Study: Cannabis use does not impact liver transplant outcomes

Published Feb 4, 2021 02:00 p.m. ET
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Organ transplants give thousands of people each year a brand-new lease on life, but no matter how common these procedures may be, there are often complications. Unfortunately, when a patient is at the point where it’s recognized that a replacement organ is required, they’re often in poor health, which makes undergoing such huge medical procedures that much riskier.

In order to reduce the risk while making the most of limited organ donations, healthcare providers guide patients on a path towards success with a list of dos and don’ts that can quite literally make a world of difference. Sadly, we have such little scientific evidence on the impact of cannabis on surgery, and that’s sparked a motivation to uncover the specific risks based on individual situations.

Cannabis use and surgery recovery

In the case of some surgeries, it’s been discovered that cannabis use can help to reduce the need for stronger pain relief options as the patient heals, and that’s a great thing as it can help to eliminate the possibility of addiction to these dangerous drugs, but all medical producers are not equal, at least not when it comes to cannabis users.

For all major surgeries, an anesthetic is administered to put the patient to sleep so that they don’t feel any kind of pain or discomfort, and some research points towards the fact that cannabis use might impact its effectiveness. One study which looked at cannabis users and anesthetic determined that the majority require far more of the drug to achieve the same level of comfort as a non-consumer. A terrifying realization that can have serious implications for those who end up underdosed.

As we uncover more new information surrounding how cannabis use influences our health, it’s become clear that we don’t yet understand nearly enough to broach the subject with much confidence, and this is especially true when it comes to intensive medical procedures. Luckily, we’ve got expert researchers from all corners of the globe looking into it, like the ones at the University of California who have discovered that cannabis use does not have an adverse impact on outcomes for liver transplant recipients.

The research

The latest research out of UCLA was published in Clinical Transplantation, and the team's results were hopeful for cannabis consumers who are waiting and preparing for a liver transplant. After looking at the differences between outcomes of over 900 liver transplant patients, researchers concluded that there was no statistically relevant impact in the postoperative outcome or post-liver transplant complications, and this remained true for both pre- and post-surgery cannabis consumers.

Why cannabis may not be appropriate for every surgery

In one study, which investigated the results of both consumers and non-consumers who required surgery for a broken shin bone, the outcome wasn’t quite so positive. According to the research release, subjects who used cannabis prior to the surgery needed 37.4ml of anesthetic, compared to non-users, who only needed 25ml to be fully sedated. For post-surgery, those who used cannabis reported far higher pain scores at an average of 6, while non-consumers hovered closer to an average of 4.8.

As you can probably imagine, more pain translated to an intensified need for a stronger, more effective amount of relief, resulting in 58% more opiates being prescribed to the patients who were cannabis users. In the end, those with stronger prescriptions faced a far greater risk of addiction, something that most healthcare professionals want to avoid at all costs.

This is exactly why research into the effects of cannabinoids on the human body is so important. In one case, cannabis consumption should not be recommended, but in others, it could save lives, and we can’t tell for certain which is which until we put them to the ultimate test and measure the results.

Study finds that cannabis users might feel more pain after surgery


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