JUL 07, 2023 7:30 AM PDT

Cannabis Users at Increased Risk of Perioperative Complications

Labroots previously explored how cannabis users are at a greater risk of developing post-surgery infections after having arthroscopic surgery on either the knee or shoulder, but a recent study published in JAMA Surgery examines how cannabis users could face increased risks of perioperative complications, meaning before, during, or after surgery. This cohort study was conducted by three physicians at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and holds the potential to help both the medical field and public better understand cannabis use, which has carried the perception of being harmless.

Study authors from left to right: Dr. Srikar Jonna, MD; Dr. George W. Williams II, MD; and Dr. Paul Potnuru, MD. (Credit: UTHealth Houston)

“A significant number of patients’ first encounter with the health care system is for surgery,” said Dr. Paul Potnuru, MD, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, and first author of the study. “Most have other health-related issues like high blood pressure and diabetes that they may not have previously known about. Cannabis use falls into the category of a health-related issue. It may not be as harmless as people think; it can have a significant impact on your health.”

For the study, the physicians analyzed data derived from the National Inpatient Sample database of 12,422 patients between 2016 to 2019 with a breakdown of 6,211 patients with cannabis use disorder (CUD) and 6,211 without CUD. The study’s findings indicated 480 (7.73%) of patients with CUD exhibited experiences with perioperative complications and mortality, whereas 408 patients (6.57%) of the non-CUD group exhibited those same experiences.

The physicians noted such complications in the study observed with CUD patients included respiratory failure, surgical procedure-related complications, stroke, myocardial ischemia, venous thromboembolism, acute kidney injury, and hospital-acquired infection.

“From the anesthesia perspective, cannabis users may need higher doses of anesthetic medications during surgery," said Dr. Potnuru. "They can also have higher pain levels after surgery and require more opioids. Doctors must be aware of the level of a patient’s cannabis usage to tailor the amount of medications given and closely monitor for complications."

The study comes at an important time when cannabis use continues to grow across the United States, not just in the number of users, but also in the strength of cannabis products, which Dr. Potnuru notes can result I a variety of safety concerns in terms of surgery for cannabis users.

What new discoveries will physicians make about cannabis use and surgery in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: Labroots, JAMA Surgery, National Cancer Institute, EurkeAlert!, Verywell Mind, National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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