Anesthetic implications of recreational drug use

As the use of recreational drugs increases, the likelihood of an anesthesiologist perioperatively encountering patients using or addicted to these drugs will also increase.

Addicted patients may present for anesthetic care in a variety of circumstances in everyday elective surgeries or in acute or life-saving situations, such as emergency Cesarean delivery or trauma surgery. Therefore, it is important for anesthesiologists to know about the most common illicit drugs being used, their clinical presentation and side effects, and the anesthetic options that are beneficial or detrimental to these patients. The most frequently used illicit substances, apart from alcohol and tobacco, are cannabis, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, methamphetamine, and hallucinogens. When planning anesthetic care, it is important for anesthesiologists to understand the effects of these agents, including various drug interactions, to predict tolerance to some anesthetic agents, to recognize drug withdrawal signs and symptoms, and to be prepared to manage all these factors in the perioperative period.

For optimal patient care through the perioperative period, it is critical to obtain information about patient drug use and other associated treatment in order to construct an appropriate anesthetic plan, including specific considerations during surgery, emergence, and in the post anesthesia care unit.

Objectives of this Continuing Professional Development (CPD) module:

After reading this module, the reader should be able to:

  1. Describe the various recreational drugs encountered in contemporary clinical practice;
  2. List the brain mechanisms that cause drug addiction;
  3. List the main adverse effects of commonly used recreational drugs;
  4. Describe the management of anesthesia for patients using recreational drugs;
  5. Recognize that a patient may be taking several recreational drugs and organize the anesthetic plan accordingly.

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