O beautiful for spacious highs
As more Americans get high, medical drawbacks of marijuana come to the fore.
Waking up in the middle of a surgery is the stuff of nightmares.
Your eyes squint open as a surgeon digs her scalpel into your abdomen.
The operating team becomes frantic;
an anaesthesiologist rushes to administer a stronger dose.
Though some such horror stories have made headlines,
thanks to modern medicine that kind of situation is exceedingly rare.
But the risk of it happening may be rising and anaesthesiologists are taking note.
The culprit is not an invasion of evil doctors or a bad batch of drugs,
but the rise in Americans’ casual use of a substance that many think is harmless: marijuana.
A study published in 2019 found that patients who used marijuana on a daily or weekly basis
needed up to three times the typical anaesthesia dose to stay under
while they were in the operating theatre.
Smoking weed before surgery can make patients confused, irritable
and sometimes even violent when they wake up.
But the problems do not end there.
A working paper presented in October, which has yet to be peer-reviewed,
suggests that weed can hinder recovery, too.
Of the nearly 35,000 Cleveland Clinic patients assessed, those who used marijuana
within 30 days of their operation experienced 14% more pain in the day after surgery
and took 7% more prescription opioids to ease it.
Why this might be is, like anaesthesia itself, something of a mystery.
The problem is magnified by a growing number of Americans getting high.
This past November Maryland and Missouri joined 19 states and Washington DC,
in legalising recreational marijuana.
New York recently awarded its first cannabis retail licences;
in January Connecticut stores got the green light to start selling it.
The share of Americans who report smoking weed jumped from 7% in 2013—
the year before legal sales began in Colorado, the pioneering state—to 16% in 2022.