Newswise — The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces enzymes and hormones that help with digestion and blood-sugar regulation. Both heavy drinking and gallstones can cause an inflamed pancreas, called pancreatitis, which is associated with significant illness and, in about 10% of cases, death. The recent use of cannabis to manage the development of pancreatitis and its progression has yielded conflicting results. This study assessed the impact of cannabis use on both acute (sudden onset) and chronic (persistent) pancreatitis.

Researchers accessed the National Inpatient Sample database to collect and analyze patient-discharge records from 2012 – 2014 for more than 18 million individuals 18 years of age and older. The World Health Organization’s ninth revision of the International Classification of Diseases was used to identify three populations: those with gallstones (379,125); individuals with alcohol use disorder (762,356); and those with no gallstones/non-alcohol users (15,255,464). The study populations were compared with respect to cannabis use.

Cannabis use appeared to reduce the risk of developing alcohol-related acute and chronic pancreatitis. Conversely, cannabis use did not appear to have an impact on the risk of developing gallstone-related acute and chronic pancreatitis. The authors speculated that cannabis might be interacting with alcohol in the pancreas in unknown ways. Given the worldwide increase in the legalization of cannabis, the authors called for more detailed studies on potential therapeutic benefits that various cannabinoids – the active ingredients found in cannabis – may offer for diseases such as pancreatitis.

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research