Science Explains How Marijuana Can Prevent Liver Damage From Alcohol

Marijuana has been found to be an effective natural treatment in the case of pain, seizures, and nausea caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

Yet, as of March 2019, 15 states plus the District of Columbia have maintained laws to keep it illegal, while in the rest of the countries, it is legalized for mostly medical use, and somewhere allowed for recreational use. 

However, scientists and medical professionals and scientists are now investigating it as a possible treatment of liver damage due to excessive alcohol use, or alcoholic hepatitis.

It is a liver infection which results from the repeated heavy use of alcohol.  It causes the accumulation of fat in the liver cells, which causes inflammation and scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis.  It can have fatal consequences or lead to a need for a liver transplant, which would, in turn, require a complete abstain from alcohol.

The role of the liver is to convert food and drinks into useful nutrients and to filter poisons and other harmful substances from the blood.  However, the excessive use of alcohol puts a huge strain on the liver, which causes damage and the destruction of liver cells.

The liver can filter one alcoholic drink per hour, so more drinks in this time lead to excess alcohol in the bloodstream, and we feel drunk or intoxicated.  The safe alcohol amount is one drink for women, and two for men, daily.

The regular consumption of higher amounts of alcohol increases the risk of liver disease. Note that liver disease can also be caused by genetics, obesity, medications, poisons, and viruses, and this form of liver disease is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is d the most common liver disorder in the Western world, and one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease, It usually happens in middle-aged and overweight people, but recently, due to an increase in childhood obesity due to the standard American diet, there is an increasing number of children with NAFLD.

People suffering from NAFLD often have high cholesterol and diabetes as well. In most cases, this condition is linked to malnutrition, medications, inherited liver disease, fast weight loss and excessive bacteria in the small intestine.

These are the most common symptoms of liver disease:

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes, or jaundice
  • Acid reflux
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Discolored stool
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and itchiness
  • Unusual bruising
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Dark urine
  • Bad reactions to medications like antibiotics and painkillers

Fatty liver disease can sometimes cause cirrhosis, which is the most dangerous and life-threatening type of fatty liver disease. Over time, healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, and this inhibits the proper function of the liver.

The scar tissue blocks the blood flow through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins, and the production of proteins and other substances. These are the most common symptoms of cirrhosis:

  • the buildup of fluid in the body
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • liver failure
  • muscle weakness
  • internal bleeding

However, if one stops drinking before developing cirrhosis, the liver can repair itself.

Note that the health of your liver and its optimal function significantly depends on your lifestyle and diet. While there are numerous healthy and organic foods that can help you cleanse the liver and thus help its function, there are also other detrimental habits and foods you should avoid.

For instance, these are the most dangerous foods for your liver:

  • too much alcohol or caffeine
  • refined grains
  • snacks and drinks rich in sugar
  • packaged goods that contain sweeteners, refined vegetable oils, artificial ingredients and colors
  • fruits and vegetables which have been heavily sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides
  • factory-farmed animal products, farm-raised fish or conventional dairy (pasteurized and homogenized)

Marijuana and liver damage

A 2018 study analyzed the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project-Nationwide inpatient small discharge record of patients 18 years and older, with a past or current background of abusive alcohol use.

Researchers analyzed four different stages of progressive liver disease in conjunction with:

1. Non-cannabis users, or 90.3% of the study population;

2. Non-dependent cannabis users, or 8.26%; and

3. Dependent cannabis users, making up 1.36% of the study.

They found that cannabis users, dependent or non-dependent, had a significantly lower risk of developing the four progressions of liver disease, and dependent users had even lower risks than non-dependent users.

Additionally, a 2005 study showed that endocannabinoids in cannabis positively affect the liver, as they are the same as the ones in the brain and peripheral tissues, including the liver.  Findings showed that endocannabinoids are involved in several aspects of acute and chronic liver disease, including vascular changes, modulation of the inflammatory process and neurological function.

According to another study conducted in 2011, there are two different types of receptors:

1. CB1, which is the most common receptor in the brain and in peripheral tissue, including various cell types of the liver, and

2. CB2 receptors, which are expressed primarily in the immune and hematopoietic cells and in the liver cells. 

Researchers found that the activity of CB1 contributes to the abnormalities and fibrosis in liver cirrhosis, so the activation of its antagonist can slow or delay the process of liver disease. Yet, the use of cannabis as the antagonist can lead to the neuropsychiatric side effects which can limit the therapeutic effects on the brain.  Essentially, as it was found that cannabis has the same receptor properties as CB1 receptors, it can help the body to fight liver disease.

All these studies emphasize the importance of further research that will explore the potential of cannabis in the treatment of liver disease.

However, note that doctors advise caution in the use of marijuana.

Norah Terrault, MPH, MD, the director of the Viral Hepatitis Center at the University of California in San Francisco, warns that there are about 60 different cannabis products from THC, CBD, and others. Therefore, as studies are fairly new, and we cannot know how pure a product is, its effects can vary.

She explains that in the case of fibrosis, there is an expression of CB1, CB2 receptors, so the cannabinoid receptors are expressed on fibrotic tissue. Some of them are profibrogenic, and others are antifibrogenic, so depending on the cannabinoid product, those receptors could be affected differently.

Therefore, she advises patients to not use cannabis on a daily basis, until its effects are fully investigated.

Also, note that you can damage the lungs by smoking it, so if you decide to try it, choose it in the form of tea, powder, or a tincture.

So far, the findings of studies that explore the effects of marijuana in the treatment of liver damage from alcohol, or non-alcohol use, are promising, but it will take years for scientists to evaluate its advantages and disadvantages.