It’s common knowledge that cannabis is much less harmful to human health than alcohol. But researchers in Massachusetts have published a new study that shows how cannabis could actually help reduce the harmful effects of alcohol use and abuse. Taking advantage of the anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana, the study investigated whether or not marijuana prevents alcohol-related liver disease.
Many experts consider alcohol to be the most harmful drug for human health. And indeed, alcohol racks up an astonishing body count each year. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths each year. It also contributes to a full third of all traffic deaths, about 10,000 fatalities per year.
With a death toll approaching 100,000 annually, alcohol doesn’t discriminate. According to the International Business Times, which reported on a pair of major surveys between 2001 and 2013, drinking’s destructive effects are rising across virtually every demographic in the US.
And that’s because alcohol use is on the rise across the board. So-called “high-risk” drinking is increasing at an even higher rate, marching upwards by 30 percent. As a result, nearly 30 million Americans are exposed to health risks due to their alcohol consumption. In short, alcohol use represents a significant public health concern.
One of the most fatal of those harmful effects is, of course, liver disease.
When a person drinks alcohol, they introduce a harmful substance into their body. The liver tries to filter out the alcohol in the bloodstream, but this damages many liver cells in the process. In response, the liver suffers from inflammation as scar tissue replaces the dead cells.
One of the most well-documented medicinal effects of cannabis use, however, is as an anti-inflammatory. Marijuana’s anti-inflammatory properties account for why the drug is an effective pain reliever. It’s also why cannabis is used to treat nerve inflammation, which is at the root of many neurological diseases like epilepsy and MS.
Building off of these precedents, researchers with the North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts wanted to see if weed’s potent anti-inflammatory capabilities could also help protect the liver from damage.
What they discovered is pretty incredible. The study focused on about 319,000 patients with a past or current history of alcohol abuse. Researchers divided the group into non-cannabis users, non-dependent cannabis users, and dependent cannabis users.
They also studied how cannabis use relates to the four distinct phases of liver disease. These are alcoholic fatty liver disease (AS), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (AH), cirrhosis (AC), and liver cancer (HCC).
Remarkably, the researchers found that cannabis users had “significantly lower odds” of developing AS, AH, AC, and HCC. What’s more, cannabis users the study classified as “dependent” showed the lowest chances of developing liver disease.
In other words, the more someone used cannabis, the less likely they were to develop liver diseases caused by alcohol abuse. Therefore, the study concluded, there’s reason to believe the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis do protect the liver from damage from alcohol abuse.
Adeyinka Charles Adejumo, who headed the research team, wants to make clear that aim of the study. It isn’t to encourage heavy drinkers to take up cannabis. Furthermore, Adejumo isn’t suggesting mixing alcohol and cannabis consumption. Instead, the scientist views the study as opening the door to cannabis-based treatments for liver disease in individuals who abuse alcohol.