Updated on December 7, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
A downside to every medication is its side effects, whether its dizziness, constipation or drowsiness. Medical marijuana is no exception, though its effects will vary based on the strain you’re using, as well as your administration method. One of the potential side effects of medical cannabis is slower reaction times.
When you meet with your medical marijuana doctor, they’re invested in ensuring your treatment plan offers you the most benefits. That’s why they’ll discuss with you the side effects of medical weed beforehand, as well as encourage you to update them if you experience any side effects.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend medical marijuana for its side effects. Patients with insomnia, for instance, may use medical weed because one of its side effects is drowsiness. Not all side effects are desired, however, including slowed reaction times.
For years, researchers have worked to understand why medical weed causes slower reaction times. Recent studies indicate that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is one of medical marijuana’s primary cannabinoids, may be responsible.
Within the brain, there’s a network called the thalamo-cortico-striatal circuit — it’s related to your perception of time. It also contains numerous receptors that bind with THC. Researchers believe when this happens, your internal clock speeds up, thus creating the feeling that the world around you has slowed down.
Another possible contributor to decreased reaction times is the blood flow to your brain. Through MRIs, researchers found blood flow to the cerebellum, which oversees your coordination and timing of movements, changes in response to THC.
For most patients, a sign of slower reaction times is feeling that time is standing still. A few minutes, for instance, may feel like hours. To others, such as a family member, you may show symptoms of delayed reactions by responding to stimuli, like a crosswalk sign, too late. Because of the risk that delayed reaction times pose, operating heavy machinery or vehicles is not recommended — even if you’ve never experience delayed responses.
In most cases, slower reaction times do not pose long-term side effects. The feeling that time has slowed dissipates as your medical marijuana wears off. If you go against your physician’s recommendations for usage and administration, such as by driving, there can be repercussions.
It’s essential to listen to your medical marijuana doctor’s advice. Their overarching goal is to ensure your health, which is why they’ll advise you — before recommending medical cannabis — not to drive, use machinery or other items that can pose a risk to you or a loved one.
While delayed reaction times are challenging to manage, compared to other side effects from medical cannabis, it’s possible to minimize their impact on your daily life. One of the most substantial steps patients take is switching their strain of medical marijuana. Your physician may recommend trying one with a high amount of cannabidiol (CBD) and a low concentration of THC, for example.
Many physicians find medical cannabis delivers more benefits than risks to patients, which is why they recommend it. As a patient, it’s essential to work with a knowledgeable medical marijuana doctor who values your health, so you can build a comprehensive treatment program that meets your needs and limits side effects, such as slower reaction times.