Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. Oftentimes, a hepatitis C infection may not even show any symptoms, but a chronic infection can have serious consequences down the line. Hepatitis C may lead to a scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and even liver failure.
Hepatitis C can be treated with medication and surgery, but the effects of treatment tend to be very unpleasant and often lead patients to seek relief by using marijuana. Marijuana is also used by patients to help with the appetite loss, nausea, and pain that may accompany hepatitis C.
A Relief from the Negative Side Effects of Treatment
Researchers in a 2006 study noted that many hepatitis C patients self-medicated with marijuana, and set out to figure out just how effective the treatment was. They concluded that “modest cannabis use” helped patients to stick it out through their challenging medication regime.
This was an important finding, because while it is possible for hepatitis C to be treated, it is important that patients see their therapy through to the end. Non-users had a much harder time completing the study and sticking to their treatment.
The Relationship between Marijuana and Liver Disease
Marijuana has so far only been looked at as a possible therapeutic tool but not as a treatment model for hepatitis C itself. However, a 2005 review titled “Endocannabinoids and liver disease,” took a look at if the body’s natural cannabinoid receptors could possibly provide such a treatment model.
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that are found in marijuana, and the authors found that the body’s endocannabinoid system did indeed appear to be involved in aspects of liver disease. They concluded that not only could further research help us come to a better understanding of liver disease, but that there was a possibility for “novel treatment modalities” with cannabinoids as well.
Could Marijuana Cause Liver Fibrosis in Hepatitis C Patients?
Despite the promising findings from the study above, there were two studies, one from 2004 and the other from 2008, which unfortunately seemed to suggest that hepatitis C patients should abstain from marijuana use. Both of these studies reported that marijuana use among people suffering from hepatitis C infection seemed to correlate with the progression of liver fibrosis.
However, a more recent study, conducted in 2013, flatly contradicts these findings. The study followed 690 individuals with hepatitis C, and the researchers concluded that they found no evidence that those who smoked marijuana daily showed any signs of significant liver fibrosis.
It is not unusual for such contradictory findings to be reported in preliminary studies. There definitely needs to be more research done on the relationship between marijuana and liver fibrosis during hepatitis C, and more broadly, between marijuana and hepatitis C.
Until then, however, it seems safe to say that some patients can benefit from using marijuana to manage the symptoms of their condition. Under the watchful eye of a health care practitioner, marijuana could be beneficial for patients suffering from hepatitis C.