Study: Marijuana Does Not Cause Liver Disease Progression in HIV/HCV Patients

More good news for medical marijuana patients: a recent study found that marijuana use is not linked with the progression of liver disease in patients co-infected with hepatitis C and HIV.

The study, published in the July edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases,6.cover examined the effect of regular marijuana smoking on liver disease progression among subjects who were infected with both hepatitis C and HIV. Previous research had produced mixed results, with some studies claiming a “strong link” between marijuana consumption and liver disease. In contrast, this study found “no evidence for an association.” Researchers speculated that associations observed in previous studies were due to “reverse causation;” in other words, patients who already suffered from liver disease used increasing amounts of marijuana to cope with the pain as the symptoms worsened.

These findings debunk the long-held belief that marijuana use exacerbates liver damage, which gives us even more evidence that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol, in addition to being a relatively benign medicine.

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Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Activist and Cancer Patient Angel Raich Thrown Out of Hospital for Vaporizing Marijuana

Well, it doesn’t get much more despicable than this. Yesterday, a registered medical marijuana patient with terminal cancer was forced to leave UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco because she was using a vaporizer to ingest her medicine.

A spokesperson for the hospital claimed that use of the vaporizer violated their non-smoking policy. First of all, vaporizing is NOT smoking!

Then, the hospital claimed that even marijuana in vapor form can damage the lungs of other patients. I challenge the hospital to deliver evidence of this, especially considering that a recent study shows marijuana, even smoked marijuana, has little effect on long-term pulmonary function. To the best of my knowledge, there is no data showing any second-hand effects from vaporized marijuana.

This patient happened to be none other than Angel Raich, a long-time medical marijuana activist who battled the federal government in the U.S. Supreme Court for the right to use marijuana to treat the symptoms of her incurable brain tumor.

Marijuana is an accepted medicine in the state of California. For a state university hospital to threaten a terminally ill patient with arrest and federal prosecution, instead of making accommodations so that the patient could use her medicine, is inexcusable.

Just to give you another example of people being denied treatment simply because they use marijuana to treat their conditions, here is a video from our friends at Reason about a man who was taken off a kidney transplant list because he used a legal medicine that his doctor recommended.

What happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

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Medical Marijuana

Organ Transplant Centers Discriminate Against Medical Marijuana Patients

Doctors at Oregon’s two organ transplant centers will not provide organs to people who have marijuana compounds in their blood, even if they are legal medical marijuana patients, The Portland Tribune reports today.

This restriction has had dire consequences for patients like Jim Klahr, a Portland medical marijuana patient who suffers from hepatitis and cirrhosis, but hasn’t been able to take his medicine since 2004 because he’s on the waiting list for a liver transplant at Oregon Health and Science University and wants to remain eligible.

A director at OSHU defended such discrimination by saying medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that doctors are afraid of fungal infections in patients who use marijuana.

But those fears are baseless, says Stuart Youngner of Case Western Reserve University, a major transplant center. “This is unconscionable,” he told the Tribune,  “unless they have good medical evidence that there’s a significant risk to the transplant, (or) that it makes a recipient a poor steward of the organ.”

According to the Tribune:

“Years ago, Michigan surgeons discovered about 10 percent of transplant patients had marijuana compounds in their blood. The surgeons provided livers to many of the marijuana smokers anyway and then followed them post-surgery and found that they did as well as non-smoking patients.”

As it turns out, according to one of those surgeons, marijuana use does not matter all that much in organ transplants. What matters is how well the patient takes care of their body. This related 2009 Michigan study found that "patients who did and did not use marijuana had similar survival rates."

An official at one of the discriminating centers said he didn’t think such a harsh policy was costing lives -- but sadly he may be wrong. Two years ago in Washington state, 56-year-old Timothy Garon died after being denied a liver transplant. He had twice been denied the operation because he legally used doctor-approved medical marijuana to combat the symptoms of advanced hepatitis C.

Those Oregon centers need to understand that patients can’t be discriminated against because of their condition and the treatments that doctors find work best for them. More importantly, they need to end their senseless ban on transplants for medical marijuana patients before a similar tragedy occurs in Oregon, if it hasn’t already.

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