
Nausea is frequently cited as one of the many symptoms that can be treated with cannabis treatments. Earlier this year, nausea was listed among the top three uses of medical marijuana in the country, and a THC-based nausea treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS treatment remains one of the only cannabis medicines to be officially approved by the FDA.
So, while Goldstein was confident that cannabis would help relieve the patient's symptoms, she noticed the pattern of sickness he described was consistent with the symptoms of a brain tumor. So before recommending cannabis, she referred him for a CT scan to rule out the possibility that the problem was actually being caused by a tumor.
"Sure enough, that was what it was," she said, adding that it's a good thing she didn't recommend cannabis first because it would have masked the symptom of the tumor and delayed treatment, which could have put the patient's life in jeopardy.
"If I gave him cannabis, and he stopped vomiting - which he probably would have, he would likely have not have discovered the tumor as early as he did."
Medical cannabis is not, as it is so often alleged, just an excuse people use to get high. It is a valid and effective treatment for a number of serous conditions. Consequently, Goldstein told Civilized, a cannabis treatment should be taken just as seriously as any other drug recommendation.
It is for these reasons she thinks that it is best if a patient’s regular doctor be in charge of a cannabis recommendation. She acknowledges that certain laws, regulations and social stigmas make it so this is not always possible, however.
"As physicians, we are required to do our due diligence," she said. "If you are not the patient’s primary care doctor, and you are not diagnosing the patient, you need to ensure that the diagnosis is legitimate before moving forward with a recommendation."
While cannabis does not have the same negative health effects or addiction problems that prescription drugs can often present, a patient’s overall care and wellbeing must be considered before any adequate method of care can properly be determined.
"I’ve found that cannabis is generally a very safe treatment, especially when used under a proper medical supervision," she said. "But you can’t allow it to mask other symptoms. It has to be recommended responsibly."