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Connection Between Covid and Cannabis Use Disorder ‘Tenuous At Best,’ Says Dr. Ian Mitchell

Dr. Ian Mitchell, an ER physician based in Kamloops who comments on cannabis issues, cuts right to the point of discussion about recent research on cannabis use disorder and Covid: “What people actually want to know,” he says, “is: ‘If I use cannabis, does that put me at greater risk for Covid?’”

He’s talking about a report published this summer in Biological Psychiatry Global Open Science, in which researchers at Washington University in St. Louis explored the genetic relationship between Covid outcomes and cannabis use disorder (CUD), which is a heritable condition genetically correlated with respiratory disease.

Do CUD and Poor Covid Outcomes Share A Genetic Connection?

The study of 14,080 CUD patients and 9,373 patients hospitalized for coronavirus found that “Problematic cannabis use and vulnerability to serious Covid complications share genetic underpinnings that are unique from common correlates. […] Curbing excessive cannabis use may mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”

As for Mitchell’s inquiry as to whether using cannabis places someone at a greater risk for Covid, he says, “This research doesn’t answer that question at all.”

At the heart of the problem, Mitchell says, is the genetic connection the research explored between CUD and poorer Covid outcomes. Mitchell calls the connection tenuous at best, but moreover he questions the relevance of a genetic connection to discussions about coronavirus outcomes.

“If I’m someone who has these genetics, do I get myself tested?” he wonders. “Does that make a difference? Should I stay further away from cannabis than I do right now? I don’t know how this information is helpful for people.”

In a stark contrast, Mitchell notes that there are more papers (he specifies these are “bad papers […] terrible studies”) that purport to study the effects of ivermectin on Covid patients in India than there have been studies considering the relationship between cannabis and Covid outcomes.

“But at least [the ivermectin researchers are] doing the study,” he says, “giving the medication to people and seeing what the result is—versus this research, in which they’re doing a lot of surmising about what’s going on.”

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Researchers were looking for the genetic inclination for CUD in populations where not everybody is actually using cannabis, Mitchell points out. In countries like China, where cannabis prohibition is so aggressive that people caught smoking it can spend up to two weeks in jail, as well as many areas of Africa and India, there are millions of people with the same genetic susceptibility to CUD who have never consumed cannabis.

Canada Could Be A Good Place For Better Research on Covid and Cannabis

Nonetheless, Mitchell notes that Canada is a strong location for a more precise investigation of connections between cannabis use and coronavirus, since legalization means patients are far more likely to be up front with ER nurses and doctors about their cannabis use.

“People are much more open about talking about [cannabis use],” he says. “This is something we ask about in triage and expect to get a proper answer, as opposed to places where it’s illegal, or still frowned upon.”

As part of the National Canadian Emergency Medicine Database for Covid, Mitchell says he and other Canadian physicians associated with the database are in a position to collect better statistics on cannabis and Covid.

“[Legalization] makes it the right setting to get good information about who’s using cannabis and whether that affects their rate of hospitalization, or how sick they get once they get hospitalized,” says Mitchell. “I haven’t seen anything like that in the literature.”

It wouldn’t be especially difficult to pore over the database for one substance and chart the outcomes associated with it, Mitchell says. “It might even be something I end up doing myself.”