How Cannabis Protects the Liver, Mitigates Alcohol Damage

To follow up with our piece on juice cleanses, we now know that the liver is one of the most important organs in our body. What I didn’t realize is how ingrained our endocannabinoid system is with the liver, especially in relation to alcohol damage.

The Liver

Our liver saves us from toxins, processes poison (alcohol) into water and air, converts all the weird chemicals we ingest, metabolizes fat, facilitates healthy estrogen and cholesterol levels, and is possibly the one thing that prevents cancer.

So many people are suffering from liver-related problems! From alcoholism, sugar addiction, processed food, and obesity, it’s safe to say that liver health should be most people’s top priority. 30 million Americans have some form of liver disease, and 160 million Americans are obese or overweight.

What does cannabis have to do with it?

Every creature with a vertebrae has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Every liver cell has endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). This system communicates to maintain health and balance in almost every metabolic process, even affecting memory, appetite and immunity. Read: basically everything.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD imitate our own endocannabinoids. So if we are deficient, cannabis becomes nature’s perfect supplement for our system.

In contrast, we don’t have an endo-alcohol system — alcohol just releases endorphins which makes us feel good. Alcohol is actually converted into an even more poisonous compound before it eventually becomes harmless, which seriously taxes the liver until, one by one, liver cells become too scarred to function.

Advanced scarring of the liver is called cirrhosis, and currently the only cure is a liver transplant. Interestingly, cirrhosis livers have more CB2 receptors than healthy livers, suggesting that cannabinoids could have an even greater impact on this diseased liver state.

Inverse of cannabis use to liver disease

Although correlative studies should always be taken with a grain of salt, there’s a convincing amount of evidence that the more you use cannabis, the less likely you are to develop liver disease.

In a study of 319,000 patients with a history of alcohol abuse, those who never used cannabis had a 90% chance of liver disease, moderate users had an 8% chance, and “dependent” users of cannabis had a 1.36% chance of developing liver disease.

Regarding nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a recent study found that those who used cannabis occasionally had a 15% lower risk, and regular users had a 52% lower risk of developing the disease. Furthermore, cannabinoids could help treat one’s liver disease.

But why?

We know there’s less inflammation from alcohol in cannabis users, and inflammation is what leads to disease.

Our ECS is active in fat and glucose metabolism, and cannabis use has been linked to lower insulin levels, which may help avoid fatty liver disease.

In mice, CBD caused pre-liver disease cells (hepatic stellate cells) to commit cellular suicide, stopping liver disease before it even happened.

Most amazingly, when hepatic encephalopathy — a brain disorder caused by liver failure — was induced in mice, CBD was able to restore neurological andcognitive functioning and normal liver function.

There’s still a huge need for more research, but we’re headed in the right direction — like finding the optimal ratio of THC to CBD to best benefit our endocannabinoid receptors, and exploring the more than 80 other cannabinoids in cannabis!

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