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New Study Suggests Cannabis Users Have Lower Risk of Fatty Liver Disease

Findings in a new study contribute to the growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabis is therapeutically beneficial for preventing or treating liver diseases.

Cannabis use may prevent non-alcohol related fatty liver disease, according to a new study published this month in PLOS ONE. In a population-based case-control study, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School found the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to be 15 percent lower in non-dependent cannabis users and 52 percent lower in dependent users.

“We observed a strong dose-dependent reduction in the prevalence of NAFLD with cannabis use suggesting that cannabis use might suppress or reverse NAFLD development,” wrote Terence Ndonyi Bukong, head researcher of the study.

The term non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is used to describe the accumulation of too much fat stored in liver cells, without any relation to alcohol intake. The disease typically impacts people in their 40s and 50s with metabolic syndrome or whose obesity or type 2 diabetes place them at an increased risk of heart disease. Affecting an estimated 80 to 100 million people in the United States, the condition is the most common form of chronic liver disease. Excessive fat accumulation in the liver can lead to serious problems like steatohepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and in some cases hepatocellular carcinoma.

The researchers examined 5,950,391 discharge records of patients 18 years and older using the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), Nationwide Inpatient Survey (NIS). After isolating those with NAFLD, they separated the patients into three groups: non-cannabis users (98.04 percent), non-dependent cannabis users (1.75 percent), and dependent cannabis users (0.22 percent).

The researchers found that among all cannabis users, dependent users had 43 percent significantly lower prevalence of NAFLD compared to patients that were not dependent.

Medical Marijuana Research

Previous research has found cannabis, particularly the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD), to have therapeutic promise for liver disorders. Cannabis has shown to assist in inducing the death of damaging hepatic stellate cells, prevent oxidative stress, and provide anti-inflammatory effects to promote liver health.

The new study didn’t investigate the molecular mechanisms responsible for cannabis’ potential therapeutic role for NAFLD, but previous studies have shown cannabis use to be associated with a lower prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, two primary risk factors for NAFLD. The researchers did find that cannabis users, compared to non-users, were less likely to have hyperlipidemia and diabetes.

“Our analyses revealed a strong relationship between cannabis use and reduced prevalence of NAFLD in patients,” the researchers conclude in the study. “Due to our inability to draw direct causation effects from our cross-sectional studies, we suggest prospective basic and human studies to decipher the mechanistic details of how the various active ingredients in cannabis modulate NAFLD development.”

You can access the entire study, “Cannabis use is associated with reduced prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A cross-sectional study” via PLOS ONE.

You can learn more about the research on cannabis and liver conditions like fatty liver disease by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis studies through our news feed.