Summer-Fall 2010 Telluride Magazine

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mountainhealth Caffeine at Altitude: Friend or Foe? You can’t open a magazine or a visitor guide in Colorado without finding a warning about drinking caffeine at altitude. But are these admonitions science-based, or are they just a bad rap? According to Peter Hackett, MD, the world’s leading authority on altitude illness and Executive Director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine, it’s a myth that people need to avoid caffeine when traveling or recreating at high elevations. The concern, he says, is dehydration, because caffeine causes an abnormal increase in the excretion of urine (diuresis)—but regular coffee drinkers and caffeine junkies develop a tolerance to this effect. Hackett points to clinical studies performed at Mount Everest base camp, comparing

caffeine drinkers to those drinking only water. Climbers on caffeine were not affected by its diuretic properties; they were also less fatigued than the climbers drinking just water. That arousal can be a good thing. Hackett writes that caffeine doesn’t just perk up your mood, it also stimulates your brain, kidneys and breathing, all of which are helpful in acclimatizing to higher altitudes. Hackett also reasons that caffeine can help with headaches. Regular caffeine drinkers can suffer from headaches if they abruptly curtail its use, so it might be best not to kick the habit on a trip or a climb. Furthermore, high-altitude headaches are caused by dilation of blood vessels in the brain reacting to the decreased oxygen levels; caffeine constricts blood vessels and might ameliorate those effects. —D. Dion

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Despite its long history of use (marijuana has been prescribed since 2737 BC to treat everything from rheumatism to incontinence), the medicinal value of marijuana is still disputed today. Some effects of the drug, however, are well documented, including alleviation of nausea and vomiting; stimulation of hunger (important for patients undergoing chemotherapy or treatment for AIDS); and lessening of intraocular pressure (helpful for patients with glaucoma). Medicinal marijuana is legal in Canada, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Italy, Finland and Portugal, as well as in certain parts of the United States—including Colorado—although federal law still prohibits its use. —D. Dion

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summer/fall 2010

What are the medicinal properties of marijuana?

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