Updated on April 13, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
One of your most important organs, the liver, could be helped by medical marijuana in preventing or treating disease. Thanks to current research projects that show links to pot and healing livers, the chances of recovering from an ailing liver are increasing. Also, due to marijuana’s low level of side effects that are generally well tolerated, cannabis could be a future treatment for liver disease patients.
If you currently have liver disease, discuss all possible treatments with your doctor. Marijuana could become a new addition to your liver disease prevention or treatment options.
Medical Marijuana and Liver Disease
Cannabis may have several benefits for preventing or treating liver disease:
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: In one study, scientists found a 15 percent lower chance of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in those not dependent on marijuana and a 52 percent lower chance in those dependent on weed.
- Alcoholic Liver Disease: Another study looked at how marijuana affected the development of liver disease in those who drank alcohol. That study linked alcohol and cannabis use with a lower chance of developing liver disease compared to those who did not use marijuana.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy: Scientists discovered that cannabidiol (CBD) helps the inflammation and mental functioning of those with the brain-affecting cirrhosis complication called hepatic encephalopathy.
- Autoimmune Hepatitis: In a study modeling autoimmune-caused hepatitis, the blood plasma levels of the studied mice’s liver enzymes improved with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
- Cirrhosis: Mice with cirrhosis that were also treated with cannabinoids had a reduction in the fibrosis markers and showed signs of healing their livers. Though this study seemed promising, cannabis for people with hepatitis C increased the chances for fibrosis, making medicinal marijuana not the best option for those patients.
How Marijuana Can Help With Symptoms
The studies on cannabis and liver disease focused on how weed and its components can help with slowing or preventing liver problems rather than treating individual symptoms. Additionally, with liver disease, most people do not experience symptoms until they have cirrhotic livers, which is too late to regain full functioning.
If you are considering cannabis for your liver condition, always talk to your doctor first. Marijuana, though natural, may still interact with other treatments you’re using. Don’t stop any medications your doctor has prescribed, whether traditional or alternative, unless you’ve been given medical clearance to do so. Using marijuana for liver disease needs to be done under the supervision of a physician who also knows any other medications you’re taking.
Best Forms and Strains of Cannabis to Use
The form of cannabis you use depends on your tolerance and the benefits you want. Because marijuana can ease the pain, reduce nausea and stimulate appetite, it can be useful for those with advanced liver disease alleviate these symptoms.
If you have an autoimmune condition, you might try some of these strains:
- Bay II: This Sativa strain helps with anxiety, depression, and stress as well as nausea, inflammation, and pain.
- Orange Dream: This is a hybrid that fights inflammation, pain, muscle spasms, and depression.
- Green Lantern: Another Sativa strain, this helps to treat stress, fatigue, pain, nausea, and vomiting.
If your liver disease has progressed to cirrhosis, consider these strains for your symptoms:
- Outer Space: This Sativa strain relieves fatigue, anxiety, depression, and inflammation.
- Watermelon: This Indica strain fights depression, stress, sleep problems, loss of appetite and pain.
- Citrix: This hybrid strain helps with stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and inflammation.
There are many different ways to consume marijuana. Whether you choose to smoke, use a tincture or consume edibles depends on your tolerance. Liver disease or medications you take for it could affect your appetite. Discuss with your doctor about how you wish to use cannabis. This information will make it easier to find the right dosage for your condition and physical build.
Side Effects of Medicinal Cannabis
Even the most natural of substances can have side effects, marijuana included. Be aware of the possible side effects of cannabis when using it. If you feel concerned about any of these consequences of using weed medically, talk to your doctor first. And if you develop any side effects while using medicinal marijuana, contact your certified cannabis physician first before discontinuing use.
Never stop taking any medicine without letting your doctor know what side effects you’re feeling and why you want to cease using it. Your doctor may recommend a step-down approach to stop marijuana or suggest waiting out the side effects until your body becomes accustomed to them. Your doctor’s advice about marijuana side effects and what you should do about them should be paramount. Do not take advice from anyone other than a medical professional who is familiar with your case.
Side effects vary widely among patients. You may not experience the same reactions as another person, or you may have a milder version. If you take a variety with less THC, you’ll likely experience less of the “high” feeling some associate with using marijuana.
As with all medications, don’t drive or engage in other dangerous tasks until you know how your medical cannabis will affect you. The following may occur when taking medicinal marijuana:
- Dry Mouth
- High Blood Pressure
- Low Blood Pressure
- Loss of Appetite
- Blurred Vision
Find a Doctor or Dispensary
You have options when it comes to your medical treatment. Find a marijuana-certified doctor here at MarijuanaDoctors.com. With the help of an expert in medicine and in recommending cannabis and its effects, you’ll be able to get a full picture of your options for liver disease treatment. Never make a self-diagnosis and treat yourself without talking to a doctor first. The liver is a vital organ that requires consideration before taking any medicine, including marijuana. With a physician in your corner who can help you navigate the various pot strains and options, you can become an advocate for your health.
If you already have a recommendation from a doctor for cannabis, you will need to locate a dispensary convenient to your home. When you visit the dispensary, you’ll have a wide selection of products to fulfill your healthcare needs. If you have concerns about what form or type is best for you, discuss your concerns with the staff at the dispensary, your marijuana doctor or by contacting us.
What Is Liver Disease?
Liver disease affects nearly five million adults in the United States. This condition occurs for several reasons. Some you can prevent, while others are conditions you’re born with or unknowingly exposed to. Anything that causes damage to the liver can fall under the banner of liver disease, also known as hepatic disease. Liver disease can start mild, but over time, it can worsen, depending on the cause. Left untreated, it could be fatal.
In a healthy liver, the organ filters out toxins you ingest. These toxins include substances such as alcohol, which is why drinking is linked to liver disease. As a liver condition sets in, the organ becomes inflamed. At this early stage, you may not feel any pain, but if you get prompt treatment, the swelling can go away without permanently damaging the liver.
With inflammation, the liver builds up scar tissue, in a stage called fibrosis. The fibrous scar tissue can reduce your liver’s function, but you can still make a full recovery with the appropriate treatment at this stage.
The next stage, cirrhosis, is when the scar tissue hardens, disrupting the liver’s operations. Though it’s a dire condition and late in the process of liver disease, this is the stage where most people start to exhibit classic symptoms of liver disease. With cirrhosis, you cannot wholly recover your liver’s original functioning. Treatment focuses on preventing the condition from worsening to end-stage liver disease because it cannot be reversed.
End-stage liver disease is the condition when the liver no longer functions. Other parts of the body will also be affected such as the kidneys and the brain. Those with this stage of the condition are prioritized on the transplant list.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Though liver disease has many causes, most forms progress similarly. The condition begins innocuously, with yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This symptom, called jaundice, is a hallmark of liver problems.
Other signs of a developing liver problem are often similar to those of other chronic conditions. These include nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, itchiness, swelling of the extremities, pale stool, and dark urine. These are not normal functions of the body. If these symptoms persist for more than a day or two, visit your doctor for a diagnosis.
Causes of Liver Problems
Though often associated with alcoholism, that is not the only cause of liver problems. Many people experience liver disease from birth or after an illness. Several things can cause liver problems including the following:
- Congenital Defects: Conditions that can result in liver damage from birth include Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis. These are some of the problems from birth that cause damage to your liver through the build-up of various substances, such as iron in the case of hemochromatosis.
- Viruses: The forms of hepatitis — A, B, C, D, and E — are viral infections that can damage the liver.
- Cancer:Liver cancer may start in the liver or spread there from another part of the body. Hepatitis B and C infections, as well as cirrhosis, are risk factors for liver cancer. Obesity and alcohol use are lifestyle factors that could play parts in developing liver cancer.
- Autoimmune Disorders: An autoimmune disease happens when the body perceives itself as a threat and attacks it as an invader. Some of these disorders that specifically damage the liver are primary sclerosing cholangitis, autoimmune hepatitis, and primary biliary cirrhosis.
- Damage to the Liver: Certain things you do can cause damage to the liver. Long-term alcohol use is linked to liver disease as is fat accumulation through nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. You can prevent damage by cutting down on drinking and watching your weight.
Effects of Liver Disease
Left untreated, liver disease progresses through its various stages. Luckily, if diagnosed and treated before cirrhosis sets in, you could make a full recovery and regain complete function of your liver. Regular checkups and blood tests can detect liver problems early, even before you show physical symptoms. Finding the issue early in the course of the disease can result in a better prognosis.
The later stages of cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease can become fatal as more of the liver function is lost. Those who lose most of their liver’s operation and cannot get a transplant will likely die from the condition.
Current Liver Disease Treatments
Treatments for liver disease depend on the cause. Doctors try to diagnose and treat liver conditions early when their progression can be halted and sometimes reversed. Here are some of the treatments based on the causes of the liver problem:
- Congenital Defects: Congenital conditions are treated by mitigating the effects of symptoms on the individual’s lifestyle.
- Viruses:Hepatitis A and E only last for a short while, during which your body fights off the condition. These forms do not typically produce long-lasting effects and often don’t need medical treatment. Hepatitis B, C, and D can cause severe liver damage, even cirrhosis after years. Antiviral medications have been shown to cure 85 to 90 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C. Similar antiviral medicines may also help slow the progress of hepatitis B and D.
- Cancer: Cancer treatments for the liver are similar to those for other cancers. If cancer has not spread far, doctors may surgically remove the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is another treatment possibility.
- Autoimmune Disorders: Doctors use immune system-suppressing drugs to treat autoimmune conditions. These include corticosteroids and azathioprine.
- Damage to the Liver: For alcohol-related liver damage, your doctor will tell you to give up drinking and may give you a referral to an alcohol treatment program. For nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, you’ll be counseled to lose weight.
Side Effects of Current Treatments
Current treatments for liver problems are not without risk. Side effects are inherent with any treatment, but if your doctor recommends a specific medication, they believe the benefits warrant the risk of side effects.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids suppress your immune system. When taking these drugs, you’re more likely to become sick, so you must always be vigilant about avoiding sick people and washing your hands. Additionally, corticosteroids have serious side effects such as psychosis, high blood pressure, osteopenia, diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, weight gain, and pancreatitis.
- Azathioprine: Azathioprine is another immune suppressant that can increase your chances of getting sick and raise the likelihood of having more severe complications if you do become ill. Aside from this, azathioprine can cause pancreatitis, low white blood cell count, skin rash, liver damage, and nausea.
- Antiviral Medications: Despite the reported effectiveness of antiviral medications for hepatitis C, some patients who had also suffered from hepatitis B had the condition reactivated during treatment for hepatitis C.
- Surgery: Surgery to remove cancerous cells or for transplants always comes with the same risks as any major operative procedure. If your liver condition has progressed to require surgery, though, it may be one of the only options available to save your life.