Genetic Link May Tie Cannabis Use Disorder To Severe COVID-1
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The same genetic variations may boost susceptibility to both severe COVID-19 and cannabis use disorder (CUD), a new study suggests. The research does not confirm a genetic link, but the lead author said the signs of an association are still troubling. “Reducing cannabis use among heavy users may potentially provide protection against severe COVID-19 presentations,” Alexander S. Hatoum, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at Washington University, St. Louis, said in an interview.

“Outside of individual risk, these data also have important implications for policy regarding vaccination as well as treatment prioritization in an overly taxed medical system.” The team launched the study to gain insight into whether CUD might be a risk factor for severe COVID-19 presentations. As defined by the DSM-5, people with CUD suffer from impairment or distress because of their cannabis use and meet at least 2 of 11 criteria over a 12-month period, such as cravings, cannabis tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

According to a 2020 study that examined 2008-2016 data, 2.72% of children aged 12-17 showed signs of CUD, as did 1.23% of those aged over 26. The primary reasons for hospitalization and death related to COVID-19 are respiratory symptoms. “And we have observed that genetic vulnerability to CUD is shared with respiratory disease, even after tobacco use is considered,” Dr. Hatoum said.

They examined data from genomewide association studies and searched for genetic correlations between CUD (14,080 cases, 343,726 controls) and COVID-19 hospitalization (9,373 cases, 1,197,256 controls). “Genetic vulnerability to COVID-19 was correlated with genetic liability to CUD,” the researchers wrote. “This association remained when accounting for genetic liability to related risk factors and covariates.”

According to Dr. Hatoum, the researchers found inconclusive evidence that CUD might worsen COVID-19 cases. “We applied statistical causal models, which found an effect consistent with causality, but it was nonsignificant,” he said. Despite the absence of causality, the study findings could prove useful for clinicians and policy makers.

“Those struggling with CUD may be prioritized for vaccination and vaccination boosters to mitigate their higher likelihood of a severe COVID-19 presentation,” Dr. Hatoum said. “When testing positive for COVID-19, they may also be prioritized for earlier treatment.”