Conference Coverage

Marijuana, drug use a mystery in IBD



– As more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana and cannabinoid products, and as evidence shows that up to 40% of patients with inflammatory bowel disease may be users, their gastroenterologists and other medical providers may be failing to even ask if they’re using, let alone talk to them about how it could impact their disease, according to a study of a hospital population in Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal.

Scott Baumgartner of George Washington University, Washington

Scott Baumgartner

The single-center, chart-review study at George Washington University found that providers noted they inquired about marijuana/CBD use in fewer than half of encounters with IBD patients – 47.8% to be precise – and that 4.9% of charts actually noted patients were users, according to a poster at the annual congress of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association.

“This study acknowledges the growth of recreational and medical marijuana use as well as CBD products,” said poster presenter Scott Baumgartner, PA, a fourth-year medical student. “Understanding that because there’s increased legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, our patients may be using them at increased rates. But are we asking them?”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states as well as Washington, which legalized recreational pot in 2014, and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. The prevalence of cannabis use in patients with IBD has been reported at 15%-40% (Gastroenterol Hepatol [NY]. 2016;12:668-79).

The study consisted of a retrospective review of 381 charts of patients with IBD. Of the 19 charts that noted marijuana/CBD use, only 2 noted a prescription for medical purposes, although 4 noted IBD symptoms as the reason for use. Three charts noted recreational use and 12 gave no reason.

Mr. Baumgartner noted that it’s important gastroenterologists and other providers ask about marijuana/CBD use in their patients because of the inconclusive evidence about how it affects the disease (Dig Dis Sci. 2019;64:2696-8). “If you’re using marijuana for an IBD such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis because you think it’s relieving your symptoms, does it actually work in your long-term course?” he asked. “Does it relieve some symptoms but make other disease manifestations worse. We need more research in that area.”

The takeaway of the study: “We need to do a better job of asking whether or not patients are using recreational drugs,” Mr. Baumgartner said. “And if they are using recreational drugs, what recreational drugs they are using, because it could have a big impact on the outcome of their disease.”

The next steps for this research, Mr. Baumgartner said, is to focus on the specific questions providers are asking about their patients’ marijuana and recreational drug use and how they’re documenting those responses. “Once we see that, we could consider looking at a cohort of patients who are using and see if they are reporting symptom relief, or if we are seeing disease remission, or not,” Mr. Baumgartner said.

Mr. Baumgartner has no financial relationships to disclose.

SOURCE: Baumgartner S et al. Crohn’s & Colitis Congress 2020. 2020 Jan 23. Poster 011.

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