Monday, January 29, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
It’s no secret that abusing alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver, but it’s not as widely known that cannabis can actually stem this effect. A surprising new study shows that people who abuse alcohol and also use cannabis have a reduced incidence of liver disease.
Alcohol abuse is a serious issue in America, causing around 88,000 people to die each year. It’s also behind around a third of all our nation’s traffic fatalities, which is a further 10,000 deaths annually. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption is actually increasing in the U.S., with one out of every eight Americans now estimated to be alcoholics.
The team of researchers, which was headed up by the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Adeyinka Charles Adejumo, wanted to find out if cannabis’s well-documented anti-inflammatory effects could help stunt the development of liver disease. They looked at the discharge records collected in the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, focusing on patients 18 and older who had a history of abusive alcohol use or who currently abuse alcohol.
In total, they looked at more than 319,000 patients, dividing them into groups according to their level of cannabis exposure. The groups were broken down as non-cannabis users, dependent cannabis users, and non-dependent cannabis users.
They then examined four phases of liver disease: alcoholic fatty liver, also known as alcoholic steatosis; non-alcoholic fatty liver, or steatohepatitis; cirrhosis; and hepatocellular carcinoma, also known as liver cancer.
Those who abused alcohol and also used cannabis, regardless of whether they were dependent on it or not, had significantly lower chances of developing all four of these conditions. Moreover, they found that dependent users noted odds that were significantly lower than non-dependent users when it comes to developing liver disease. Their findings were published in the journal Liver International.
Using cannabis while a person is under the influence of alcohol isn’t being advocated and the study’s authors are quick to emphasize that. However, their findings do point to some very powerful uses of cannabis. The rise of alcohol use, especially among the socioeconomically disadvantaged, women, and minorities, is considered a public health crisis by the study’s authors, and they believe that alcohol-related liver problems are therefore only likely to rise in the years to come.
It is important to note, however, that this is merely an outcome-based study. The researchers uncovered this relationship, but this particular study does not explain why cannabis could reduce damage to the liver. They suspect that its anti-inflammatory properties are reducing liver inflammation and, by extension, the long-term damage it causes to the organ.
Cannabis’s anti-inflammatory effects have also been demonstrated in the brain. In a recent study of HIV patients carried out by researchers from Michigan State University, cannabis users had lower levels of inflammatory cells in their brains than those who did not use it – so much so that their brain cells were more akin to those of people without HIV. The researchers said the compounds in marijuana reduced the inflammatory white blood cell count as well as the proteins they release in the body.
If it helps stem inflammation in the liver and brain, it stands to reason that it could well help in other organs as well. While giving up alcohol remains the best way to avoid the ill effects that it can cause on the liver, cannabis could well serve as a potential treatment in the future for those who have already sustained damage.
Sources for this article include: