Are Lungs of Cannabis Smokers Good to Donate?

Emily Robertson July 25, 2018 0 comments

There’s a real shortage of organs in the donor pool. While it may be a noble act to become a donor, can smokers donate organs?

According to the American transplant organization, one hundred and fourteen thousand people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Basically, that’s one person added to the list every ten minutes. And out of those, twenty will die every day due to a lack of supply. These deaths can be prevented – however, if more people sign up to be organ donors. Nowadays, research is widening the list of those fit to donate – but some lifestyle choices (tobacco smoking, for example) prohibit people from donating. So what about the organs of cannabis smokers – are they good to donate?

Nor is the issue only limited to the US. Things aren’t much better in the UK, where statistics reveal that four hundred and nine patients died while awaiting an organ transplant throughout 2018 and 2019.

The traditional take on matters of organ donation was that tobacco smokers can’t donate organs. But truth be told, they can, and often do. The waiting list stats are the reason. With such a huge demand for organs, those in need take what’s going. So while the organs of a tobacco smoker may not be everyone’s first choice, how do the organs of a cannabis consumer compare?

Can Smokers Donate Organs?

Several studies exist documenting the success rates of organ transplants that originated from cannabis consumers, and the findings are positive overall.

Kidneys

A study published in the Clinical Kidney Journal (2019) retrospectively reviewed transplants performed between January 2000 and May 2016. Of the two hundred and thirty kidney donors involved in the study, twenty-seven were cannabis consumers. Researchers claimed that “there was no difference in donor or recipient perioperative characteristics or postoperative outcomes” based upon donor cannabis usage. [1]David Ruckle, Mohamed Keheila, Benjamin West, Pedro Baron, Rafael Villicana, Braden Mattison, Alex Thomas, Jerry Thomas, Michael De Vera, Arputharaj Kore, Philip Wai, D Duane Baldwin, Should donors … Continue reading

Altogether, the researchers note that the inclusion of individuals with a history of cannabis use also add to a depleted donor pool, and as they yield acceptable outcomes, cannabis consumption should not prevent someone from donating a kidney.

Liver

A study published in the Journal of the Transplantation Society (2018) investigated the effects of cannabis on liver transplant outcomes. The study involved eight hundred and eighty-four adults, of which forty-eight percent were cannabis consumers. Researchers noted no decline in success rates among the livers donated by cannabis consumers. But, the researchers did point out out that this was not the case with other illicit drug use, which associates with a higher risk of death or delisting. [2]Xu, David & Hartman, Deanna & Ludrosky, Kristen & Campbell, James & Starling, Randall & Taylor, David & Smedira, Nicholas & Gonzalez-Stawinski, Gonzalo. (2010). Impact of … Continue reading

heart squeeze toy being passed from hand to hand representing the organs of cannabis smokers which are good to donate

Heart

A study published in the Official Journal of the Transplantation Society (2010) quantified success rates of heart transplants by taking into account the social behavioral patterns among donors. Moreover, the researchers attempted to assess the effects these behavioral patterns have on recipient survival in cardiac transplantation. But, regarding cannabis consumption among donors, researchers found no difference in survival rates between recipients who received a heart from a cannabis consumer compared to a non-cannabis consumer. [3]Neyer, Jonathan & Uberoi, Abhimanyu & Hamilton, Michele & Kobashigawa, Jon. (2016). Marijuana and Listing for Heart Transplant CLINICAL PERSPECTIVE: A Survey of Transplant Providers. … Continue reading

Lungs

Lung donations from smokers are perhaps the most contentious issue that arises from the entire debate. With tobacco smoking, the answer seems self-evident. It’s a no – tobacco smokers cannot donate their organs because of the way the substance damages them. But what does the science say about how fit the lungs of a cannabis smoker are for donation?

A study in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (2017) analyzed the outcome of lung transplants provided by cannabis smokers at Harefield Hospital in London. Researchers retrospectively analyzed and compared the results of lung transplants from January 2007 to November 2013 between non-smokers and cannabis smokers alike.

Although the sample size of cannabis smokers was small (at nineteen out of three hundred and two subjects), researchers still concluded that a “history of donor cannabis smoking does not appear to affect early and mid-term outcomes.” They also noted how it improves the donor pool before stating that cannabis smoking shouldn’t be a “contraindication for lung donation.” [4]Mohite, P.N., Zeriouh, M., Sáez, D.G., Popov, A., Sabashnikov, A., Zych, B., Padukone, A., Fazekas, L., Ananiadou, O., Robertis, F.D., Soresi, S., Reed, A., Carby, M.R., & Simon, A.R. (2017). … Continue reading

Woman holding out a card that says organ donor to entice a transplant, maybe even from a cannabis smoker

Can Transplant Patients Use Cannabis?

Cannabis consumption among donors doesn’t seem detrimental. However, doctors do seem to be united in discouraging cannabis use among transplant recipients.

In the US, two organizations oversee organ donation: The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Transplant patients must comply with strict requirements, something that affects cannabis consumers more than others. Further, many transplant programs in the US treat cannabis just as they treat tobacco. Organ recipients often must refrain from cannabis consumption at least for a period. Even living donors must refrain from consumption for 30 days.

What worries many doctors are the possible interactions between cannabis and immunosuppressant drugs used post-transplant. Moreover, given the fact that transplant patients often have compromised immune systems, the risk of infection may be greater.

Smokers Can Donate Organs

For any cannabis consumers considering organ donation, the news is good. Scientific studies don’t back up the idea that cannabis consumers can’t donate their organs. And given the current statistics, that’s no bad thing. There are many in need, and organ donation is an important and charitable act that greatly benefits those less fortunate. However, it is important that transplant recipients check with their doctor before consuming cannabis – as it may affect them differently (and negatively) due to their immunosuppressant drugs.

So consider registering as an organ donor today – you might just save lives.

References

1David Ruckle, Mohamed Keheila, Benjamin West, Pedro Baron, Rafael Villicana, Braden Mattison, Alex Thomas, Jerry Thomas, Michael De Vera, Arputharaj Kore, Philip Wai, D Duane Baldwin, Should donors who have used marijuana be considered candidates for living kidney donation?, Clinical Kidney Journal, Volume 12, Issue 3, June 2019, Pages 437–442, https://doi.org/10.1093/ckj/sfy107
2Xu, David & Hartman, Deanna & Ludrosky, Kristen & Campbell, James & Starling, Randall & Taylor, David & Smedira, Nicholas & Gonzalez-Stawinski, Gonzalo. (2010). Impact of Donor High-Risk Social Behaviors on Recipient Survival in Cardiac Transplantation. Transplantation. 89. 873-8. 10.1097/TP.0b013e3181ca56e0.
3Neyer, Jonathan & Uberoi, Abhimanyu & Hamilton, Michele & Kobashigawa, Jon. (2016). Marijuana and Listing for Heart Transplant CLINICAL PERSPECTIVE: A Survey of Transplant Providers. Circulation: Heart Failure. 9. e002851. 10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.115.002851.
4Mohite, P.N., Zeriouh, M., Sáez, D.G., Popov, A., Sabashnikov, A., Zych, B., Padukone, A., Fazekas, L., Ananiadou, O., Robertis, F.D., Soresi, S., Reed, A., Carby, M.R., & Simon, A.R. (2017). Influence of history of cannabis smoking in selected donors on the outcomes of lung transplantation. European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, 51, 142–147.
Author avatar

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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