Pancreatitis in Cannabis Users

Some recent highlights and curiosities from the amazing world of cannabis science and therapeutics.
By Adrian Devitt-Lee On June 30, 2019

Pancreatitis is a severe and potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation recently examined how cannabis users faired through pancreatitis compared to the general population. They surveyed records of 2.8 million acute pancreatitis patients over 10 years, and the results were dramatic. People with cannabinoids in their bloodstream were 3-4x less likely to die in the hospital. On average, they stayed in the hospital for about one fewer day and saved the hospital around $5,000 on additional interventions. Those using cannabis were also less likely to have a heart attack or to need mechanical ventilation. This highlights the importance of the public health benefits of cannabis use. Interestingly, preclinical research seems to indicate that THC would be harmful in pancreatic inflammation, and some case reports have linked pancreatitis to cannabis use. But we’ve seen a similar paradox with obesity. It could be that using cannabis chronically downregulates CB1 activity in the pancreas. Or maybe the anti-inflammatory effect of CB2 is more significant. The effect may also be partly due to demographic differences, as the authors highlight. Cannabis users are different from the general population not only because of their use. In this study, they were also 10 years younger and more often male. The lower mortality could be due to these differences, so the researchers re-weighted their data with a statistical method to match the demographics of the cannabis users and the population. This adjusted model attributed a smaller effect to cannabis, but most benefits remained statistically significant. (The numbers above are from this adjusted model.) The authors hypothesize that (1) lower weight and age among cannabis users could explain lower mortality, or (2) the anti-inflammatory effect of cannabis may protect people from inflammation in pancreatitis.

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Adrian Devitt-Lee, Project CBD's chief science writer, is employed as a research chemist by the University College of London.