Emma Lamping, a second-year student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, has received a $5,000 “Emerging Scientist Award” from the Institute of Cannabis Research in Pueblo, Colorado, for her work on a research study comparing postoperative pain medication requirements and surgical outcomes after major abdominal surgery for the treatment of cancer between daily cannabis users and nonusers of cannabis. The study is led by CU School of Medicine faculty member Camille Stewart, MD, an assistant professor of surgical oncology.
“A lot of states have legalized cannabis use, and many cancer patients use cannabis to help with pain and various other symptoms,” says Lamping, whose role in the research includes identifying patients to enroll, helping with sample collection, and evaluating patients for complications after surgery. “There’s no good data to support any benefits or risks that cannabis use might bring to the patient, and with so many people using it, I feel like there should be data so we can actually make recommendations on whether it's going to possibly benefit them or if it's something they should consider stopping because of the risks.”
Improving care for cannabis users
The study, underway now, will measure circulating blood levels of cannabinoids in cannabis users so that providers can ultimately can give informed recommendations to patients who use cannabis about the risks or benefits of use in the perioperative period. The results of the study also will help inform future research on how cannabis affects surgical patients.
“There is some preliminary data that suggests that cannabis users require more pain medication after traumatic injuries and after surgery, but nobody has ever compared this to blood levels of cannabinoids,” Stewart says. “We don't actually know how cannabis affects postoperative surgical outcomes because right now, there's conflicting data. There's some preliminary data that says that it doesn't make a difference, and there is some preliminary data that shows that it can be detrimental.”
Lamping says the results of the study will be helpful to patients as well as providers.
“If they need more pain medicine, that's something that would be good to know, for the patient and for the team taking care of them,” Lamping says. “Or if there are more complications, that's also something that would be good to be aware of. It will help to improve care for patients who use cannabis.”
A valuable mentorship
Lamping was first paired with Stewart through a program that connects medical students with faculty members in the Department of Surgery. Lamping helped out with a melanoma study Stewart was conducting, and the two developed a mentor-mentee relationship that led to Lamping getting involved with the cannabis study as well.
“She is incredibly self-motivated and very hard-working,” Stewart says of Lamping. “Those qualities will make her successful in her research career moving forward.”
Lamping comes to the CU School of Medicine from Montana, where a lifelong love of science and helping others led to her jobs at a nursing home and on a ski patrol unit before she applied to medical school. She is grateful to receive the Institute of Cannabis Research award so early in her career, and is thankful for Stewart’s mentorship and training in good research practices.
“She’s taught me a lot,” Lamping says. “I knew very little about how to do research, especially related to medicine and outcomes, and she's been really great to work with. She's been very supportive. She lets me learn things on my own, but she’s always there to answer questions and help guide me and tell me what the next steps are when I need that."