Cannabis use could make COVID-19 breakthroughs more likely, study says. More data is needed.

A study found 7.8% of vaccinated people with cannabis use disorder came down with COVID-19, the highest rate in the study. - Ron Adar /
Ron Adar /
A study found 7.8% of vaccinated people with cannabis use disorder came down with COVID-19, the highest rate in the study.

Last week, a new study published in the World Psychiatry journal found that people diagnosed with substance abuse disorder had an elevated risk of getting COVID-19, despite being vaccinated.

The study, led by researchers at the National Institute of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, found so-called "breakthrough" infections occurred in about 3.6% of vaccinated people with substance abuse disorder, compared to 7% with substance abuse disorder and 7.8% with cannabis use disorder — the drug with the highest risk of a breakthrough.

"Patients with cannabis use disorder, who were younger and had less comorbidities than the other SUD subtypes, had higher risk for breakthrough infection even after they were matched for adverse socioeconomic determinants of health and comorbid medical conditions with non-SUD patients," the researchers wrote. "Additional variables, such as behavioral factors or adverse effects of cannabis on pulmonary and immune function, could contribute to the higher risk for breakthrough infection in this group." 

Groups like Americans Against Legalizing Marijuana were quick to seize on the study as evidence of why cannabis was dangerous.

"Nearly every day we have another study reinforcing the facts that marijuana use damages health and endangers life," AALM president Carla Lowe said in a statement. "Legislators need to oppose legalization or explain their support for legalization and expansion of this deadly industry in light of the scientifically proven harms."

However, others note that the study was narrowly focused on subjects with cannabis use disorder — not casual or medical marijuana users.

"This study is limited to people with 'substance use disorder' which is a very small subset of cannabis consumers," Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Newsweek. "This is merely correlation and does not show a causal relationship." Fox said that there could be other factors at play beyond cannabis abuse, including a lack of access to reliable information about COVID-19, or an increased risky behavior, like sharing joints.

Fox added, "Clearly more study is welcome and necessary, but it is important not to overstate or misrepresent the very inconclusive results presented in this particular research and ensure that cannabis consumers are accurately informed about what the newest research actually indicates."

This story first appeared in Detroit Metro Times, an affiliated publication.

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