Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto have found that two synthetic cannabinoids available on prescription are linked to an increased risk of death and hospitalization in older patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
For the study, the researchers looked at data from over 4,000 people with COPD in Ontario aged over 66 between 2006 and 2016. The patients were divided into two groups. One group used dronabinol or nabilone, synthetic cannabinoids with a similar chemical structure to THC often prescribed to treat COPD symptoms such as pain, difficulties falling asleep, and breathlessness. Meanwhile, the other group did not use these cannabinoids.
In the end, the researchers found that while patients who used either cannabinoid were no more likely to be hospitalized for COPD or pneumonia than those in the other group, they were more likely to die of any cause. This was especially true for those who received high doses. All in all, these patients were 178% more likely to be hospitalized for COPD and pneumonia and 231% more likely to die of any cause.
“Our study results do not mean that cannabinoid drugs should be never used among older adults with COPD,” says Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, lead author of the study. “Rather, our findings should be incorporated by patients and physicians into prescribing decision-making.”
While the researchers say that their findings show a negative association between older adults with COPD and synthetic cannabinoids, further research is needed to confirm their results. Nevertheless, as older adults are increasingly using cannabinoid-based drugs to treat COPD, the researchers say care should be taken when prescribing the drugs and for patients and physicians alike to have a clear understanding of their potential side effects.