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article imageMarijuana use and transplants — Does this mean disqualification?

By Karen Graham     Apr 2, 2017 in Health
A rise in medical and recreational marijuana use has spurred a debate about organ transplantation, and it has resulted in some states changing their laws across the nation.
While there are many issues surrounding marijuana use, one that has become the center of debate across the nation is whether or not people needing organ transplants should be disqualified from eligibility based on their use of cannabis.
The debate was brought to light when the state of Maine told two patients, both needing a kidney, that because they used medical cannabis they would not be allowed to have a life-saving kidney transplant, reports the Marijuana Times.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of marijuana, while 28 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical conditions, despite the fact that marijuana is treated as a controlled substance, just like cocaine and heroin, under federal law, punishable by arrest and imprisonment.
Medicinal marijuana is gaining popularity to ease suffering from cancer  glaucoma  HIV or AIDS  Hepa...
Medicinal marijuana is gaining popularity to ease suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Hepatitis C, Parkinson's disease and other conditions
, AFP/File
State laws and marijuana use
Lawmakers in Maine have now proposed legislation that would prohibit hospitals from determining a patient’s suitability for transplantation solely on the basis of medical marijuana use. House Bill 544, proposed on March 2, 2017, would "prohibit the medical use of marijuana from being the sole disqualifying factor in determining a person’s suitability for receiving an anatomical gift."
Many people might ask, "What's the big deal?" It's actually quite simple. When someone has a debilitating disease or is in need of an organ transplant, quite often, the medications used to control their body's disease or failing organ are very powerful, weakening their immune system (the system that fights off infection).
The medical world takes this possibility very seriously. In the case of Maine's Transplant Program, they have a policy about marijuana use because two people who had transplants died as a result of an Aspergillosis fungal infection, Maine Medical Center spokesman Clay Holtzman said. Both patients had smoked marijuana, suggesting that might have been the cause of the infections.
“The thing that comes up with marijuana is the risk of pulmonary infections, (specifically) fungal infections with Aspergillosis,” said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing. In the meantime, researchers are feverishly working to better understand the possible health risks of marijuana use and transplants.
The bronchi of this resected lobe are markedly distended with mucous. This is a manifestation of all...
The bronchi of this resected lobe are markedly distended with mucous. This is a manifestation of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis.
Yale Rosen
It is a Catch-22 situation
You could also say it's a "darned if you do and darned if you don't" issue. There are few reliable studies on how many people awaiting a transplant use medical or recreational marijuana, and it's doubtful there are very many studies on the use of marijuana after a transplant. The studies would be very helpful, especially because of the anti-rejection drugs being used.
Deadly infections “can be an absolutely devastating complication but, you know, how often does that really happen? How likely is it? Those questions are less well understood,” Klassen said. “It’s a question of how much risk does that really impose versus the benefit that the patient potentially gets from getting the transplant.”
If Maine allows it's Marijuana use and Transplant Bill to pass, they will be joining six other states, including California, Washington, Illinois, Arizona, Delaware and New Hampshire, that have passed laws barring transplant programs from denying patients a organs based on their use of marijuana.
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