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Overview

Dronabinol is a synthetic form of cannabis that is used for various situations. These include:

  • Treating appetite loss in patients diagnosed with AIDS.
  • Managing nausea and vomiting in patients who use chemotherapy medications to treat certain cancers. The medication is usually taken one to three hours before the chemotherapy is administered and two to four hours thereafter.
This medication is reserved for use only when other more commonly used medications have not been effective enough in managing nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy drugs.

Side effects

If the following side effects occur when using dronabinol then it is advised to discontinue the medication and urgently consult with the prescribing doctor or present to an emergency room for immediate medical attention:

  • Allergic reactions - signs include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat, or an itchy skin rash.
  • Paranoia and increased anxiety.
  • Convulsions.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Unusual behaviours and thoughts.
  • Faint spells or feeling lightheaded.

Other less severe side effects of dronabinol which can be discussed with the prescribing doctor include:

  • Feeling euphoric ("high").
  • Fluctuating moods.
  • Generalized body weakness.
  • Problems concentrating.
  • Confusion.
  • Tingling sensation in the limbs.
  • Ironically, nausea and vomiting.
  • Abdominal pains.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Insomnia.

Precautions

Dronabinol should not be used by individuals who have had allergic reactions after being exposed to natural or synthetic marijuana or sesame oil. 

Those with the following chronic conditions should make their doctor aware of these issues before using dronabinol:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Epilepsy or any other seizure disorder.
  • Mental health conditions such as major depression, bipolar mood disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia.
  • Heart disease.
Also, the doctor should be aware of any other medications that may be used by the patient such as antipsychotics, tranquilizers, sedatives, and sleeping tablets as the effects of these medications can be increased by dronabinol which would lead to further central nervous system depression. 

The use of any other over-the-counter medications, supplements, and natural products also need to be discussed with the prescribing doctor in order that the correct decision is made whether dronabinol can be prescribed or a dose adjustment needs to be made so that drug interactions don't occur.

Addiction potential

Dronabinol is a potentially habit-forming medication. This means that the euphoria and muscle-relaxing effects of the medication can make an individual use more of the drug as they seek those effects and this leads to addiction. Therefore, it is suggested that caution is exercised when prescribing dronabinol to patients who have a previous history of drug or alcohol addiction.

Overdose

If a patient takes more dronabinol that what is prescribed for them, also known as an overdose, the following issues may occur:

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Very fast heartbeat.
  • Fluctuating mood changes from extreme mania to severe depression.
  • Decreased or no urination.
  • Memory recall issues.
  • Severe behavioural problems and unusual thoughts.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Speech problems.
  • Convulsions or seizures.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Fainting.
If an overdose of dronabinol is taken and the patient presents with any of these signs and symptoms, the medication needs to be stopped immediately and the patient needs to urgently present to an emergency room to receive immediate medical attention.

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