Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system appear to play an important role in treating liver diseases. This includes liver scarring (cirrhosis) and fatty liver disease (FLD). Cannabinoids can also help people with viral liver damage better handle conventional treatments like chemo.
Cannabis is becoming recognised as an important medicine for a long list of diseases. Increasingly, it is seen as a potential treatment for conditions of the liver. This includes cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. New studies are exploring how cannabis might help the liver function more effectively, even when damaged. Additionally, it is now apparent that cannabis can help treat nearly anything that inflames the organ.
WHERE DO LIVER DISEASES COME FROM AND WHY DO THEY DEVELOP?
Liver diseases can be inherited. They can also be caused by viruses, alcohol and drug abuse, and obesity.
Hepatitis is the best known liver-damaging virus. It can leave scarring that interferes with the ability of the organ to function properly.
Alcohol and drug abuse are the leading causes of lifestyle-induced liver disease. About 10% of every national population has a “problem” with alcohol. The opioid epidemic is also one of the most pressing public health crises in Western countries.
In contrast, obesity is a global problem, even in poor countries. It is estimated that over 350 million people globally are obese. At least half suffer from health problems related to this condition. Including liver disorders.
The good news? Cannabis can help with not only treating these conditions, but other common comorbidities. Starting with depression.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE LIVER?
The human liver is one of the body’s largest organs. It weighs about 1,5 kilograms. The liver is divided into two large sections right under the ribcage. The liver’s main job is to filter blood from the digestive tract before circulating it back into the body. One way to think of the liver is as a giant filtration system. The organ also manufactures proteins important for blood clotting. Finally, the liver detoxifies chemicals in the body and metabolises drugs.
Liver failure is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate, urgent medical care. Usually, liver failure occurs gradually and over a longer period of time. However, acute liver failure can happen over a span of as little as 48 hours.
The most common causes of chronic liver failure include long-term and chronic alcohol consumption. This causes a condition called cirrhosis. Viruses including hepatitis A, B, and C can also cause liver failure. So can a condition called fatty liver disease.
CANNABIS AND HEPATITIS
Studies have already shown that cannabis can be a great boon to those with viral hepatitis. It appears to help in several ways. First, cannabis clearly helps ameliorate the depression symptoms hepatitis patients suffer from. It also helps people with the condition stay away from alcohol. On top of that, cannabis can assist with the chronic pain associated with viral hepatitis. Cannabinoids may also help relieve inflammation of the liver caused by the disease.
Cannabis can also help hepatitis sufferers tolerating ongoing treatment. Many patients also undergo chemo. This causes severe nausea. Furthermore, some patients discontinue radiation treatment because of the side effects. Cannabis’ well-known anti-emetic qualities are good for helping such patients bear these treatments.
CANNABIS AND FATTY LIVER DISEASE
Fatty liver disease (FLD) is usually caused by alcohol abuse. However, it is also a growing health concern for those who have poor diets and are sedentary. It is a condition that already affects one in three US citizens. FLD is also spreading in countries where obesity is reaching epidemic proportions.
Livers that contain more than 5-10% of fat can actually damage the organ. This level of fat in the liver can cause fibrosis, liver cancer, and cirrhosis (or scarring).
Losing weight (about 10% of overall body weight) is the current “best treatment” for those who suffer with the condition. There is no approved medication that works. As it turns out, cannabis might be the perfect Rx.
A new study – the first of its kind – conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has now examined the impact of cannabis use on liver health. The researchers studied the medical records of 5.8 million patients from 3,000 hospitals. The goal? To determine whether cannabis use impacted the development of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Interestingly, the researchers found a direct correlation to the use of cannabis and lower risk of fatty liver disease. The link was the strongest with heavy cannabis users. Occasional users had about a 15% lower risk of developing the condition. Regular users have a whopping 52% lower risk.
However, this is not the first study to examine the impact of cannabis on fatty liver disease. In fact, a 2010 NHS study found that cannabinoids play an important role in actually treating FLD. In fact, stimulation of both CB1 and CB2 receptors appears to help in breaking down fat, specifically in the liver.
That said, the same study found that smoking cannabis might increase the severity of fatty liver disease in hepatitis C patients, although for unknown reasons.
More research is definitely needed to obtain definitive answers.
CANNABIS AND CIRRHOSIS
Cirrhosis is a broad disease of the liver. The healthy cells become damaged over time because of disease or poor lifestyle habits. This includes chronic alcoholism, but is not limited to the same. With this kind of damage, the normally soft and rubbery liver becomes hard and lumpy. This causes it to fail.
In addition, the presence of scar tissue makes it difficult for blood to enter the primary vein in which it enters the liver. As a result, blood accumulates in the vein. In turn, this enters the spleen, causing additional malfunction in a critical and adjoining organ.
There is no cure for cirrhosis, except for a liver transplant.
As it turns out, cirrhotic human livers also feature more CB2 receptors than healthy livers. A study conducted in 2005 at the Hebrew University Medical School found that endocannabinoids were vital in regulating the immune and nervous systems. However, they also found that endocannabinoids were critical in the proper function of the nervous system as a whole – including the proper functioning of the liver. And a 2011 study published in the journal Cell Death and Disease found that CBD is helpful in causing malignant cells found in liver fibrosis to commit cell death.