VAPI: Vaping Associated Pulmonary Illness

Dr. Rad recently got a chance to speak with senior writer Katie Heaney for The Cut, New York Magazine about vaping related lung illness.

Check out the article here for great information about the recent developments and advice on how to prevent this from happening to you.

For now, Canna Therapy MD feels all patients should avoid vaping and vaping related products for BOTH nicotine and THC until the CDC is able to complete their investigation into the underlying cause.

Please seek immediate emergency care and inform your emergency physician if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea after vaping in the last 90 days.

The CDC also encourages patients to report their vaping related symptoms to:

Dr. Rad: Why this ER doc advocates for medical cannabis

“24 year old female, found down. GCS 3, CPR in progress. ETA 5 min.”

The radio crackled off and I immediately started running towards the resuscitation bay to meet the EMS crew.

I methodically slid on the vibrant blue nitrile gloves, carefully placed my face shield on and prepared my intubation kit.

All codes are the same. The fundamentals of medicine kick in. Airway. Breathing. Circulation. A. B. C. In emergency medicine, we train to maintain composure in chaotic situations. I take a deep breath and prepare to take charge.

When EMS arrived, one crew member was performing chest compressions, sweat dripping down his face. The other crew members carefully transported her from their stretcher to our bed. The medic immediately briefed us, “No improvement, 1 round of Epi given, no shockable rhythm en route.”

“Ok everyone, continue chest compressions and administer the next round of Epi” I said.

Multiple rounds of chest compressions and medications were given. I placed an ultrasound over her chest during the pulse check. Her heart was still. The room was still. We all knew her fate.

“Time of death 1437.” I stripped off the face shield, removed the gloves and glanced at her family through the window.

Often times in the moment, emergency physicians are focused on the task at hand. What can I do to bring her pulse back? Is there a shockable rhythm? Is there a reversible cause for her death?

A lot of times, we can’t get them back, as hard as we might try. I once had an attending tell me, “They’re already dead. You can’t make them deader. Do your best to bring them back and be there for the people who are left behind.”

I walked over to the family and gave the speech I was used to giving over the years. I watched the color drain out of their faces; guttural moans filled the room with despair. The questions flooded of “Why her? Why this? Why now?”

I couldn’t answer those questions. As I covered her body with a bright clean white hospital sheet, I glanced at her arms. Scars from the needle sticks searching for a viable vein for the heroin. Evidence of the long battle she had been through.

Colleagues, friends and family have all questioned why Dr. Khalsa and I felt a need to advocate for medical cannabis. Anyone who has been affected by the opiate crisis has never asked us why we do it, they simply thank us.

When you have firsthand experience with the gruesome toll of opiates, it is easy to advocate for safer treatment options. Physicians agree at this point that opiates are not the answer. However, patients are left with no other alternatives. As physicians, we cannot simply ignore pain control or defer it to the next doctor to worry about.

We understand the hesitancy both in the medical community and general population. For many years, cannabis has been stigmatized with both physicians and patients abusing the system. In the medical community, cannabis physicians are sometimes viewed as lesser-trained doctors, who frequently did not become board-certified in a specialty. In other words, this was just a way to “make a quick buck.” Another barrier is that medical education certainly does not include a section on medical cannabis. Physicians have to go out of their way to gain additional training and expertise in this area.

Dr. Khalsa and I want to change this perception. We are board certified physicians in emergency medicine and still practice on a regular basis. After working for many years in Colorado, we saw the good and bad of cannabis legalization and we readily discuss these risks and benefits with our patients.

No medication is perfect and we encourage the medical community and our patients to always maintain a guarded perspective on any novel treatment. Just look at the drug commercials on TV that subtly try to list over fifty various life-threatening side effects. These are commonly followed by large lawsuit advertisements for the previously mentioned side effects. No medication is taken without risks and this includes medical cannabis.

Yet, medical cannabis does show promise. We continually review the most recent literature on cannabis. But, we also listen to our patients. A common theme that comes up is that patients enjoy having control over their own health. They appreciate having an active role in determining strains, dosing and frequency of this medication. With any chronic illness, control is something that disappears over time. They feel mainstream medicine only contributes to their lack of control and medical cannabis helps them regain some balance.

Patients tell us about how they were able to cut out opiates from their lives, how they head into their chemotherapy sessions without enduring weeks of nausea and vomiting, how they enjoy their lives again without having to worry about daily intractable seizures.  We listen to their success stories.

Medical cannabis is not the right choice for everyone, but we are here to start the discussion about whom it can help.

Radhika Ratnabalasuriar MD

The SOAP Note Diaries: Introduction

The SOAP Note Diaries: “ER docs in a cannabis world”


Dr. Khalsa and I were initially nervous to take the leap and start specializing in medical cannabis.  We knew some of our colleagues would look down on us.  However a part of us always knew we were supposed to advocate for this patient population.  People who could genuinely benefit from medical cannabis.

This blog became a way that Dr. Khalsa and I could share our stories with you from working in the emergency department.  We encounter so many different people who are battling severe diseases and we feel they deserve access to medical cannabis without stigmatization.

They deserve to be treated as patients who are seeking medications that work best for them.

They deserve to be treated not as drug addicts or uneducated people but as patients who are looking for a different approach to their treatment plans, when nothing else seems to be working.

These are their stories and we hope we can do them justice.

Our hope is for this blog to bring a new perspective to the table.  Thank you for keeping an open mind and for taking the time to read our stories.

What is a SOAP note?

A SOAP note is used by many physicians to document the patient’s encounter.  It is a shorter simplified note made up of 3 parts.

“Subjective” explains why the patient is there.  This part is told completely from the side of the patient.  Why are they here today?  What is bothering them?  What makes it better?  What makes it worse?

In our blog, this is where we tell the patient’s story.  All names are fictional and specific details about the case have been changed to protect the patient’s privacy.

“Objective” is the physician’s evaluation of the patient, including a physical exam. It states the facts of what they have observed with the patient and their clinical findings.

In our blog, this is where we review the literature on medical cannabis related to a specific disease process.  We talk about what the studies showed, any weaknesses in the literature and any future research that is pending.

“Assessment and Plan” is the part where a physician documents what he/she thinks the diagnosis may be and his/her plan for further evaluation or treatment.

In our blog, this is where we summarize our thoughts on the disease and the effectiveness of medical cannabis.  They are our “take home points.”

‘Final Impression” is where the physician documents his/her final diagnosis and thoughts.

In our blog, this is where we express our final thoughts about the patient and topic at hand.

We always cite recommended resources and additional reading materials on the subject matter at the end of each blog post.

Thanks for reading!

Drs. Khalsa and Ratnabalasuriar

Fighting Cancer: Ann’s Story


I remember her face as I was breaking the news. Fighting back tears in her eyes while tightly clutching her husband’s hand. He was gently sobbing into her arms with a deep love in his eyes evident to any stranger like me. Ann had come to the emergency department (ED) for a bruised shoulder that just wasn’t getting better. She left that day with her entire world changed forever.

As an emergency doctor we are trained to move from room to room with pristine efficiency. Labs ordered? Check. Pain medication? Check. Follow up on the CT scan? Check. Discharge room 9, run to the cardiac code in room 1, speak to the consultant for room 3, reduce the shoulder in room 7? Check. Check. Check. Check.

Our chaos is a world I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s messy at times, unforgiving, and doesn’t care if you’re tired, hungry or upset. Life in the ED continues on with or without you.

But then you meet a family like Ann’s. A loving, happy family. A simple bump on the shoulder. You figure it’s been a few weeks, why not get an X-­‐ray just to make sure the bone is ok?

When I saw Ann, I immediately knew something was wrong even though she appeared well. In our field we refer to it as “spidey sense.” Instead of the X ray, I said, “Why don’t we get a CT of your chest? My job is to think of the worse things that could be causing your pain. I’d like to make sure your heart and lungs are OK.” “Sure,” she said. “Why not? I haven’t had a decent check up in awhile.”

As I scrolled through the images, all I could see were huge white threatening masses. In her lungs. Around her ribs. In her spine. Cancer. My world stopped.

“Oh Ann. How am I going to tell you this?” I think as my phone rings endlessly and the ambulances continue to stream in. The ED keeps moving and all of a sudden I feel paralyzed.

Ann is one of many patients I have diagnosed with cancer in the emergency department. It’s a terrible part of the job and none of us truly know how we have affected someone’s life after that day.

We see cancer patients come in and out of the emergency department for infections, fatigue, low blood counts, and frequent nausea and vomiting related to the side effects of chemotherapy.

As I ordered medication after medication for cancer patients, I started to wonder if there was a better way.


Review of the literature led us to understand how medical cannabis can be used to treat cancer related symptoms.

Some try to stretch the effects of cannabis by claiming it cures cancer. This is partially true. We have seen antitumor effects of cannabis. However, we have also seen proliferative effects (causing the cancer to grow more). There is certainly potential there, and we have read some promising preclinical studies regarding treatment in breast cancer and glioblastoma multiforme. Despite this, we do not know enough to make such strong claims that cancer can be cured solely by cannabis.

Yet, we do see strong evidence that suggests it can be a wonderful adjunct to conventional cancer therapy, especially in treatment of nausea and vomiting.

Assessment and Plan:

Medical cannabis can serve as an adjunct in traditional chemotherapy regimens. At this time, it seems most helpful to treat cancer-­‐related symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. It is sometimes helpful to treat cancer-­‐related lack of appetite, sleep, nerve and organ pain.

Involving your oncologist in your decision to use medical cannabis is of the utmost importance.

Your medical team should strive to listen to your needs and help guide you in your care.

Remember, no single isolated medication is ever likely to be the answer when it comes to cancer treatment. At this time, we do NOT recommend only using cannabis as treatment for cancer.

We do acknowledge promising preclinical studies and look forward to future research evaluating cannabis and its role in targeted chemotherapy.

Final Impression:

I still think of Ann and her family quite often. I wonder how they are living day to day. If she is doing the things she loves, spending time with the people that matter.

In a moment, you can change someone’s life forever. I hope our patients know their stories stay with us. We go home and grieve for them. We think of them as we lay next to our loved ones at night. We are pulling for all the “Anns” out there.


Radhika Ratnabalasuriar MD & Hari Khalsa MD

Recommended Reading and Resources:

P.F Whiting, R.F. Wolff, S. Deshpande, M. Di Nisio, S. Duffy,A. V. Hernandez, J.C. Keurentjes, S. Lang, K. Misso, S. Ryder, S. Schmidlkofer, M Westwood, J. Kleijnen, “Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-­‐Analysis.” JAMA 2015;313:2456-­‐73.

D.I. Abhrams, M. Guzmán, “Cannabis in Cancer Care,” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2015;313:2456-­‐73.

F.C. Rocha, J.G. Dos Santos Junior, S.C. Stefano, D.X. da Silveira, “Systemic Review of the Literature on Clinical and Experimental Trials on the Antitumor Effects of Cannabinoids in Gliomas,” Journal of Neuro-­‐Oncology 2014; 111:11-­‐24.

M.M. Caffarel, C. Andradas, E. Perez-­‐Gómez, M. Guzmán, C. Sanchez, “Cannabinoids: A New Hope for Breast Cancer Therapy?” Cancer Treatment Reviews. 2012;38:911-­‐8.