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Doctors warn of ‘reefer madness’ as people react badly to cannabis medicines

May 24. 2019
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By THE NATION WEEKEND

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MANY PEOPLE have sought emergency treatment after developing side effects from using marijuana-based medicines, Dr Somsak Akhasilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said on Friday after warning people to beware of the false belief that cannabis can treat any ailment.

“Marijuana can only be used for four illnesses, namely epilepsy among children, nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, and neuralgia after other medications have failed – and this can only be done under a doctor’s watch. The use of marijuana for other illnesses is still being researched. People cannot simply apply it, as it might negatively react to their current medication,” he warned, adding that cannabidiol (CBD oil) must be from credible and legal sources to ensure a good standard of extraction.

He cited Bangkok’s Nopparat Rajathanee Hospital, which in the past 45 days had seen seven people aged 20 to 60 seeking emergency treatment for symptoms like vomiting, nausea and vertigo after placing a few drops of CBD oil under their tongue or smoking weed to treat their pre-existing conditions. 

The patients included a man in his 20s, who used CBD oil to treat his stomach ache and began vomiting, a 35-year-old woman who used CBD oil to treat high-blood pressure and was hit with nausea and vertigo; and a weed smoker who developed stomach ache and nausea. 

There was also a 60-year-old monk who applied CBD oil for muscle pain but developed vertigo and partial paralysis; a 45-year-old man with a history of heart disease and high-blood pressure who developed nausea and vertigo the morning after using CBD oil; a bed-ridden cancer patient, 75, who passed out after consuming CBD oil and had to be treated in hospital for two days; and a woman in her late 30s who used CBD oil to treat anxiety and began vomiting. 

“There is no system to monitor the side effects of marijuana-based medicines, so I want major hospitals to gather data to see if there has been an increase in such cases,” he said, noting that his own inquiry at some emergency wards showed the cases were rising. Most of the patients had been made to believe by younger relatives or friends that marijuana can treat any ailment. 

Dr Teerawat Hemajutha, head of the Information Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, said the marijuana-based medical treatments must be brought into the system by the end of this year. Misuse can cause fatal side effects, as well as result in dangerous interaction with the patients’ current medication.

A 28-year-old man recounted his own experience, in which he placed 30 drops of CBD oil instead of following the doctor’s advice to treat insomnia by taking no more than two drops at a time. His overdosing ended in him developing hallucinations, vertigo and seizures.

“Everything was spinning, I saw my child as a skeleton and my wife in double vision,” he recalled, adding he was certain it was the CBD oil because he had never used it before. He added that drinking alcohol or smoking weed years ago had not had such effects. 

“It was a horrific experience. I won’t use it again like this, I’ve learnt my lesson,” he said.

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