- Researchers analysed data on almost 320,000 heavy drinkers in the study
- Those who smoked cannabis had a 45% lower chance of fatty liver disease
- It’s unclear why the drug has this effect, but it is known to be anti-inflammatory
Binge drinkers may be protected from potentially deadly liver diseases, if they also smoke cannabis, a study suggests.
Heavy drinkers who smoked marijuana had ‘significantly lower odds’ of developing serious problems with their liver, including cirrhosis and a common form of cancer.
Cannabis has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and its compounds are currently the subject of hundreds of studies.
However, scientists said they are not currently sure why it’s beneficial for the liver in combination with alcohol. They called for further trials.
The study was led by Dr Adeyinka Charles Adejumo of North Shore Medical Center, Massachusetts.
Of the 320,000 people they studied who had a history of alcohol abuse, 90 per cent had never smoked cannabis.
Around eight per cent smoked it now and again and two per cent were dependent on it, meaning they felt withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.
Both dependent and non-dependent smokers had a 45 per cent lower risk of getting alcoholic steatosis, or ‘fatty liver disease’.
They had a 55 per cent lower chance of developing of cirrhosis – scarring of the liver which can lead to liver failure.
Their odds of steatohepatitis (AH), a type of fatty liver disease, were also 43 per cent lower.
And they had 38 per cent lower odds of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – the most common form of liver cancer.
Dependent users had lower odds than non‐dependent users for getting liver disease generally, the researchers said.
They wrote in the journal Liver International: ‘While cannabis has demonstrated anti‐inflammatory properties, its combined use with alcohol and the development of liver disease remain unclear.’
Previous work by the same team, on five million people who did not abuse alcohol, found lower rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in cannabis smokers.
The team noted receptors in the body which respond to compounds in cannabis have the ability to suppress the collection of fat on the liver, therefore protecting it from disease.
Previous research has already found cannabinoid receptors in the liver are potential targets for the treatment of liver disease.
However, it is not clear in either of the studies which part of the cannabis plant may be protective.
Dr Terence Bukong, of University of Massachusetts, who co-authored the research, told Healthline: ‘Our studies could not ascertain which cannabis strains were used.
‘So we couldn’t determine the cannabinoid content of what each individual ingested.
‘We also couldn’t ascertain the dosage or modes of use, although it’s most likely through smoking.’
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound that creates a ‘high’. But there are hundreds more compounds in cannabis plants.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to help reduce anxiety and inflammation and has taken the health market by storm.
It’s sold in dispensaries, pharmacies and entire cafes have cropped up to peddle CBD, advertising it for everything from anxiety to acne and menstrual cramps.
But despite promise, experts are unlikely to advise taking up cannabis smoking if a patient has an alcohol disorder.
Some studies suggest patients trying to recover from alcohol abuse relapse quicker if they also smoke marijuana.
Dr Bukong said: ‘My research group is currently working to discover which cannabinoids or cannabinoid formulations will provide the best therapeutic benefits for specific liver diseases.’
Source: Daily Mail
WHAT IS LIVER DISEASE?
There are more than 100 types of liver disease.
Around 2million Britons and 4.5million Americans are affected by a form of the disease.
The main causes are:
- Alcohol abuse
- An undiagnosed hepatitis infection
Symptoms are rare until the disease is advanced.
It may then cause weight loss, reduced appetite and jaundice.
Medication is available, however, a transplant may be necessary in severe cases.