A caution about self-medication for kidney patients
Glance at any dialysis discussion board and you’ll find many questions about dietary supplements and alternative drugs, including medical marijuana. While seeking out information is an important part of being empowered to fight kidney disease, the internet is full of doubtful claims and outright false information. Separating fact from fiction—and understanding that supplements and alternative drugs can interact with prescribed drugs or cause harm in other ways—is especially important for kidney patients.
During the American Society of Nephrology’s Kidney Week conference in October, researchers shared their findings from a recent study on marijuana (or cannabis) use and its effects on kidneys. The research was led by a team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who studied kidney disease progression in cannabis users. They found that chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients’ kidney function declined faster in those who used cannabis, compared to those who did not.
Joshua L. Rein, DO, who led the study, told Healio’s Nephrology News & Issues that kidney patients who may be using cannabis should be aware of potential effects on their kidneys. He said some patients may be using it to treat some of the symptoms of their kidney disease, explaining, “Patients with kidney disease experience significant symptom burden.” And symptoms, such as nausea, lack of appetite and chronic pain, “are all valid issues for medical marijuana usage.”
The study did not show cannabis to cause kidney disease, or a decrease in kidney function in people who do not already have CKD. Rein believes additional research into the effects of cannabis on CKD patients and kidney health in general is needed.
Kidney patients should discuss all the supplements and drugs they are taking with their doctors and members of their care team. A prescriber of medical cannabis is likely not a nephrologist and may not be familiar with recent research on CKD and marijuana. Legal recreational cannabis does not require a doctor’s prescription or approval at all, but it’s still important for doctors to know their patients are using the drug. You can find helpful information on how to more effectively communicate with your doctors by watching our Tips for talking with your doctor webinar on our website.
A growing number of states are legalizing medical marijuana, and some have made it legal for recreational use. But just because a drug is legal, that does not make it safe, or a good idea, for kidney patients.