Hepatitis C is a viral disease of the liver that afflicts an estimated four million Americans. Chronic hepatitis C is typically associated with fatigue, depression, joint pain and liver impairment, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Patients diagnosed with hepatitis C frequently report using cannabis to treat both symptoms of the disease as well as the nausea associated with antiviral therapy. An observational study by investigators at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) found that hepatitis C patients who used cannabis were significantly more likely to adhere to their treatment regimen than patients who didn't use it. Nevertheless, no clinical trials assessing the use of cannabinoids for this indication are available in the scientific literature.
Preclinical data indicates that the endocannabinoid system may moderate aspects of chronic liver disease and that cannabinoids may reduce inflammation in experimental models of hepatitis. Some other clinical reviews have reported a positive association between daily cannabis use and the progression of liver fibrosis (excessive tissue build up) and steatosis (excessive fat build up) in select hepatitis C patients. However, more recent trial data reports that cannabis smoking is not associated with the promotion of liver disease in Hep C subjects.
Experts possess divergent opinions regarding the therapeutic use of cannabinoids for hepatitis C treatment. Writing in the October 2006 issue of the European Journal of Gastroenterology, investigators from Canada and Germany concluded that cannabis' "potential benefits of a higher likelihood of treatment success [for hepatitis c patients] appear to outweigh risks." By contrast, other experts discourage the use of cannabis in patients with chronic hepatitis until further studies are performed.