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Alcoholics Who Use Cannabis Daily Have Lower Risk of Liver Disease, Says New Study

Marijuana may mitigate the damage caused by chronic alcohol use, likely due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

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Photo via Samantha Cohen

As access to medical marijuana spreads throughout the country, scientists are discovering more and more medicinal uses for the once-demonized plant. A new study recently accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Liver International journal may have found yet another potential benefit of cannabis. Researchers investigating the outcome of chronic alcohol and cannabis use on the liver made the surprising discovery that alcoholics who used cannabis daily had a lower risk of developing progressive stages of liver disease than those who didn’t.

The research team analyzed hospital discharge records from the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project to study the prevalence of progressive liver disease in adults with a past or current history of alcohol abuse. After identifying more than 300,000 individuals who met their criteria, the researchers classified the subjects into three groups: non-cannabis users, non-dependent cannabis users, and dependent cannabis users.

The results of the study “revealed that among alcohol users, individuals who additionally use cannabis (dependent and non-dependent cannabis use) showed significantly lower odds of developing alcoholic steatosis (AS), steatohepatitis (AH), fibrosis, cirrhosis (AC) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) ... Further, dependent users had significantly lower odds than non-dependent users for developing liver disease.”

The research team was unable to identify the exact medical reason why chronic marijuana users had lower risks of liver disease, but hypothesized that the known anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis may reduce long-term liver damage caused by drinking. Of course, it is unlikely that doctors would recommend that all alcoholics should start toking up daily, but this study could pave the way for further research that could help identify or create a cannabis-based medicine to help mitigate the damage caused by chronic alcohol abuse.