How Marijuana Can Affect Your Surgery
Scott Sundick, MD, is a board-certified vascular and endovascular surgeon. He currently practices in Westfield, New Jersey.
If you smoke marijuana and are planning to have surgery you may be wondering if you need to stop smoking before your procedure. Like smoking cigarettes, the short answer is this: Yes, quitting today may improve your surgical outcome, how quickly you get out of the hospital, and how quickly you heal after surgery.
Marijuana Before Surgery
Like nicotine, marijuana can complicate surgery and should be avoided in the weeks and even months prior to your procedure. Much like smoking cigarettes, abstaining from marijuana in the weeks before surgery can decrease the likelihood of complications during and after surgery.
Unfortunately, research on the topic of marijuana use and the effects during surgery is limited. It should become more plentiful in the future as medicinal marijuana has been legalized in multiple states (and recreational use in a growing number), making it easier to gather scientific data on the topic.
We do know that marijuana, while effective for decreasing nausea and some other health-related benefits, has the potential to interact with anesthesia.
Risks of Smoking Marijuana
Contrary to popular wisdom, marijuana smoking is not a healthier option than cigarettes. It can lead to lung cancer and other respiratory problems.
The process of inhaling large amounts of marijuana, then holding it in the lungs for extended periods of time to increase the amount absorbed, leads to increased exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
The chronic coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing that long-term cigarette smokers experience also occur in marijuana users.
Types of Marijuana
When talking about surgery anesthesia and marijuana, all types of marijuana should be avoided. That means smoking marijuana, edibles, and synthetic marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana, in particular, is poorly understood, unregulated, and highly variable in content. For this reason, it is impossible to predict the reaction that might occur with exposure to anesthesia. Synthetic marijuana should not be used in the days, or even weeks, prior to surgery.
Marijuana and Anesthesia
Smoking marijuana regularly leads to the same risks of complications faced by patients who smoke cigarettes. This means that marijuana smokers are more likely than non-smokers to be on the ventilator longer, have a higher risk of developing pneumonia after surgery, and greater scarring of incisions.
The use of marijuana, especially immediately prior to surgery, can change the doses needed for sedation. One commonly used medication, propofol, requires substantially higher doses for the patient who routinely uses marijuana.
One study looked at the doses of propofol required to intubate patients who routinely smoked marijuana with non-marijuana using patients. The individuals who used marijuana required a dramatic increase in sedation.
One patient who smoked marijuana 4 hours prior to surgery was the topic of a case study, after experiencing an airway obstruction during the procedure. This is a very serious complication that can lead to death, and is believed to have been caused by airway hyperreactivity, a condition known in cigarette smokers but previously unidentified in marijuana users.
It is also believed that regular users of marijuana—whether it is smoked or eaten—are more likely to experience agitation.
Marijuana Effects During Surgery
The use of marijuana the day before surgery, and especially in the hours prior to the procedure, can cause more dramatic effects. While some people are tempted to use marijuana prior to surgery in an effort to relax or be less stressed before the procedure, this is a very bad idea and can cause problems.
Marijuana causes the blood vessels of the body to relax, a process called vasodilation. This process can cause the blood pressure to fall and the heart rate to increase. These, in turn, can complicate matters if the patient’s blood pressure is falling due to issues with the surgery, and can change the way the body responds to anesthesia.
Tell the Truth About Marijuana Use
It is very important that you are candid with the anesthesia provider about your personal use of marijuana. This means giving an accurate report of how much and how often you use marijuana, whether you eat it or smoke it, and when you last did so.
It is unlikely that your use will delay your surgery, but it is important that the anesthesia provider understands the potential for your body to need more anesthetic than is typical.
The anesthesia provider also needs to be prepared for any airway issues that may arise, which are more common in smokers of all types compared to non-smokers.
Regular marijuana use, like cigarette and cigar use, can increase the length of time it takes to be removed from the ventilator after surgery. The risk of being on the ventilator long term is decreased by quitting smoking before surgery, and that risk is decreased further with every day that passes between the last day of smoking and the day of surgery.
A Word From Verywell
It may seem like a drag—pardon the pun—to stop smoking marijuana before surgery and to not smoke during your recovery from surgery, but you will heal faster, return to your normal activities more quickly, have less scarring and fewer complications if you refrain.
It is true that most people would have quit smoking long ago if it were easy, but surgery offers a real incentive to back away from the marijuana (and nicotine) in order to have the best possible outcome after surgery.
Every day you go without smoking prior to surgery will decrease your chances of being on the ventilator longer than the average patient, and will decrease the length of your stay in the hospital.
Smoking pot before surgery can cause problems during and after your procedure, find out why you should avoid marijuana before surgery.
Is It Safe To Use Cannabis After Surgery?
Going under the knife is never a good time. And no matter if it’s spinal surgery or tumor removal, surgery recovery can be painful. Doctors may prescribe opioid pain killers to treat pain after the procedure. But these drugs can be addictive and come with many side effects. As a result, many people want a different pain reliever. Relying on research that shows weed helps ease pain for other medical conditions, those who must get surgery want to know. Is it safe to use cannabis after surgery?
Opioids: An Addictive Option
The opioid epidemic is no longer some shady secret. Many in the United States suffer an addiction to these powerful pain relievers.
But many of them began the road to their addiction after being prescribed painkillers like oxycodone or hydrocodone after surgery.
Though many surgeons now hope to prescribe less of these drugs, some patients still face the consequences of these prescription painkillers.
But how about weed? Is it safe to use cannabis after surgery?
Pre-Operation: Know The Body
It only makes sense that prior to getting sliced open that rolling up a fat J and smoking some THC and CBD would not only ease anxiety but also put you in a place of comfort.
But don’t smoke weed before getting into that surgical gown. Smoking can have negative effects with anesthesia,
Smoking can also increase the amount of coughing and sputum in a person which can be an issue for surgery. If a very loyal user of Mary Jane, it is crucial to tell the doctors and anesthesiologists about your use.
It may seem crazy to talk to your doctor about using pot, but it’s worth it for your health.
Is It Safe to Use Cannabis After Surgery?
Plenty of research has shown the negative effects of prescribed opioid painkillers after surgery. But research is still in the works on the effect of weed use after a procedure.
Just across the pond in the UK, they have tested the effect of a cannabis plant extract for healing pain after surgery. This extract called Cannador was given to a total of 65 patients who had just recently had surgery.
The researchers gave them different levels of the drug. The results were clear and positive. As the dose increased, patients experienced less pain.
But Cannador did have some side effects like nausea or increased heart rate along with these higher dosages.
Still, cannabis showed it was beneficial for use after surgery, providing ideal pain relief with few side effects. Not to mention, cannabis is still also less addictive than opioids.
Final Hit: Safest Ways to Consume Cannabis After Surgery
The medical industry and marijuana policy still have a long way to go before just anyone can get a weed prescription after surgery.
But for those who just had surgery looking to use weed to treat pain, consider healthier ways of getting high. Instead of smoking a joint or puffing on a bong bowl, try edibles, tinctures, or oils.
Coughing can interrupt the healing process. And even though you might be a master at bong rips, choosing something like vaping might keep your body more relaxed and open to healing.
No matter what, choose what works best for your pain management with your doctor.
Is it safe to use cannabis after surgery to relieve pain?