Cannabis smokers are less likely to be obese than the rest of the population, and a new study indicates that they are less prone to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) too. But what could be causing this?
Fatty liver disease tends to be linked to alcohol, and with the poor diets and exercise levels in America, it’s becoming a more concerning health problem. Around one-third of US citizens are affected by fatty liver disease, and livers with fat levels in excess of 5 to 10% can lead to liver cancer, liver cirrhosis and fibrosis, as the organ is damaged.
Alcohol is most responsible for NAFLD, but it’s far from the only factor. Diabetes, obesity, high-fat diets and regular prescription drug use can also contribute to the disease. However, studies have found that cannabis does not cause NAFLD, and it may even reduce a person’s likelihood of getting it.
Why are cannabis users less likely to get NAFLD?
The University of Massachusetts Medical School were the first to investigate whether there was a connection between fatty liver disease and consuming cannabis. Their research involved studying data from nearly six million American patients – an extensive task, but one that’s helped create a clear, definite picture.
Patients that had NAFLD were separated into three groups by the researchers: dependent marijuana users, non-dependent marijuana users and non-users. The research revealed that NAFLD among cannabis users was 43 percent lower than that of non-users.
Moreover, the study indicated that increased cannabis consumption directly correlated to a reduced risk of getting NAFLD. A “strong dose-dependent reduction” of NAFLD was reported with marijuana use, according to the study’s lead researcher Terence Ndonyi Bukong. Therefore, it’s possible that cannabis may slow the development of NAFLD, or reduce the process entirely.
The National Institute of Health has also looked at the potential link between cannabis and fatty liver disease – and published a study on the topic in 2010. Evidence seems to suggest that cannabinoids may regulate the liver to prevent a build-up of fat, through their interactions within the endocannabinoid system.
NAFLD and cannabis research is still only correlative
While correlative research gives us a decent idea of what is going on, it’s no substitute for actual proof that cannabinoids directly play a role in modulating a fatty liver. Furthermore, we have no knowledge of just how much of an impact that cannabinoids may have, and whether their effectiveness varies due to other factors.
Additional research into how CB1 and CB2 receptors influence fatty liver disease are required, as the University of Massachusetts study – while incredibly interesting and indicative – is ultimately only speculative.
Indeed, the researchers admitted that cannabis users are hesitant in revealing their real usage levels when discussing with medical professionals, and even a truthful answer would unlikely yield precise dosage amounts. Nor would we know how frequently the participants were consuming cannabis and how they were taking it – the method affects how many cannabinoids are absorbed into the bloodstream.
However, scientists appear very keen to look deeper into the correlation between NAFLD and marijuana usage. With the growing obesity and NAFLD issues, it’s notable that cannabis could be beneficial. Researchers have found that the non-psychoactive CBD compound has therapeutic value for patients with liver disorders. CBD is an anti-inflammatory and natural painkiller – cannabinoid receptors are situated all over the body, which explains why CBD is such an efficacious remedy.
At present, treating NAFLD is restricted to losing weight, addressing diet, exercising more and cutting out alcohol. Perhaps cannabis and CBD products will soon join the list.