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Kidney Transplants and Cannabis

A surgeon in blue scrubs handles a red box with an orgran ready for transplant, but only for those who do not smoke cannabis.

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Kidney Transplants and Cannabis

The New York Times recently reported that the national transplant list now contains more than 100,000 people waiting for kidneys. They noted that although the need for such donations has increased, the number of donations has stayed the same. The author points out the cruelty in denying organs to sick people and concludes that paying donors would help remedy the situation.

But, there is another group of sick people who are cruelly denied transplants, people who are in fact not even allowed on a transplant list: people who use marijuana.

This is the rule in the VA system, as well as the majority of transplant programs. Fortunately, that rule appears to be changing, along with the passage of medical marijuana laws around the U.S. Some transplant centers, such as Oregon Health Science University, have modified their criteria related to cannabis use.

According to an Oregonian report in 2012, if an otherwise qualified candidate has a single negative screen for marijuana, he or she would be allowed on the waiting list. However, patients who don’t want to be disqualified from obtaining a transplant would be prudent not to use even medical marijuana, other than topically, since what is really being said is that two positive screens will eliminate them as candidates.

Why would someone with end stage renal disease (ESRD) use marijuana?

Some of the symptoms of ESRD are specifically addressed by medical marijuana laws and are known to be successfully treated with cannabis. These include appetite loss, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, headaches and sleep problems. Most physicians acknowledge that cannabis can improve appetite, thereby helping to prevent weight loss. The same is true for nausea and vomiting. Cannabis also can help decrease pain, prevent insomnia and even improve one’s attitude—a helpful effect for someone with a chronic illness.

How could marijuana be harmful to a patient with ESRD?

In a case report in the journal Transplant, one individual who smoked marijuana developed invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (a lung infection caused by the fungus aspergillus) after a kidney transplant. The authors recommended that patients be prohibited from using marijuana during periods of high steroid use, but that begs the question of whether there is any harm in post-transplant patients using cannabis orally.

Another study showed that patients with chronic Hepatitis C were more prone to develop fatty liver with daily cannabis smoking. Again, this is a small group — not kidney transplant patients— and the risk was found only with dailycannabis smoking, not with other methods.

The use of marijuana  as a singular criterion for denial of a transplant is not justified by any sort of medical rationale. It is not known yet whether use or overuse of cannabis increases risks with a kidney transplant the way that tobacco abuse or obesity do, yet these conditions are not absolute disqualifiers.

Do you know someone who has been disqualified from a transplant or other medical necessity because of cannabis use? Tell us in the comments below.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Michael Wrigley

    June 1, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I turned down a kidney a few days ago because I have been smoking regularly. Pretty sure they would not have proceeded after a blood test. Now I’m on hold to get myself clean and financially ready, but I know it’s not long now

  2. Junior

    December 6, 2016 at 4:21 am

    Simple answer : DO NOT DISCLOSE to transplant centre in USA. Disclosing will only end in tears. Some tx centres in California will allow MMJ use (does not disqualify).

    • Nick

      January 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      My name is nickalus Mainor ,and I have been because I use mmj. .

  3. rOCKY

    June 19, 2016 at 11:21 am

    denyed 🙁

  4. rOCKY

    June 19, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I WAS JUST APPOVED AS A PATIENT FOR TRANSPLANT,AFTER 2 YEARS OF WORKING OUT TO GET HEALTHY ENOUGH TO UNDER GO TRANSPLANT NOW WONT APPROVE IT CUZ WEED GOT ME TO THE POINT OF GOOD HEALTH,nOW SENT ME A LETTER DENYING ME OF A KIDNEY CUZ OF MARAJAUNA,nOW I STOPPED HEART CONJESTION IS DROWNDING ME,PAIN IS OURAGIOUS,NO APPITIE,WATER NOW SWELLING ME UP,NO ENERGY TO GO TO GYM,ALL DAILY FUNCTION HAVE HAULTED,NOW SEDENTARY ONCE MORE,ITS EVEN LEGAL HERE IN WASHINGTON STATE

  5. omar morales

    April 14, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    25 year old from Chicago who needs a kidney. I’ve been denied from a couple of the “best transplant centers in the Midwest” for medical marijuana use. Without marijuana I really can’t keep my food down and I just lose so much weight. currently joing a transplant center in Des Moines and of course I’ve been told the only way one is to quit marijuana. Any suggestions? Thanks for the help

  6. alrotundo

    March 31, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    My ex-wife needs a kidney. Swell guy that I am, I’m trying to give her one. Will my marijuana use keep me from donating?

  7. AZoinko

    February 8, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    They don’t want you using cannabis because they want you taking their medicines. Not that Cannabis is bad for you. It’s just a way for them to make you quit using it.

  8. Mary

    August 19, 2015 at 2:27 am

    I smoke one small bong hit at night. And I’m donating a kidney next month. Is this ok? I really don’t want to stop cause it helps me sleep. Is this ok?

  9. Monica

    July 20, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    My story is much like this except I’ve never had a positive drug test for cannabis. My biggest mistake was that I had a consultation from a doc. That suggested the use of med. cannabis, but when I simply asked the transplant team what their opinion was on this topic, they made it clear that it was NOT excepted! I only asked because I wanted another doc. opinion…nothing more. I never smoked it! I’ve never eaten it! I don’t even drink alcohol! But 2 months later I recieved a letter in the mail that I was denied to be put on the kidney list. The reason stated to first stop using cannabis use, & that there would be 6 months of random drug testing. If I was to get a call to go to the lab & I couldn’t make it that day, it’s considered a positive result. I called the transplant team and explained to them that there was a simple misunderstanding…. I told the team that I would head to the clinic THAT DAY and take a urine test, blood, or even a hair follicle test. I’m 37 years old. I have a beautiful little boy that looks up at me and asks me, “Are all mommas sick?” I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. When she said six months I screamed. I DONT HAVE 6 MONTHS!!!! I have tubes hanging out of my chest, I can’t even bath the way I us to b/c the risk of infection & I feel completely hopeless. So now it’s been 4 months and all the test have been negative but still I’m not eligible. I have a family member that has done all the testing & work up on him, but still we can’t move forward
    Please someone tell me how is this not malpractice!

    • Erin

      October 3, 2015 at 12:02 am

      Monica, Where do you live? Is there another transplant program/ hospital anywhere nearby. I suggest you take your business elsewhere. You can be evaluated at more than one transplant center. Just don’t mention the pot stuff at the next place. Good luck. I just got my third tranplant on Sept 2. You will get there. Prayers.

  10. michael

    January 31, 2015 at 3:36 am

    I too was denied to be put on a transplant list due to my mmj use. Good Samaritans Hospital wanted me to jump through hoops to get on a list. I could not stop using due to constant weight loss, nausea, and headaches. So I called the Mayo Clinic and was told that mmj was not a problem. 2 weeks later Iwas placed on the list. 7 years later iI finally got the kidney I desperately needed. Asking my dr.’s about mmj they all told me it was not recommended due to there not being enough info and studies. I do not plan on smoking, only oral ingestion. Still I am cconcerned about the unknown. I live in a mmj state and will consult a few mmj doctors for more info.

  11. Bob

    November 23, 2014 at 2:38 am

    Maybe we need to allow kidneys to be sold on an open market. More lives would be saved if properly regulated.

    • michael

      January 31, 2015 at 3:40 am

      And deny people organs because they don’t have a large enough bank account?? That is some bs right there. If that was the case I would have taken my life years ago knowing that I would die from this anyways.

  12. Brian fogg

    September 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

    I am a male, 49, diagnosed with esrd in 2003 at age 37. I was on dialysis until 2007 when I received my kidney transplant. I used cannabis to treat nausea,vomitting, appetite stimulation,insomnia, cramping, migraines, back pain. But because I lived in Tulsa Oklahoma at the time, not a mmj state, I said nothing.
    Then I was placed on 13 separate medications, steroids, anti rejection meds to suppress my immune system into not rejecting the transplanted kidney.
    Five years was enough of taking these cancer causing anti rejection meds and steroids. I moved to Washington state in 2008 for mmj authorization Because I found that taking cannabis oil suppresses my immune system without ANY COMPLICATIONS to my health or kidney transplant. I have current medical lab tests that confirm my kidney transplant is functioning 100% after being Rx free for thirteen month’s.
    I do not even take asprin to this day.
    Research I found before I stopped my transplant medicine.
    http://blog.sfgate.com/smellthetruth/2013/11/19/weed-may-reduce-organ-transplant-rejection/

  13. anrwan

    September 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I am 17 years old and I have had a kidney transplant. I had my new kidney since I was 14, I have been smoking weed since I was in 9th grade daily and I have had no problem with my new kidney I take my meds while I’m high and every thing. NOTHING BAD AS HAPPEN TO ME ALL MY TEST RESULTS ARE GOOD MY KIDNEY FUNCTION IS PERFECT!!I love Smoking weed it helps me alot because most of the time I want to kill myself to be honest…But When I’m High I love life I see every thing in a different light every thing makes sense I see the little things but nobody understands

    • danibear

      May 12, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Hi I’m 23 years old and I’ve been on dialysis for 3 years and 5 months I was wondering if it would work for me?

      • melissa bills

        June 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm

        yeah you can, go for it.

        -20 yr old post kidney transplant ( 7 months since transplant )

        LOVING POT

    • JD Flores

      November 26, 2015 at 11:51 am

      I enjoyed your story, and I will tell you that I understand. Mental will and faith in a higher power will allow you to overcome.

      • JD Flores

        November 26, 2015 at 11:52 am

        And weed lol.

    • Kevin

      February 29, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      I understand completely!! But suicide is not the answer. Trust me. I’ve tried twice and watched my wife die in my arms because of suicide. I have a new kidney two months old. I’m dying to smoke out!!! But all that the doctors said has me scared. But I’m almost ready to spark up again

      • Tom schwaesdall

        September 10, 2017 at 3:37 pm

        Have you been smoking lately. ..I am 6 weeks post transplant. ..I want to smoke again. ..

    • Sara Kelly

      February 23, 2018 at 8:29 am

      Hello. Did you tac level ever go down after smoking. All my levels are great they just told me to add one more tac. I am only a week out of getting my kidney lol. So I figured I’m still in the early changes of medicine dosages and what not. They said they change often because sometimes they just need too. If you could let me know that be great!

    • Amy

      April 16, 2018 at 11:04 am

      That’s sad that you have to get high to live life. So many people are on deaths door and wish they could have the chance to have a miracle kidney like you! I pray you realize how blessed you are and quit drugs and enjoy the wonderful life God gave you

      • keith fowler

        November 23, 2018 at 5:38 pm

        Are you in ESRD? You dont have any right to tell anyone what to do with their body. PLEASE LEAVE US ALONE. GO PREACH TO SOMEONE ELSE!!!!THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT

  14. Andrea Norris

    June 1, 2014 at 9:09 am

    I have had 3 kidney transplants in the last 20 years my last 6 months ago and was told each time that I would be drug tested every so often and would be pulled off the list if tested positive to cannabis. Could have used it whlie on the list as I was pretty sick. Not sure what the difference is between Pain killers and cannabis other than one is legal and one is not.

  15. Thabit Bey

    May 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Yes I know someone who was denied being put on the transplant list because of cannabis smoking. That person would be myself. I was denied for two reasons. One reason was denied was the transplant team said I didn’t have a strong enough support system. The other reason I was denied was my cannabis smoking and this was in Charlotte, North Carolina. So after being denied in Charlotte I went to (guess where) Denver, Colorado. I was denied in Denver too, but for one reason they also said I didn’t have a strong enough support system. As a result of Denver’s decision they made a deal with me. They said if I move to Denver they would put me on the transplant list. So(guess what) I am moving to Denver. It just seems like the right thing to do. I know very little about Denver so if anybody can tell me more about Denver my ears and eyes are open. I really need to know where are the cheap apartments in Denver. I plan to move to Denver in October 2014.

    • bunker

      April 24, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Im in the exact same situation i live in Charleston SC. I lived in Denver love it and i plan on moving back as well for the same reasons.

  16. G . Man

    May 13, 2014 at 11:12 am

    . So if the donators smoke that stuff , does that mean they can not donate the smokers organs ?
    Guess It will just make sense for smokers to leave their organs to other smokers then and not Donate openly . !!! That would be fair , [Along with the provision that these smokers organs do not get put in any Federal , or state or medical professions family’s body ] Seems fair

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