A Review of Cannabis in Chronic Kidney Disease Symptom Management
PURPOSE OF REVIEW:
Physical and psychological symptom burden in patients with advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) is significantly debilitating; yet, it is often inadequately treated. Legalization of cannabis in Canada may attract increasing interest from patients for its medical use in refractory symptom management, but its indications and long-term adverse health impacts are poorly established, creating a challenge for clinicians to support its use. In this review, we summarize key clinical studies and the level of evidence for nonsynthetic cannabinoids in the treatment of common symptoms encountered in advanced stages of CKD, including chronic pain, nausea and vomiting, anorexia, pruritus, and insomnia.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION:
Medline and Embase.
A search was conducted in MEDLINE and EMBASE (inception to March 1, 2018) on cannabis and CKD symptoms of interest, complemented with a manual review of bibliographies. Studies that examined synthetic cannabinoids that are manufactured to mimic the effects of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol such as dronabinol, levonantradol, nabilone, and ajulemic acid were excluded. We focused on studies with higher level of evidence where available, and quality of studies was graded based on the Oxford Centre for Evidence-based Medicine Levels of Evidence (1a to 5).
Based on studies conducted in patients without renal impairment, those treated with nonsynthetic cannabinoids were 43% to 300% more likely to report a ≥30% reduction in chronic neuropathic pain compared with placebo. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend nonsynthetic cannabinoids for other medical indications, although preliminary investigation into topical endocannabinoids for uremia-induced pruritus in end-stage renal disease is promising. Finally, any benefits of cannabis may be offset by potential harms in the form of cognitive impairment, increased risk of mortality post-myocardial infarction, orthostatic hypotension, respiratory irritation, and malignancies (with smoked cannabis).
Nonsynthetic cannabinoid preparations were highly variable between studies, sample sizes were small, and study durations were short. Due to an absence of studies conducted in CKD, recommendations were primarily extrapolated from the general population.
Until further studies are conducted, the role of nonsynthetic cannabinoids for symptom management in patients with CKD should be limited to the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain. Clinicians need to be cognizant that nonsynthetic cannabinoid preparations, particularly smoked cannabis, can pose significant health risks and these must be cautiously weighed against the limited substantiated therapeutic benefits of cannabis in patients with CKD.