Pancreatitis in Cannabis Users
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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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.
Updated on April 13, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Those struggling with pain and inflammation that comes with pancreatitis welcome any type of relief. While certain medications can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, they can also come with harsh side effects. Thankfully, cannabis can be an alternative treatment method to ease these and other pancreatitis symptoms but doesn’t carry the same risks.
How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Pancreatitis
First, there is a potential risk factor for acute and chronic pancreatitis for people under 35 years old who use cannabis. Therefore, if you have idiopathic acute pancreatitis, you should consider toxicology screens.
Two areas where medical marijuana could be helpful for pancreatitis include
- Inflammation: Cannabinoids can be beneficial for treating inflammation. With conditions like pancreatitis that involve inflammation because of a hyperactive immune response, medical marijuana could help. The journal Pancreas published a 2013 study showing the CBD cannabinoid produced anti-inflammatory effects in the diseased pancreases of mice.
- Pain: A 2007 study found cannabinoids not only reduced inflammation but also reduced pain. Smoking cannabis for pancreatitis might help with pain. In fact, a couple of randomized controlled trials showed those patients with neuropathic pain or neuropathy of different causes experienced reduced pain through inhaled marijuana versus those who only took a placebo.
Currently, doctors prescribe opioids for pain, but, as you may be well aware, there’s a serious opioid-abuse epidemic in the nation. So, substituting cannabis for opioids could be advantageous in relieving the pain involved in acute or chronic pancreatitis.
What Side Effects or Symptoms of Pancreatitis Can Medical Marijuana Treat?
Aside from pain and inflammation, medical marijuana can help with the following pancreatitis symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Immune system suppressant
Another study where healthy participants ingested medical weed showed cannabinoid preparations had an immunosuppressive effect. Results of the study were related to both long-term and short-term effects in those suffering from chronic pancreatitis-related abdominal pain (or other causes) and receiving medical cannabis preparation.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Pancreatitis Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects
Below are various medical cannabis strains that may be useful for pancreatitis and their different effects.
All cannabis plants derive from two families — sativa and indica. Both of these help reduce pain. However, indica strains help with more extensive aches and pain due to their full-body effect. They sedate and relax you whereas you get a more energizing and stimulating effect with sativa strains. Since indicas affect your entire body, they make a better option for treating chronic pain. Some recommended strains for pain include:
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Blue Dream
- Afghan Kush
- Granddaddy Purple
As mentioned, marijuana treatment is associated with reducing both pain and inflammation — generally due to its CBD and THC cannabinoids. Some good strains for inflammation include:
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Charlotte’s Web
Nausea and Vomiting
Medical cannabis can help with nausea, no matter if it’s due to your pancreatitis or the different treatments for it. Some strains to experiment with for nausea and vomiting include:
- Sour Diesel
- Durban Poison
- Lemon Haze
- OG Kush
Some good all-around strains for other symptoms like headache, insomnia, depression, anxiety and more include:
- Nova OG
- Green Haze
- Pink Kush
- Guava Dawg
Speak with an experienced budtender or cannabis doctor for some other strain recommendations.
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for Side Effects and Symptoms of Pancreatitis
With the medical cannabis industry evolving, doctors and patients are looking for more effective ways of consuming the herb in treatment. And, fortunately, bongs and joints aren’t their only options anymore.
Although some users still seem to favor these methods, they’re starting to lose out in favor of more high-tech, safer consumption options. Not to mention, many individuals are also leery of smoking cannabis because of the potential risk of lung irritation, respiratory illness and possibly cancer (although there’s very limited research on these risks).
Below are some suggested healthier methods of consuming your cannabis treatment other than smoking that could benefit you but without the risks of inhaling the herb.
Vaping cannabis is also an alternative to smoking weed.
Start Medical Marijuana for Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis, whether acute or chronic, can be a painful condition that comes with other undesirable symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and anxiety. If you’re seeking a medical marijuana card for pancreatitis, and live in a state where medical pot is legal, set up your appointment with a qualified cannabis doctor at MarijuanaDoctors.com and browse our vast dispensary list to find one near you.
What Is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas, an abdominal gland located in the upper abdomen behind the stomach, becomes inflamed. Its primary function is to convert food into fuel for the body through two main functions:
- Exocrine: The exocrine function aids in digestion.
- Endocrine: The endocrine function creates and releases insulin and glucagon hormones into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar.
Inflammation of your pancreas often occurs as a result of a buildup of pancreatic enzymes that begin to attack and digest the organ itself.
Types of Pancreatitis
There are two primary types of pancreatitis. The severity and longevity of the condition determine the kind of pancreatitis you have.
- Acute Pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly, often without warning, and, when treated, goes away within a few days. Acute pancreatitis responds well to treatment and is short-lived.
- Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term condition in which the pancreas worsens over time rather than healing or improving. It requires extensive treatment. It can lead to permanent damage to your pancreas.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis
The following symptoms are common among people who have both acute and chronic pancreatitis.
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Swelling of the abdomen
Almost everyone who has pancreatitis experiences the symptoms listed above. If you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, you may have additional symptoms, such as:
- Weight loss
- Constant abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
- Oily stool
Pancreatitis is a serious illness. Both types of pancreatitis can cause lasting damage to your pancreas if treatment is delayed or prolonged unnecessarily. However, if you’re experiencing the following three symptoms, you should seek medical treatment right away.
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes indicating jaundice
If left untreated, chronic pancreatitis can become fatal.
Causes of Pancreatitis
Your doctor may prescribe a panel of blood tests, specifically testing for pancreatic enzyme levels, as well as the following types of tests to diagnose pancreatitis:
- CT scans
- Fecal fat tests
The tests are mostly non-invasive and can help your doctor determine the nature of your condition and gain insights into potential causes of your pancreatitis.
Acute Pancreatitis Causes
One of the most common causes of acute pancreatitis is gallstones, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Further, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that over 80 percent of acute pancreatitis involves alcohol use or biliary stones.
Other causes of acute pancreatitis include:
- Estrogen use in women with high levels of lipids in the blood
- Pregnancy (rare)
- High levels of calcium in the blood
- Cigarette smoking
- Certain viruses, such as the mumps
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood (known as hypertriglyceridemia)
- Kidney transplantation
- Damage to the pancreas caused by endoscopy, surgery or penetrating injuries
- Blockage of the pancreatic duct
- Cancer of the pancreas
- Hereditary pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
Chronic Pancreatitis Causes
About 70 percent of chronic pancreatitis cases are attributable to long-term alcohol use.
Other causes of chronic pancreatitis are:
- Pancreas trauma
- Gallbladder disease
- Increased parathyroid glands secretion (known as hyperparathyroidism)
- Autoimmune disease
- Pancreatic stones
- A pancreatic duct blockage
- A narrowed pancreatic duct
- High levels of calcium in the blood (known as hypercalcemia)
- High levels of triglycerides in your blood
- Cystic fibrosis
Risks of Developing Pancreatitis
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests that people with the following health conditions and concerns may have a greater likelihood of developing pancreatitis:
- High triglycerides
- Genetic disorders of the pancreas
- Cystic fibrosis
- Some autoimmune conditions
Women have biliary pancreatitis more frequently than men, but men have alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis more often than women.
Also, people who smoke or drink heavily are also at risk of developing pancreatitis.
Physical Effects of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis may result in you experiencing several symptoms including:
- Epigastric (abdominal) tenderness or pain
- Pain radiating to the back
Because the pancreas is instrumental in helping your body break down and digest food and sugars in the body, if it is not functioning as it should, you may develop diabetes as a result of pancreatitis.
In cases of chronic pancreatitis, weight loss is a common side effect due to the body’s inability to absorb food and nutrients. Without proper treatment, your condition will worsen and may ultimately lead to death.
Mental Effects of Pancreatitis
Any chronic illness is taxing on the body and the mind. Pancreatitis is no different. The short-term effects of a condition like this aren’t as profound, mentally, as the long-lasting effects you’ll experience with chronic pancreatitis.
Long-term pain, like that associated with chronic pancreatitis, may cause depression. The digestive issues may cause anxiety when around other people or the fear of going out and participating in normal activities. These things can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation that exacerbate depression.
Several organizations provide statistics on pancreatitis.
- NIDDK reports nearly 275,000 hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis, and 86,000 for chronic pancreatitis occur each year.
- According to the National Pancreas Foundation (NPF), chronic pancreatitis has a prevalence rate of 50 of every 100,000 people. Medical professionals often diagnose pancreatitis among people between the ages of 30 and 40.
Current Treatments Available for Pancreatitis and Their Side Effects
Whether you have acute or chronic pancreatitis, you need professional medical treatment. Because it is an infection, antibiotic medications are the cornerstones of treatment. Dehydration often runs hand-in-hand with the condition, requiring fluid or electrolyte replacement.
Common treatments for pancreatitis include a variety of options and depend largely on the type of pancreatitis you’re experiencing.
Treatments for Acute Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis treatments include:
- IV fluids, which may lead to high blood pressure, fluid retention, kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances and even heart failure.
- Antibiotics, which may cause dehydration, nausea and vomiting. Overuse of antibiotics could cause you to become resistant to antibiotics.
- Oral medications to manage pain, which may lead to dependency if an opioid.
In some cases, physicians may recommend the removal of the gallbladder to prevent the creation of new gallstones. If the symptoms of acute pancreatitis are severe or the area is too tender, physicians may wait until after the tenderness and swelling subside before removing the gallbladder. Gallbladder surgery can involve the risk of infection.
Mild acute pancreatitis often requires a short-term hospital stay while moderate cases require more extended hospitalization periods.
Treatments for Chronic Pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis often has more severe symptoms. For this reason, more extensive treatments may be required, including one or more of the following:
- IV fluids, which may cause high blood pressure, fluid retention, kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances and even heart failure.
- Pain medications, which may lead to constipation, drowsiness and nausea, and may be habit-forming.
- Dietary changes to a low-fat diet with easily absorbable proteins, which may result in weight loss.
- Dietary enzymes, which may cause upset stomach, gas, headaches, constipation, sore throats, cough, ear pain, heartburn and nosebleeds. If you have symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should call your doctor immediately.
- Abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. In some cases, quitting alcohol cold turkey can lead to withdrawal symptoms that can be severe or even fatal if you are not medically supervised.
- Insulin, if you get diabetes as a result of damage to the pancreas. The most common side effect of insulin is low blood sugar, which is indicated by extreme irritability, tremors, weakness, headaches, hunger, difficulty concentrating, sweating, and, in severe cases, can be fatal.
In some cases, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) can be used by physicians to view what’s going on in the bile and pancreatic ducts. It may be used to remove bile duct gallstones that may be causing blockages. The procedure combines x-rays with a gastrointestinal endoscopy to treat the pancreatic and bile ducts.
Chronic pancreatitis often requires intensive care treatment. The more you know about the condition, how doctors treat it and the steps you can take to avoid pancreatitis, the better your odds of receiving prompt medical attention and achieving a swift recovery will be.
Complementary Treatments for Pancreatitis
The National Pancreas Foundation recommends several complementary treatments to use in conjunction with medically prescribed treatments for pancreatitis, such as:
- Massage therapy
- Laughter therapy
- Physical exercise
For most people, these treatments do not have side effects.
Recent Developments in Pancreatitis Treatment
While there have been many developments in pancreatitis treatments, one advanced treatment offers favorable results using enteral nutrition with acute pancreatitis patients, even early in the course of the disease.
Enteral nutrition is sometimes called tube feeding because liquid nutrients are delivered to the GI (gastrointestinal) tract via a tube. This tube can be nasogastric — inserted through your nose and going into your stomach — or directly into your stomach through your skin.
See how medical marijuana could help relieve Pancreatitis symptoms. Find patient reviews on local marijuana doctors and information on treatment options.