Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
All medications carry side effects, including medical cannabis. One of the potential side effects of medical marijuana is heightened sensory perception, which involves sounds, sights, smells and tastes becoming enhanced. While some patients like this boosted view, others find it distracting and uncomfortable, especially if you’re treating insomnia or nausea with medical weed. The good news is that you can avoid this side effect by learning what causes it.
Due to the range of medical cannabis strains, marijuana can cause several side effects. While some, like red eyes, are minor inconveniences, others are more problematic, like constipation. On the flip side, some patients use medical weed for what others may see as a negative side effect, like drowsiness and hunger, to treat their condition.
In most cases, your medical marijuana physician will not recommend medical cannabis if they feel its benefits do not outweigh its potential side effects. If they do, consider finding a new doctor to manage your condition and treatment plan.
For years, physicians and researchers suspected one of medical marijuana’s main cannabinoids caused users to experience heightened senses. A 2014 study confirmed this thought, finding tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can stimulate your appetite, also enhances your senses.
How does THC cause this side effect? By interacting with receptors in your brain. Areas of the brain that are involved with your senses, such as the olfactory bulb, which manages your sense of smell, bind with THC receptors and create heightened perceptions of your surroundings.
When you experience heightened sensory perception, you’ll notice the following changes:
A frequent response to these symptoms is hunger. In fact, researchers believe that heightened sensory perception contributes to the frequent side effect of the “munchies,” as tastes and smells become even more powerful.
If you experience heightened sensory perception every time you use medical weed, it can result in some long-term side effects. Because this effect stimulates your appetite, it can lead to weight gain, which can place you at risk for conditions like diabetes.
In other cases, heightened sensory perception can prevent you from treating your condition. If you cope with insomnia, for example, you may have trouble falling asleep if you’re hearing a range of sounds in your house or around the neighborhood.
Thanks to medical cannabis research, it’s possible to prevent heightened sensory perception. The most effective step is by switching your strain of medicinal weed to one with a higher cannabidiol (CBD) content and lower THC content.
You can limit experiencing heightened sensory perception by:
Heightened sensory perception will wear off as your medical cannabis does. Depending how you administer your medical weed, episode lengths may vary. Smoking and vaporizing tend to last the shortest, while effects from edibles will last longer.
Many physicians and patients find the benefits of medical weed outrank its side effects. It’s still essential, however, that you or your loved one visits with a medical marijuana doctor if you’re experiencing heightened sensory perception or another medical cannabis side effect. Your physician can recommend a new treatment plan that ensures you’re comfortable, as well as answer any questions or concerns you may have.