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Jun 16, 2021 4 min read

Kidney Stones and Cannabis

author
by Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD.
Medically reviewed by Roni Sharon, MD
Sponsored by

Overview

While there hasn’t been much research looking at cannabis as a treatment for kidney stones, anecdotal reports from patients and research on other conditions suggests that cannabis may be able to help. We know that cannabis can help with pain, a main symptom of
kidney stones.

In addition, alterations in endocannabinoid system activity occur in kidney dysfunction, and this has led some researchers to suggest modulating the endocannabinoid system could be a treatment for kidney disease.

Unfortunately without more research, it is difficult to say whether cannabis can help beyond pain relief.

How cannabis affects kidney stones

There isn’t much research looking at how cannabis impacts kidney stones, but there is some science suggesting that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in kidney function and homeostasis. In addition, numerous studies have demonstrated ways in which alterations to the endocannabinoid system are linked to kidney damage and disease. This has led some researchers to suggest that modulating the endocannabinoid system could be a strategy for treating kidney disease and injury. 

In particular, researchers found that the primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2 are present in a variety of cells in the kidney, and both activating or inhibiting them can shift kidney function in significant ways — sometimes benefiting and sometimes harming the kidneys. 

Since kidney stones are also an extremely painful condition, it is worth noting how cannabis can work to ease kidney stone pain. 

Regulating pain sensation is one of the primary functions of the endocannabinoid system, and it does so by stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors. When CB1 receptors are activated they reduce pain signals, lessening our perception of pain. Stimulating CB1 receptors can even modify the emotional pain component, reducing our emotional response to pain. 

Stimulating CB2 receptors can also help with pain by regulating the activity of the central nervous system’s immune cells. Studies looking at CB2 activation show reduced markers for both inflammatory pain and nociceptive pain (pain related to damage to the body). 

Research on kidney stones or related pain and cannabis

When it comes to treating kidney stones with cannabis, the research is scarce. No clinical studies have been done looking at cannabis as a potential treatment for kidney stones specifically, despite anecdotal reports from patients that cannabis can help with the kidney stone pain and replace more dangerous painkillers like opiates. 

Still, one 2019 study reviewed the previous literature on cannabis and chronic kidney disease (a condition that can cause kidney stones) and found that patients treated with cannabinoids were 43-300% more likely to report a reduction in chronic pain when compared to the group using a placebo. Still, they didn’t find evidence that using cannabinoids could help with other aspects of chronic kidney disease. 

Given the link between altered endocannabinoid system activity and kidney dysfunction, some have also worried that cannabis use could lead to additional kidney damage. One study took on this question, looking at the link between kidney function and cannabis use in healthy young adults. The researchers found that cannabis use was not associated with change in kidney function over time. This suggests that cannabis use isn’t a risk factor for the kidney in healthy young adults. 

We can also look at the research on cannabis and pain. While no work has been done on kidney stone pain in particular, there is a fair bit of data suggesting that cannabis is helpful for pain relief. In fact, surveys of cannabis patients reveal that pain is the most common reason for using cannabis — with some studies reporting up to 97% of cannabis patients do so for pain. Other surveys have found that 81% of patients report that cannabis can even outperform opiates when it comes to pain relief. 

In addition to these patient reports, more rigorous studies have been conducted to investigate whether cannabis can relieve pain. A 2017 meta-review on the cannabis literature, from the National Academies of Science and Engineering reported that there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults, and tends to produce a moderate level of relief. 

A 2017 review of the evidence from Harvard University also found “modest” evidence from clinical trials that cannabis can help with pain relief. The study also found evidence that cannabis could help patients reduce the amount of opioids taken when both were used together. Still, both reviews recommended more research to better understand how to use cannabis effectively to produce pain relief without negative side effects.

CBD and kidney stones

Like with cannabis in general, there isn’t much research on using CBD for kidney stones, but there is evidence that it can help with pain. In fact, it can even help augment THC’s pain relieving properties. One study found that using THC and CBD together produced improved pain relieving abilities when compared to either one alone.

CBD can also help on its own. Studies suggest that CBD when interacts with our endocannabinoid system, it can reduce pain signals and our perception of pain. In fact, the World Health Organization even conducted a full review on the previous medical literature on CBD, and found that the research supports the claim that CBD helps with pain relief. They also found CBD to be safe, non-addictive and without any known negative side effects. This means CBD could be a great alternative to cannabis for those who are sensitive to cannabis’ side effects. 

Potential side effects of cannabis use

While cannabis may be helpful for the pain from kidney stones, it can also come with some side effects that have led researchers to caution patients with kidney issues, in particular. For one thing, cannabis can cause temporary cognitive impairment, which could be a risk factor for those on dialysis, particularly those driving to dialysis centers. Cannabis can also cause anxiety and paranoia, respiratory issues like chronic bronchitis, or cardiovascular issues like temporarily increased heart rate and blood pressure. Patients with orthostatic hypotension (common for those with chronic kidney disease) could see problems using cannabis because of these cardiac effects. 

In addition, heavy cannabis users on hemodialysis may experience symptoms of cannabis withdrawal such as nervousness, irritability, restlessness, twitch, nausea, stomach pain, increased appetite, and muscle pain. And in rare cases, patients may have cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome — a condition where cannabis use causes cyclical vomiting, which may result in kidney injury. 

Cannabis side effects: fatigue, memory, appetite, reaction time, mood, paranoia, addiction

Disclaimer

The Cannigma content is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with an experienced medical professional with a background in cannabis before beginning treatment.

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