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Medical Cannabis and Kidney Disease

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition that damages the kidneys and affects their ability to function correctly. According to the National Kidney Foundation, CKD affects 37 million adults in the United States. CKD can lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life.

There are several causes of CKD, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and inflammation. Symptoms of CKD include fatigue, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, and urinary changes. These negative body responses show why it's easy to see why some assume medical cannabis and chronic kidney disease have a connection.

What Does the Research Show?

Researchers are still exploring the relationship between medical cannabis and chronic kidney disease. Most statements involve specific symptom relief. However, one study in 2017 reviews cannabinoids for CKD and suggests the cannabinoid's interactions with the ECS and cannabinoid receptors have the potential to slow the disease's progression and improve renal function. This is a significant report, but we still need more research in this area.

Medical Cannabis and Pain

A small 2022 study in Canada recording responses from nephrologists (these are the doctors who specialize in kidney care) shows that 10% prescribed cannabis for chronic pain with kidney disease.

An earlier study in 2019 found patients with advanced CKD using cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in neuropathic pain. The researcher's concern with medical cannabis and CKD relates to smoking the compounds because all smoke is risky. Patients can avoid this problem using other methods, such as tinctures, edibles, and capsules.

Patients with chronic kidney disease typically must avoid non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications (NSAIDs).  Alternative methods for pain management in patients with CKD are necessary in these clinical scenarios.

Cannabis and Appetite

People with end-stage renal disease often have a poor appetite. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Many studies report that THC, a compound in cannabis, can increase appetite. One of the first medical uses approved in California was for appetite stimulation for patients with HIV and those undergoing cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radiation.

Medical Cannabis Use and Kidney Transplant

Despite the advances in medical cannabis and chronic kidney disease, the plant is still federally illegal. Patients can lose their spot on the transplant list for using it. We advise you to speak with your transplant team before using medical cannabis to maintain your position on the list.

Should I Use Medical Cannabis for Kidney Disease?

The decision to use medical cannabis for chronic kidney disease is personal. We advise you to speak with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits. You should also consult your state's laws to see if medical cannabis is an option for you.

If you have any questions, please contact the renal specialists at Kidney360 at 713-352-0903 or book an appointment online today.

Uday Khosla, MD Uday Khosla, MD Uday M. Khosla, MD, is board certified in nephrology and hypertension and has served as a Houston kidney consultant since 2004. He currently practices as a renal specialist at Kidney360 - a nephrology practice located in Houston, TX serving the greater Katy, Sugar Land, Channelview, Pearland, Montrose, Downtown Houston, and Spring areas. Dr. Khosla is available as a kidney consultant in various settings, including in-hospital, outpatient clinics, outpatient dialysis, and home care.

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