An estimated 30 million Americans have a form of liver disease, and it is the 12th most common cause of death in the U.S. As you may already know, the liver is our largest internal organ and is involved in cleaning the blood, processing, delivering and storing food, producing vital nutrients, and detoxifying harmful substances. A healthy liver has an astounding ability to regenerate cells even when damaged.
When the liver is too damaged, however, it loses its ability to heal itself and creates scar tissue. Cirrhosis is the final stage and can ultimately prove fatal. Various studies have found a link between marijuana and the restoration of liver function. While these studies have been on rodents, if the results transfer to humans, we would have an immense treatment option available.
However, there have been reports about health issues arising due to the use of CBD vape oils. The U.S. Army issued a public health warning in early 2018 after medical centers in North Carolina bases saw 60 patients with health problems which officials linked to use of CBD oil. Symptoms included nausea, vomiting, agitation, and seizures.
There is also a real concern that CBD vaping is causing people lung damage, but is it the CBD itself that is potentially harmful, or the process of vaping?
Can Cannabidiol Damage the Liver?
The trouble with CBD is the lack of regulation in an industry known as the ‘Wild West’ due to the level of lawlessness. It is hoped that the passing of the Farm Bill of 2018, which legalized the growth of industrial hemp, will help tighten regulations. CBD is extracted from marijuana or hemp through the use of solvents, or preferably via supercritical CO2 extraction.
In 2017, Marcel Bonn-Miller, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducted a study and found that almost 70% of CBD products didn’t contain the amount of the cannabinoid promised on the label. Over 40% contained too little while 25% contained too much CBD.
Even more concerningly, almost 20% of the products contained THC. Presumably, some oils were extracted in states where weed is illegal, and if you purchased such CBD oil in a state like Alabama, you could find yourself in trouble with the law. The main concern about CBD is potential interactions with other drugs.
If you are using anti-epilepsy drugs with CBD for example, you should reduce your dosage to avoid negative side effects. As for CBD harming the liver, Timothy Welty, of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Iowa, says that in studies, 10% of people using CBD had increases in liver enzymes which could be an indication of possible liver damage.
According to Welty, up to 3% of individuals using CBD had to stop because their level of liver enzymes went dangerously high.
CBD’s Effect on the Liver
It does appear as if CBD has an effect on drug metabolism within the liver. It is known to interact with drug-metabolizing enzymes such as the cytochrome P450 family. Well over half of ALL pharmaceutical drugs are metabolized by the CYP3A4 enzyme which is also responsible for how CBD is metabolized.
There are specific drugs that hinder CYP3A4 which can slow the breakdown of CBD and increase its rate of physiological activity. Then there are other drugs which increase levels of the enzyme and ensure rapid CBD breakdown. It must be said that CBD also has positive effects on liver enzymes. It boosts the rate of CYP1A1 production which can breakdown carcinogenic substances such as benzopyrene.
If you are using clobazam for instance and also use CBD, both medicines are broken down in the liver and begin to compete against one another. The cannabidiol blocks the enzyme in the liver that breaks down clobazam which leads to elevated clobazam levels. Overall, an increase in liver enzymes is a possible sign of inflammation or damage to the liver.
While CBD by itself is more likely to help than harm your liver, it can cause problems when used in conjunction with other drugs. If you are on any type of medication, please discuss your use of CBD with your physician.
Quality of CBD Matters
As well as avoiding interactions with other drugs, the quality of CBD is crucial. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the company you are buying CBD from well established?
- Does it post results of third-party lab tests on its site?
- Does it have plenty of genuine reviews?
- How does it extract the CBD? Does it use solvents or supercritical CO2 extraction? Use of clean alcohol as a solvent is acceptable but do not consider using CBD extracted using butane.
- Is the oil free from pesticides, insecticides, and heavy metals?
- Does the company outline its extraction process in detail?
- Where do they source the cannabis or hemp?
If you buy low-quality CBD oil, you have a lot more to worry about than your lungs!
Is Vaping CBD Oil a Bad Idea?
It has been suggested that the act of vaping is harmful, but it is far more likely to be due to what is being vaporized. CBD vape oils are poorly regulated as you know, and it is next to impossible to verify claims without access to a lab. Unscrupulous vendors sometimes sell CBD vape oil filled with addictive nicotine for example.
Even worse, these oils can contain toxic substances such as diacetyl, a flavoring agent which provides a buttery taste. Diacetyl is actually perfectly safe to eat, but when it is heated in a vaporizer and inhaled, it leads to serious lung irritation. There is also a concern that vaporizing hemp or cannabis will fail to break down waxy material from plant leaves which builds up in a person’s lungs.
On the other hand, vaping CBD enables the cannabinoid to bypass the liver and gut which leads to higher bioavailability. In other words, vaping CBD should yield better results than consuming oils or edibles.
Final Thoughts on CBD and the Liver
There is scant evidence to suggest that CBD itself causes any issues with liver function. Even vaping it is unlikely to have an impact, although it could irritate the lungs. One of the first dangers is low-quality CBD. In that case, your liver could be harmed by the nasty unnatural materials included in the cannabidiol.
The other main danger is if you are already using a specific medication. When you use CBD, the liver will stop metabolizing other drugs which use the same enzyme as CBD, namely P450. Let’s say you use oxycodone, a potent painkiller, and CBD at the same time. The cannabidiol may cause the oxycodone to stay in your system for far longer than it should. This can lead to various side effects and over time, liver damage is inevitable.
Any medication that is metabolized by your liver is affected by CBD. It is a very long list, and I advise you to speak to your physician before proceeding with CBD. Although a large percentage of doctors may not understand cannabidiol, they can help by regularly checking your blood for signs of abnormalities. In some cases, the interaction can be beneficial as you need less of a drug to get the same effect, but once again, we urge caution and the assistance of a physician just to make sure you are using CBD sensibly.
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