Acute Pancreatitis Cases Linked to Cannabis Use May Be Milder, Less Costly

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In a recent study, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers found that patients with acute pancreatitis and a cannabis exposure have significantly lower mortality, morbidity and costs related to hospitalization and care than acute pancreatitis patients with no cannabis use.

Dr. Jodie A. Barkin

“Acute pancreatitis is the third leading cause of gastroenterology-related hospitalizations annually in the United States, accounting for approximately 280,000 cases. Cannabis exposure is estimated to be the fourth leading cause of pancreatitis – a costly condition that can lead to serious complications,” said study coauthor Jodie A. Barkin, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology. “With cannabis being proposed as a panacea ‘cure-all’ for everything in medicine, we need to better understand the impact of cannabis use over time on one’s health – including the cost and severity of cannabis as both a cause of pancreatitis and its impact on pancreatitis disease severity.”

The study, entitled “The Impact of Cannabis Consumption on Mortality, Morbidity, and Cost in Acute Pancreatitis Patients in the United States: A 10-Year Analysis of the National Inpatient Sample,” was published  in Pancreas.

Dr. Barkin and his team completed an analysis of The National Inpatient Sample database from 2003 to 2013 for patients with acute pancreatitis and active exposure to cannabis. More than 2.8 million patient records were analyzed. Among those patients, 0.3% reported cannabis exposure in the database.

The researchers found that the cannabis-exposed group had significantly lower inpatient mortality, decreased length of stay, and a lower risk of severe complications, including acute kidney injury, shock, and nutritional requirements.

“These findings demonstrate that though cannabis exposure is a known cause of acute pancreatitis based on our prior studies, episodes of pancreatitis with concomitant cannabis exposure tended to be less severe,” Dr. Barkin said. “However, it’s also important to note that those findings may be due to the patient population of cannabis users – who tended to be younger, male and less obese. Increasing age and obesity are substantial risk factors for acute pancreatitis severity, which could account for the milder nature of episodes among cannabis exposed patients.

“We also don’t know if these patients went on to have recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis, which is a known risk factor for subsequent complications, including chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.”

Researchers for this study wanted to understand the duration, cost and severity of acute pancreatitis hospitalizations among those exposed to cannabis to better educate the patient population.

“These findings are not an indictment on cannabis use but do help us inform our patients to prevent recurrence and complications,” said Dr. Barkin. “Just as a patient who cuts alcohol from their diet can avoid future episodes of pancreatitis, this research supports the same may be true to cannabis exposure: When people stop using cannabis, they can avoid recurrence and, of course, development of subsequent complications.”

In addition to Dr. Barkin, co-authors of the study include lead author Dr. Carlos Roberto Simons-Linares and his team from the Cleveland Clinic of Drs. Sunguk Jang, Amit Bhatt, Rocio Lopez, Tyler Stevens, John Vargo, and Prabhleen Chahal, and Dr. Jamie S. Barkin of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.