Once upon a time, a human organ transplant was the stuff of science fiction. Today, it is an accepted miracle of modern medicine. When it comes to this subject however, marijuana use can kill you.
While the science has advanced at a rapid pace, the ethical challenge of deciding who can be eligible for organs and who to prioritize remains a challenge. Despite the fact that demand for lungs outpaces supply, cannabis smokers are often discounted as potential donors in a way that threatens the lives of patients.
In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services develops requirements for the nation’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. When it comes to lung transplants, donors are evaluated based on age, smoking history and other criteria created more than 30 years ago.
Over a six-year period 302 subjects were examined, comparing the outcomes of those who received donated lungs from cannabis smokers versus non cannabis smokers. Variables, including 1 and 3 year survival ratings, were comparable between the two groups. A history of smoking cannabis didn’t seem to affect the outcomes. People were being saved regardless.
Cannabis smokers are often disqualified to participate both as lung donors and recipients. They have been considered a greater risk because of a higher prevalence of developing lung infections. Because cannabis has long been the most commonly used illicit drug, this both reduces the potential pool of donors and people who may be helped.
Prejudice is not a new to the organ donation process. HIV was once widely regarded as a disqualifier for a patient seeking a transplant. Times changed and medicine improved. People with HIV began not just surviving longer but living and thriving. As a result, attitudes and restrictions changed and relaxed.
There are signs of shifting perceptions when it comes to other organs. A survey of doctors, surgeons and other heart transplant specialists from 26 countries found that 64.4 percent believed a patient using medical marijuana should not be disqualified for this single reason. Only 27.5 percent, supported allowing recreational marijuana users from being eligible donors.
Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington have laws that prohibit discrimination of organ transplant candidates based on authorized medical marijuana use. Recreational marijuana use does not have the same legal support and protection when it comes to organ transplants.
Researchers have concluded that expanding the donor pool could save more people. After all, one statistic is very clear: Those who received lungs from donors not considered to be prime candidates survived longer than those who failed to be matched and receive new lungs. To allow prejudice to rule over science is never a good answer, particularly when lives are at stake.