Marijuana Linked to Lower Hospital Mortality Rates

Lower Hospitality Rates
Updated on March 10, 2022

“Marijuana might help you come out of the hospital alive!”

Okay, so that statement is a bit too sensational… but the underlying premise is based on findings from a recent study with the more mundane title: Marijuana Use Associated with Decreased Mortality in Trauma Patients.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at UCLA, compared in-hospital death rates for trauma patients based on indications of marijuana use, as determined by drug test screening on admission. Based on results from a sample of some 141,000 patients aged 18 and older, the authors concluded:

Patients [who tested positive for marijuana use] had decreased associated risk of mortality compared to [patients who did not test positive for marijuana use]. Multivariable logistic regression was used to evaluate risk of mortality after controlling for known predictors of mortality including age, sex, injury severity, vital signs, and comorbidities. Additional subgroup analyses were performed for ICU patients and younger adults.

The study authors did not attempt to draw any conclusions as to why marijuana users had indicated lower death rates while in the hospital, instead stating:

These findings require corroboration with future prospective clinical study and basic science evaluation to ascertain the exact pathophysiologic basis and thereby target potential interventions.

The lack of an explanation for these findings may lead some to view this news with a degree of skepticism. But what makes this reporting noteworthy is that it is not the only study to indicate that marijuana users have a decreased risk of mortality when hospitalized for a number of conditions.

Heart Failure

A study published in July 2020 in the journal Cureus reported on a survey of 4.5 million patients admitted to the hospital for issues related to congestive heart failure. In comparison to the overall sample, the patients who tested positive for marijuana were one-third less likely to die during their time in the hospital, and had a shorter length of stay.

In addition, the authors noted:

Comorbidities of diabetes, hypertension, renal failure, and metastatic cancer were less prevalent among cannabis users.

Again, no conclusions were drawn from these findings, and the authors noted the need for more in-depth research to identify possible causal relationships between cannabis use and the prevalence of heart failure.

Cancer

The adds of in-hospital mortality among cancer patients was significantly reduced among marijuana users compared with non-users.

This statement was among the conclusions drawn from a study published in Cancer Medicine, based on a survey of 3.5 million hospital patients aged 40 and older, of which approximately 10% were identified as marijuana users. Study data also indicated that among all hospitalized patients surveyed, marijuana users were approximately 80% less likely to have a diagnosis of cancer (1.2% vs. 5.5%) compared with non-users, while noting that among among cancer patients there was a slight increase in lymphatic cancer diagnosis among marijuana users (25% vs. 22%).

Burn-Related Injuries

Marijuana users admitted to a hospital with severe burns have a 99% chance of coming out alive. Heavy drinkers… not so much. That’s according to a report titled Marijuana Use is Protective in Burns, published in the Journal of Burn Care & Research. Report findings were based on a ten-year survey of some 3,300 burn victims requiring hospitalization. By segmenting patients based on routine admission blood and urine toxicology screens, and modeling for parity of injury severity, the researchers reported:

Mortality was 4% for patients with positive cocaine and amphetamine screens, as well as those testing negative for drugs and alcohol. Mortality was 8% for those positive for alcohol and 1% for patients with positive marijuana screens.

This led to the conclusion that:

In our patient cohort, marijuana use appears to be protective in acute burn admissions, despite classic teaching that illicit drug use leads to poorer outcomes.

COPD

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. According to a study published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, marijuana users were less likely to die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) while in the hospital. This conclusion was reached based on a survey of 6 million hospital admissions for COPD.

After reviewing the data, the authors stated:

Among hospitalized patients with a diagnosis of COPD, cannabis users had statistically significant lower odds of in-hospital mortality and pneumonia compared to non-cannabis users. The association between cannabis use and these favorable outcomes deserves further study to understand the interaction between cannabis use and COPD.

Similar evidence was presented during an annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians when a resident physician at Yale New Haven Health reported that “use of marijuana was associated with a 37.6% reduction in the odds of dying in the hospital among patients diagnosed with COPD.”

Pancreatitis

A 10-year study conducted by a research team at the University of Miami looked at the potential impact of cannabis use on mortality, morbidity, and cost of care for patients hospitalized with acute pancreatitis. Assessments of some 2.8 million subjects were adjusted for a range of factors such as age, sex, race, income, hospital characteristics, and the Charlson Comorbidity Index to provide parity of condition. After all data was analyzed, the research team reported that compared to non-cannabis-exposed patients, cannabis-exposed hospitalized patients with acute pancreatitis had:

  • Significantly lower in-patient mortality
  • Lower hospitalization costs
  • Decreased morbidity
  • Decreased lengths of stay

The authors also noted that the cannabis-positive patients exhibited lower levels of acute kidney injury, ileus, shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and parenteral nutrition requirements.

Traumatic Brain Injury

A three-year review of patients who required surgery for traumatic brain injuries revealed that those who tested positive for marijuana use had a 97.6% chance of survival as compared to the 87.5% survival rate of those who tested negative for marijuana use. This evidence led the authors to make a definitive statement that:

A positive THC screen is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining traumatic brain injury.

By way of explanation, they added:

This finding has support in previous literature because the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids have been implicated in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

And that:

With continued research, more information will be uncovered regarding the therapeutic potential of THC, and further therapeutic interventions may be established.

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Author Bio

Pierce Hoover

Pierce Hoover

Pierce Hoover is a career journalist with more than three decades of experience in print, broadcast and online writing, editing and reporting, with more than 5,000 articles published in national and international print media and online. His focus on medical marijuana therapies mirrors his broader interest in science-based alternative medical practices.
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