Marijuana May Protect the Liver from Alcohol — But Experts Urge Caution
Share on Pinterest Researchers are actively exploring cannabinoids that could be used to prevent or treat liver disease. Getty Images
The negative health consequences of misusing alcohol are becoming clearer every day.
Regularly exceeding the recommended daily limits of one drink for women and two drinks for men is associated with an increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and numerous cancers, including liver cancer.
Recently, researchers sought to understand the effects of regular alcohol and cannabis use on the liver.
While it may not be a good idea to combine intoxicating drugs, recent research finds that using alcohol and cannabis regularly has an unexpected effect on your health.
A 2018 study looked at about 320,000 people with a history of both misusing alcohol and using cannabis to discover what effect, if any, using both drugs had on liver health. What they found out was surprising.
Dr. Terence Bukong of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier Research Centre told Healthline: “The primary aim of our study was to assess the impact of cannabis use and the development of alcoholic liver disease.”
“Given that no clinical studies had previously evaluated the impact of cannabis use and the development of progressive stages of alcoholic liver disease in humans, we thought that this was an important research area which needed urgent investigation,” he added.
Dr. Hardeep Singh, gastroenterologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, told Healthline, “Alcohol increases fibrosis in the liver, it has a direct toxic effect to liver cells and causes them to become inflamed. This causes scarring to the liver — advanced scarring of the liver is cirrhosis.”
He emphasized that the effect was very individual, with some people harmed by much lower alcohol intake than others.
But Bukong and team found that regular users of alcohol and marijuana significantly reduced the risk of alcoholic liver disease (ALD), and the heaviest cannabis consumers benefited the most.
The anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis are well-documented. Previous research had already found that cannabinoid receptors in the liver are potential targets for new ways to treat liver disease.
Activating these receptors with cannabis reduces the inflammation that happens early in ALD, slowing the progression of the disease.
However, Bukong cautioned, “Our studies could not ascertain which cannabis strains were used. So we couldn’t determine the cannabinoid content of what each individual ingested. We also couldn’t ascertain the dosage or modes of use, although it’s most likely through smoking.”
Singh emphasized, “However, some of this scarring goes away as the healthy liver regenerates, so cirrhosis can improve if an individual simply stops drinking. But, some scarring will remain.”
“My research group is currently working to discover which cannabinoids or cannabinoid formulations will provide the best therapeutic benefits for specific liver diseases,” Bukong said.
These anti-inflammatory properties are already being used to relieve pain, colitis (inflammation of the colon), multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.
“Our findings revealed that cannabis users were less likely to develop alcoholic liver disease, and cannabis-dependent individuals were the least likely individuals to develop alcoholic liver disease,” said Bukong.
He’s confident that “specific formulations of cannabinoids might soon be used [to] prevent or treat liver disease. My research group is actively working on important cannabis formulations which we hope will be important drug leads for future testing in the prevention and treatment of liver disease from inflammatory, metabolic, and even viral causes.”
Dr. Singh cautioned that one liver disease, hepatitis, is made worse by cannabis.
“Patients with hepatitis C who used cannabis had way more liver scarring than those who didn’t and more progression of their liver disease. Something in the cannabis could actually be increasing fatty liver disease and fibrosis,” he said.
Singh theorizes that some people have sensitivity to cannabis that influences whether they can benefit from it or not. “You can’t just tell the public marijuana is good for your liver, because there may also be people whose liver is harmed by it.”
He said current treatment, in limited cases, consists of “a short course of a steroid drug called prednisolone, for about eight weeks, which can help combat the effects of alcohol on the liver.”
He added that in some people with fatty liver disease, drinking two to three cups of black coffee per day has helped reverse scarring in the liver, although it’s not known which ingredient in coffee is providing the benefit.
According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking is responsible for roughly 88,000 deaths per year.
Could cannabis help reduce alcohol dependency to prevent liver disease?
A 2017 study looked at a clinical population of people with depression and alcohol use disorder (AUD) to find that marijuana had no beneficial effect, and could have worsened their depression.
The study concluded that — at least in people with depression — marijuana isn’t an effective treatment.
More evidence that cannabis won’t help wean people with AUD off alcohol is demonstrated in research that found that people treated for AUD, who also used marijuana, relapsed sooner than people who didn’t use marijuana.
There is strong evidence that stimulating the natural cannabinoid receptors in the liver can slow or even prevent the development of cancerous liver tumors. The health benefits associated with marijuana and cannabis products in general has created a lot of buzz.
Singh insists that, right now, too little is known about what effects cannabis compounds have on health.
“There are many substances in cannabis and it could be that one is really bad for the liver while another is beneficial. The take-home point is that more research is needed because we need data on both sides, good and bad,” he said.
The fact remains that cannabis is illegal in many parts of the United States and the world. It’s also important to remember that cannabis, like almost all drugs, is not harmless.
However, in a nod to the growing evidence that cannabis has medical benefit, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will hold a public hearing May 31 to gather more information on the science, manufacturing, and sale of cannabis compounds.
Recent research finds that marijuana use is associated with a reduced risk of alcohol-related liver damage — including liver cancer.
However, there’s scant evidence that people who drink excessively can use marijuana to overcome a disorder. Research actually shows that it can worsen depression in some people with an alcohol use disorder.
As evidence grows that cannabis and cannabis-derived products can treat or prevent a broad range of health issues, it’s important to remember that marijuana is still illegal in many parts of the world.
Cannabis is a drug, and like any other drugs, has the potential to cause harm if misused.A recent study shows that certain components in cannabis may help reduce inflammation associated with alcohol use and serious liver health issues.
Marijuana Study Finds CBD Can Cause Liver Damage
Hemp oil, Hand holding bottle of Cannabis oil against Marijuana plant, CBD oil pipette. . [+] alternative remedy or medication,medicine concept
There is no denying that cannabidiol, more commonly referred to as CBD, is rapidly becoming more popular in the United States than sliced bread. It is a hot trend that got started several years ago after Dr. Sanja Gupta showed the nation in his documentary ‘Weed 2’ just how this non-intoxicating component of the cannabis plant was preventing epileptic children from having seizures.
Since then, CBD, a substance often touted as being safer than popping pills, has become highly revered as an alternative treatment for a variety of common ailments from anxiety to chronic pain. But a new study suggests that CBD may spawn its fair share of health issues. Specifically, scientists have learned that this substance could be damaging our livers in the same way as alcohol and other drugs.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences recently rolled up their sleeves to investigate CBD hepatotoxicity in mice. What they found was while this cannabis derivative is gaining significant recognition as of late in the world of wellness, people that use CBD are at an elevated risk for liver toxicity.
The findings, which were published earlier this year in the journal Molecules, suggest that while people may be using CBD as a safer alternative to conventional pain relievers, like acetaminophen, the compound may actually be just as harmful to their livers.
It is the methods used in this study that makes it most interesting.
First, researchers utilized all of the dosage and safety recommendations from a CBD-based drug known as Epidiolex. If this name sounds familiar, it should. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it as a treatment for certain kinds of childhood epilepsy. It was a development that marked the first time in history that a cannabis-based medicine was approved for nationwide distribution in the United States.
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Researchers then spent some time examining mice under the influence of various doses of CBD. Some of the animals received lower doses, while others were given more. The dosage is said to have been “the allometrically scaled mouse equivalent doses (MED) of the maximum recommended human maintenance dose of CBD in EPIDIOLEX (20 mg/kg).”
Shockingly, researchers discovered that the mice given higher doses of CBD showed signs of liver damage within 24 hours. To that end, 75 percent of these animals in the sub-acute phase had either died or were on the verge of death within a few days.
Regardless of your feelings on this particular study, it is hard to argue with dead mice – even if you are an all-knowing marijuana expert.
The photo of liver is on the man’s body against gray background, Liver disease or Hepatitis, Concept . [+] with body problem and male anatomy
Liver toxicity is an adverse reaction to various substances. Alcohol, drugs and even some natural supplements can all take their toll on liver function – even in healthy individuals. But this is the first study of its kind indicating that CBD might be just as detrimental to the human liver as other chemicals.
But come to find out, there has been evidence of CBD’s havoc wreaking ways on the liver for some time.
Lead study author Igor Koturbash, PhD, recently told the health site Nutra Ingredients USA that the risk of liver damage from CBD is a nasty side effect printed in black and white on GW Pharma’s Epidiolex packaging.
“If you look at the Epidolex label,” he said, “it clearly states a warning for liver injury. It states you have to monitor the liver enzyme levels of the patients. In clinical trials, 5% to 20% of the patients developed elevated liver enzymes and some patients were withdrawn from the trials,” he added.
In other words, anyone taking CBD regularly and in higher doses might unwittingly find themselves on the road to liver disease.
Previous studies have also suggested that certain components of the cannabis plant may be harmful to the liver. Although one study found that marijuana may actually help prevent liver damage in people with alcoholism, in some cases it worsened the condition.
“Patients with hepatitis C who used cannabis had way more liver scarring than those who didn’t and more progression of their liver disease. Something in the cannabis could actually be increasing fatty liver disease,” Dr. Hardeep Singh, gastroenterologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, told Healthline.
But wait, it gets worse.
The latest study also finds that CBD has the potential for herbal and drug interactions. “CBD differentially regulated more than 50 genes, many of which were linked to oxidative stress responses, lipid metabolism pathways and drug metabolizing enzymes,” the study reads.
However, Dr. Koturbash was quick to point out that the CBD products coming to market may not pose this particular risk. What he is sure of, however, is that more research is needed on CBD to evaluate its overall safety.
As it stands, none of the CBD products being sold in grocery stores and malls all over the nation have received FDA approval. And the only CBD-based medicine that has been approved, Epidiolex, is apparently stamped with a big, fat warning of potential liver damage.Although CBD is often revered as a miracle drug, a new study finds that it could be causing liver damage. ]]>