Cannabis use disorder is another COVID risk factor, study finds

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Should doctors take particular care to talk to patients about the potential dangers of COVID-19 if those patients have a problematic relationship with pot?

In a new study from Washington University in St. Louis, researchers suggest perhaps they should.

Diabetes, obesity and a history of smoking cigarettes are all considered risk factors for poorer COVID-19 outcomes.

Warnings and tailored information are targeted to people with these conditions, and doctors are acutely aware of the elevated risks they pose.

In the study, the team suggests cannabis use disorder (CUD) should be added to the list because the genetic predisposition to CUD is overrepresented in people with poor COVID-19 outcomes.

More work is needed to determine if there is direct causation.

They used genetic epidemiological models to determine that genetic predisposition to CUD is related to risk for a severe reaction to COVID-19 (i.e., being hospitalized with COVID-19).

They combined existing datasets to test whether being at higher genetic risk for cannabis use disorder was correlated to the risk of COVID hospitalization.

One set of data involved 357,806 people, including 14,080 with CUD; the other involved 1,206,629 people, including 9,373 who were hospitalized with COVID.

The team also looked at 7 million genetic variants to assess the association between CUD and severe COVID.

Having genetic variants does not mean a person has CUD or that the person has used cannabis.

In comparing people with the variants to their COVID outcomes, the researchers found genetic liability for CUD accounted for up to 40% of genetically influenced risk factors, such as body mass index (BMI) and diabetes, for a severe COVID-19 presentation.

This means a person’s genetic risk for cannabis use disorder is correlated with their risk for COVID-19.

This link suggested that heavy and problematic cannabis use may represent a modifiable pathway to minimize severe COVID-19 presentations.

The team says the results of this study point to two possible outcomes:

That a predisposition to CUD and severe COVID-19 are due to a common biological mechanism, like inflammatory conditions causing individuals to develop worse symptoms of COVID-19 and/or dependence on cannabis; or that they are associated because of a causal process.

The genetic link between CUD and COVID-19 severity was similar in size to genetic correlations between COVID-19 severity and BMI, a well-known risk factor for severe COVID-19 presentations.

The finding suggests it is possible that combating heavy and problematic cannabis use may help mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

If you care about cannabis, please read studies about most people using cannabis for pain relief have multiple withdrawal symptoms and findings of long-term study shows strong harms in regular cannabis use.

For more information about cannabis and your health, please see recent studies about cannabis provides pain relief for women with this health problem and results showing that cannabis could reduce blood pressure in older people.

The study is published in Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Access. One author of the study is Ryan Bogdan.

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