Cannabis Protects Liver From Disease and Alcohol

Science has made yet more fascinating discoveries about the benefits cannabis can have. Some studies have found that cannabis seems to protect the liver, one of the body’s most essential organs.

And if this protective quality isn’t enough, researchers have found that cannabinoids can treat diseased livers. So what’s the story? First, we need to know why we need a liver.

What the liver does

We can’t live without a liver. That’s the brutal truth. But what does this dark, red-brown organ do that’s so important? Situated in the upper right-hand area of the abdomen, the liver produces a substance called bile that aids in breaking down fats for digestion and helps remove waste.

It regulates the blood levels of most chemicals, as well as estrogen and cholesterol. It filters poisons from our blood, including alcohol which it breaks down into water and air.

It also plays a role in cancer prevention. When the liver becomes diseased, we’re in deep trouble. Modern problems such as obesity, alcoholism, eating lots of processed foods, and a sugar-rich diet are leading to liver problems.

It is estimated that a whopping 30 million Americans have some form of liver disease.

So what does the liver have to do with cannabis?

Cannabis seems to be good news for this organ. The reason for this has to do with endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. All mammals – and that includes you and me – naturally produce endocannabinoids, chemical compounds that activate the same receptors (CB1 and CB2) as THC and CBD, the active components in cannabis.

Our cannabinoids form a whole system that regulates a great many cognitive and physiological processes, including appetite, mood, memory, immunity, the sensation of pain, and various others. So, if our body is deficient in endocannabinoids, cannabinoids can take their place.

Alcohol and the liver

The liver must do a lot of hard work to process alcohol into a harmless substance. If someone drinks a lot of alcohol, the liver becomes severely taxed until the cells become scarred and can no longer function.

Once scarring of the liver is advanced, it’s known as cirrhosis, and the only way to survive is to have a liver transplant. In a fascinating discovery, cirrhotic livers have more CB2 receptors than healthy livers.

This suggests that cannabinoids (i.e., cannabis) could have a positive effect on the diseased liver.

What the research shows

Before talking about what recent research has found, a word of caution. The studies referred to are correlational. In other words, they do not ‘prove’ that cannabis can protect the liver.

They do, however, suggest there is a reasonable likelihood that it does. One study took 319,000 people with a history of alcohol abuse. They found that the people who had never used cannabis had a 90% chance of developing liver disease.

Those who were moderate users had an 8% chance of the disease, and what they termed ‘dependent’ users of cannabis had just a 1.36% chance of having liver disease.

This suggests that cannabis has a mitigating effect on the effects of alcohol on the liver. Remember, livers with cirrhosis have far more CB2 receptors than healthy livers.

A recent large study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School looked at the health records of 5.8 million patients from 3,000 hospitals. They wanted to find out the relationship between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cannabis use.

They did find a significant correlation between cannabis and a lower risk of fatty liver disease. The link was most active in those who were ‘heavy’ users of cannabis.  

The researchers found that study participants who occasionally used cannabis had a 15% lower risk of the disease, while regular users had a massive 52% lower risk of developing it.

They also found that cannabinoids could not only protect against the disease but help treat it.

A study conducted in Britain as early as 2010, discovered that cannabinoids play what they called an ‘important role’ in treating fatty liver disease.

Stimulating the CB1 and CB2 receptors assist in breaking down fat, particularly in the liver. Interestingly, the same study found that cannabis use might make the fatty liver disease worse in people suffering from hepatitis C, but they didn’t know why.

Other research, this time with mice, found that pre-liver disease cells called hepatic stellate cells committed ‘cellular suicide’ when they were administered CBD.

This means that CBD completely stopped a liver disease from developing before it had indeed begun. A further study found that when hepatic encephalopathy (a brain disorder caused by liver failure) was induced in mice, CBD restored cognitive, neurological and liver function.

Various studies have shown cannabis to be beneficial for those who have viral hepatitis, another disease of the liver. It helps lift the depression associated with the disease, as well as assisting those with hepatitis avoid drinking alcohol.

It also helps to ameliorate the chronic pain that comes with viral hepatitis. Cannabinoids might also help to reduce the liver inflammation associated with viral hepatitis.

Cannabis can also help those with hepatitis to tolerate long-term treatment. Of course, cannabis is well known to treat nausea associated with chemo.

How is this possible?

Inflammation has been found to be one of the biggest enemies of the body. What we do know is that cannabis users suffer less alcohol-related inflammation than non-users.

The endocannabinoid system is heavily involved in the metabolism of glucose and fats, and cannabis use has been found to be related to lower levels of insulin.

This may help prevent fatty liver disease. But a great deal more research into this fascinating subject is required. After all, cannabis contains 80 other cannabinoids, apart from THC and CBD.

While efforts to find the perfect balance of THC to CBD are ongoing, these 80 other cannabinoids all need to be researched. Who knows how beneficial they might be to us, and even to our livers.

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