In her presentation at the eighth National Conference on Cannabinoid Medicine, Diane Sylvestre, M.D., urged caution to those with hepatitis C virus (HCV) in their use of marijuana.
In the U.S. alone, four million people have the virus, and some don’t even know it. Until 1992, blood donors were not routinely tested, so while the epidemic was silently incubating in the bloodstreams of Americans, one out of 10 people who received a blood transfusion became infected. This is no longer the route of transmission; instead HCV has become spread mainly through IV drug use.
Of those infected with the virus, 25 percent will be lucky enough to have a spontaneous remission and eliminate it from their blood. In the other three-quarters, it often lies dormant until the immune system goes into attack mode, leading to scar tissue in the liver, cirrhosis, a higher incidence of liver cancer and even death. Fortunately, there is now a 90 percent cure rate with new drugs, so people are encouraged to get tested and get treated.
Common symptoms of chronic HCV include weight loss, nausea and digestive problems — all symptoms alleviated by use of medical cannabis. However, while cannabis may help with these immediate symptoms, it has also been shown in studies to be correlated with increased fibrosis (scarring) of the liver. With too much scarring comes cirrhosis.
Dr. Sylvestre reviewed the three studies that have been done to date. One of them, which was retrospective (looking back at patient records) show four times as much fibrosis in patients who used cannabis daily. What was unclear was the amount that led to the result.
The second study looked at current patients and also showed increased fibrosis with cannabis use as indicated by liver biopsy. The third study looked at the level of liver enzymes (which is only an indirect method to determine whether the scarring is occurring) and found that there was no correlation between cannabis use and fibrosis.
Do you or someone you know suffer from Hepatitis C and use cannabis to alleviate symptoms? Tell us in the comments below!