Cannabis consumers who caught COVID-19 had significantly lower rates of intubation, respiratory failure, and death than people who do not consume, according to a new study based on hospital data that was presented this week at the annual conference of The American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) in Honolulu.
“Marijuana users had better outcomes and mortality compared to non-users,” the study says, suggesting that the observed benefits might result from cannabis’s “potential to inhibit viral entry into cells and prevent the release of proinflammatory cytokines.”
“The significant decrease in mortality and complications warrants further investigation of the association between marijuana use and COVID-19,” the report, published in a supplement of the CHEST Journal, says.
Authors of the study explained the findings on Wednesday in a presentation alongside a poster at the annual CHEST conference. They analyzed records from 322,214 patients from the National Inpatient Sample, a government database that tracks hospital utilization and outcomes. Of those patients, 2,603—less than 1 percent—said they consumed cannabis.
Looking at the two populations separately, marijuana consumers “were younger and had higher prevalance of tobacco use,” wrote the seven-person research team. People who didn’t use marijuana had higher rates of other comorbidities, such as obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.
Cannabis consumers also had significantly lower health complications related to COVID:
“On univariate analysis, marijuana users had significantly lower rates of intubation (6.8% vs 12%), acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) (2.1% vs 6%), acute respiratory failure (25% vs 52.9%) and severe sepsis with multiorgan failure (5.8% vs 12%). They also had lower in-hospital cardiac arrest (1.2% vs 2.7%) and mortality (2.9% vs 13.5%).”
Using a 1:1 matching analysis that compared marijuana consumers to nonusers by age, race, gender “and 17 other comorbidities including chronic lung disease,” the team found that cannabis consumers had lower rates of intubation, acute respiratory failure, severe sepsis with multiorgan failure and morality.
Patients who were under 18 or who had information missing from the national database were excluded from the study.
While the study uses the phrase “smoking cannabis,” it also refers to participants who identified as “marijuana users.” It’s not clear whether the research is looking at smoking cannabis specifically or also includes other forms of consumption, such as vaping and edibles.
The study‘s lead author, Fasih Sami Siddiqui, did not immediately respond to emailed questions from Marijuana Moment.
As the study acknowledges, “there remains a significant gap in our understanding of the potential impact of marijuana use on COVID-19.” There has been relatively little in-depth study of how cannabis consumption and COVID infection interact. One 2022 study came to a different conclusion, finding that cannabis use was associated with a lower chance of getting COVID but also with more serious infections.
A separate study that same year, however, also found “lower COVID-19 severity” and “significantly better health outcomes” among hospitalized patients.
A 2022 laboratory study from researchers at Oregon State University notably found that certain cannabinoids can potentially prevent COVID-19 from entering human cells. However as doctors at UCLA have noted, that study focused on CBG-A and CBD-A under lab conditions and did not assess marijuana smoking by patients themselves.
Tobacco smoking is widely considered an additional health risk for COVID, meanwhile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Being a current or former cigarette smoker can make you more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.”
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some cannabis advocates claimed with little evidence that marijuana or CBD could prevent, treat or even cure coronavirus infection—a claim many other advocates warned was premature and dangerous.
In March 2020, for example, former NFL player Kyle Turley—who said that medical marijuana changed his life and who now operates his own cannabis brand—made numerous unsubstantiated claims on social media that cannabis would “prevent” and “cure” COVID-19.
The tweets, some of which have since been deleted, included statements such as “CBD CAN PREVENT AND CURE THE CORONA VIRUS,” and “CANNABIS WILL PREVENT & CURE COVID19!!!!!!!…..commence the hate.”
In another now-deleted tweet, Turley appeared to claim that cannabis products are “the cure for cancer.”
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, Turley called his critics “cowards.”
“I’ve been putting in work on my own dime, on my own time, taking away from my family, to move this conversation forward. And that’s what I’ve done,” he said. “I was a first round draft pick, I made millions of dollars, God saved my life through this plant and I live in America. So get used to it,” he said. “And I’m going to continue to spread His word.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) later took enforcement action against Turley’s NeuroXPF business.
Others used the pandemic as an argument in favor of marijuana legalization on different grounds. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), for example, said in November 2020 that legalizing marijuana in his state would prevent the spread of covid by reducing travel to New Jersey.
This article originally appeared on Marijuana Moment.
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