Frequent Cannabis Use May Affect Spine Surgery Outcomes

In recent years, cannabis use has become more widespread as states make the use of this mild drug legal. The opinion of cannabis use may vary across the medical community but, one thing that most clinicians can agree on is that it is important to understand how marijuana may affect aging, health, and also clinical care. Here, we discuss the findings of recent research regarding marijuana use and spine surgery outcomes. 

Research published in Spine observed how heavy marijuana use before spine surgery might affect the likelihood of complications. After reviewing several cases, researchers concluded that frequent marijuana users had a higher number of physical compilations as well as increased financial burden. The researchers evaluated approximately 433,000 cases of spine surgery that took place across the country during a three-year period. Just under 2,500 patients were diagnosed as having cannabis use disorder, meaning that they continually used cannabis despite significant impairment to health and well-being. 

In the study, researchers compared the data of nearly 2,200 chronic cannabis users with patients who did not use cannabis but who shared similar demographics, comorbidities, and characteristics. Cases were analyzed for surgical complications and surgical outcomes. Study data revealed the following about cannabis users:

  • Three-times more likely to experience stroke or other neurological complications. 
  • Twice as likely to experience blood clots or respiratory complications. 
  • Fifty percent more likely to develop infection in the bloodstream.
  • Increased risk of heart attack. However, this was likely because cannabis users were also more likely to be tobacco-smokers, as well. 

One of the most interesting findings of the study was that cannabis users tended to need longer hospitalization than the control group. On average, they spent two more days in the hospital after surgery, incurring approximately $15,000 more in costs than the other group. 

The job of a medical doctor is not to advocate for or against marijuana. This is a personal choice that every patient must make for themselves. If we look at the findings of this study, we can see that complications were increased for patients who most likely smoked marijuana every day for a prolonged period. Because the legalization of marijuana in many states could lead to increased usage, it is important that patients inform their doctors of their habits so appropriate care can be provided before, during, and after surgery. 

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