Hepatitis C and Cannabis: Does it Work?


Hepatitis C (HCV) is a widespread virus that can cause chronic liver problems. Some people are turning to cannabis to manage the unpleasant side effects linked with HCV and HCV medications. An estimated 4 million people in the United States are infected with Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are other hepatitis virus infections. Each of these viral infections is caused by a different virus.

Some people who are infected with hepatitis C don’t suffer from any symptoms. Doctors often detect the virus during blood tests done for a routine physical or other medical procedure. If the person has been infected for many years, the liver could be permanently scarred, which results in a condition known as cirrhosis. In many cases, symptoms may not be present until cirrhosis has developed.

Although hepatitis C may not result in any symptoms, and can even clear up on its own, research suggests that cannabis may help to heal the liver. This evidence is vague and limited, but it’s still a treatment option worth exploring.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection of the liver. The symptoms are so mild that it often goes undiagnosed. However, no symptoms is not a good thing, because the virus can lead to life-threatening conditions like liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Hepatitis C predominantly infects the cells of the liver, which can result in inflammation and significant damage. It could also affect the liver’s ability to perform its essential functions. Although it’s always been regarded as a liver disease, “hepatitis” actually means inflammation of the liver.

Recent research revealed that the virus affects a number of other areas in the body – not just the liver. These can include the immune system, the brain, the lymphatic system, and the digestive system.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 150 million people who suffer from chronic hepatitis C. The level of infection varies widely from country to country. For instance, in Egypt, it’s as high as 15% of the population, while in the United States, it’s believed to be 1%.

Although people with HCV may not experience any symptoms, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Abdominal pain (right upper abdomen)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Pale or clay-colored stools
  • Dark urine
  • Lower-grade fever
  • Generalized itching

Hepatitis C is spread through blood; thus, the primary channels of being infected are having unprotected sex and sharing needles.

New hepatitis C drugs are quite useful and have mild side effects, but traditional treatments can cause nausea, depression, anxiety, and diarrhea. The best-case scenario is flu-like symptoms.

This is where cannabis comes in. It could be a safer and more natural way to treat hepatitis C.

The Relationship Between Hepatitis C and Cannabis

Cannabis alone won’t treat hepatitis C, and it doesn’t address the complications that cause liver disease and cirrhosis. However, it can be beneficial for treating the symptoms that are associated with either the virus itself or the side effects related to HCV drugs, such as nausea.

CBD is a promising pharmaceutical supplement because it’s non-psychoactive, and has been examined across various disease states, including multiple sclerosis. But while a lot of studies have analyzed the anti-inflammatory effects of the compound, not much is known about the antiviral activity of CBD.

One 2006 study done by Diana L. Sylvestre, MD, who is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, suggests that using cannabis during HCV treatment could offer symptomatic and virological benefits by helping patients to maintain adherence to the often painful and challenging medication regime.

Standard HCV therapy requires the use of two powerful drugs, ribavirin and interferon, over a period of a few months. Because of the severe side effects associated with these drugs, many patients don’t finish their treatment and thus may develop chronic liver disease, liver cancer, or cirrhosis.

A few studies have credited cannabis use with more strict adherence to treatment protocols. The general belief is that by reducing the unpleasant side effects, cannabis helps make the antiviral medications more tolerable. Therefore, more people finish their full course of medication and experience better outcomes.

Can Cannabis Treat Hepatitis C?

As we’ve already discussed above, there is no evidence to suggest that cannabis can treat HVC itself. However, it can be used in conjunction with doctor-prescribed medications to help heal the body from the virus.

Cannabis has therapeutic effects and can help patients to endure the side effects that conventional treatment options have to offer. It’s very effective in combating nausea, aches, pains, and decreased appetite. CBD, one of the key cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, is thought to be particularly effective due to its therapeutic benefits.

CBD binds with cannabinoid receptors in the body to help create an anti-inflammatory effect in the liver, which helps to reduce the effects of hepatitis C. While cannabis is not considered to be a cure for hepatitis C, researchers are starting to investigate the relationship between the two.

Initial studies convinced researchers that cannabis could exacerbate liver damage since the compound affects the organ’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). It upregulates CB1 receptors, and this increases inflammation. On the whole, evidence suggests that the ECS within the liver plays an important part in regulating damage to the organ.

It’s possible that future research could recommend cannabis as a way to fight off cirrhosis associated with chronic HCV, but currently, there is no consensus on this point. A lot more research still needs to be done to confirm these findings.

Final Thoughts on CBD and HCV

Research on cannabis and hepatitis C is very limited. To date, there is no evidence to suggest that cannabis can be an effective treatment option for the virus. Currently, the primary benefit that cannabis offers hep C patients is believed to be motivational rather than medical.

Since conventional HCV therapy entails horrible side effects and can be very unpleasant to endure, cannabis may ease the symptoms and make treatment more bearable. In other words, patients are more likely to stick to the treatment plan because cannabis minimizes the associated side effects.

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