Weed Appears to Protect the Liver from Heavy Alcohol Drinking

Soft Secrets
31 Aug 2020

While moderate drinking should do no harm, we all know the harmful effects of excessive drinking on the human body, especially on the liver. A question remains, can weed actually help?

It’s very common for people to combine booze and weed together. There’s a certain kind of satisfaction mixing the two and having a blast for the weekend. While some people are more prone to overindulge in marijuana, others are more inclined to sip in just any drink on the evening table. But unlike pot, alcohol abuse can have severe health consequences. The effects of excessive drinking are well-known. The liver is one of the most fantastic, regenerative organs in the human body; however, overdrinking for years can erode it, causing liver inflammation and cirrhosis, the final stage of liver disease.

Does weed protect the liver from alcohol abuse?

Intriguingly, research suggests that weed can soothe the damaging effects of drinking. But the findings are based on preliminary data, and researchers warrant that their findings be taken with caution. In other words, nobody should be encouraged to immediately go binge drinking every night and refreshing with pot along the way. Another revelation that has come from looking at medical data is that a lot of folks who abuse alcohol are also cannabis users, which is now easier to access thanks to expanding legalization.

While cannabis is praised for its array of medicinal qualities such as improving appetite, resolving insomnia, or acting as an anti-inflammatory agent, its combined use with alcohol and its impact on the liver has remained disputed; therefore, the need for research. 

A study from 2018, the results of which published in the journal Genetic and Metabolic Liver Disease, has associated cannabis with reduced chances of developing advanced stages of liver disease. The research was carried out at the University of Quebec, where researchers at the National Institute of Scientific Research analyzed the discharge records of almost 320,000 patients with a history of excessive alcohol use. 

The patients’ records referred to both drinkers who did not use any cannabis or smoked either occasionally or were dependent on it. The study then revealed that among alcohol users, those who also use cannabis, regardless of whether they are dependent or non-dependent users, the chances were significantly lower in developing conditions such as fatty liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. 

In fact, the difference was staggering. Excessive alcohol drinkers who never did a nug had approximately a 90% chance of contracting a liver disease, unlike occasional users with heavy drinking habits who had about 8% chance or heavy smokers and drinkers where the chance was less than 2% to develop a severe liver condition. Apparently, the findings suggested that the regular use of marijuana may shield the liver from developing alcohol-related disorders. 

The 2018 study was relatable with the findings of another research, published in 2017 in the journal PLoS One, which examined the records of more than 8,000 patients and correlated heavy marijuana use with low odds of developing fatty liver disease. However, the same study poked at the fact that a majority of potheads had poor diets compared to non-smokers, which is why it pays to regularly prepare healthy snacks for your munchies. 

How cannabis affects the liver?

Apparently, the question that everyone wants the answer to is how cannabis affects the liver. While future research still needs to ponder on the interaction of cannabis with the liver, especially to see what happens at the cellular level‒there are several important notes to bear in mind. 

First, liver disease is by default related to insulin resistance, where cells in the body fail to use glucose from the blood to produce energy. The condition occurs when the liver amasses excess fat and struggles to process glucose. On the other hand, cannabis is associated with lower fasting insulin levels, which it turns out, offers some sort of protection to the liver from a disease that could be caused not solely by alcohol abuse but improper diet as well. 

Second, marijuana is well-known for its ability to counteract inflammation. The human body has a complex endocannabinoid system that affects various processes like immune function or pain sensation. CB-1 and CB-2 are the two most familiar endocannabinoid receptors; they are found all over the body as well as in the liver, where it appears CB-1 promotes liver damage, and CB-2 boosts liver protection.

Depends on how cannabis is ingested in the body, the liver’s role is to process its chemical compounds such as THC or CBD. For instance, when you consume marijuana edibles, you usually don’t get to feel immediately high because the body needs to process the THC- or CBD-infused edible intake. When the high hits you half an hour later, it may feel more potent than just inhaling smokable cannabis. The reason for that is that the liver produces a more potent variant of THC as a byproduct of the process, should the edible boast some extra THC.

Further according to researchers, the medicinal qualities of cannabis are very much related to the distributed ratio of its two most famous ingredients, THC and CBD. However, determining the perfect balance, for now, remains elusive. It’s just hard to tell what ratio of the two would trigger the most favorable reaction from the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. 

What about alcohol?

Alcohol drinking, nevertheless, can also be beneficial for the human body, if only the consumption is modest. Alcohol can trigger an immune reaction in the bloodstream, bind to immune cells receptors, and stimulate the discharge of inflammatory proteins known as interleukins. Interleukins are of the family of cytokines, a category of signaling molecules that govern and regulate various immune processes such as inflammation. Upon drinking, cytokines propel a kind of inflammation where white blood cells (that protect the body from foreign invaders) fight bacteria-unleashed toxins. However, excessive alcohol drinking causes the spill of toxins to overwhelm the body.

“If you drink alcohol in an abusive manner, either binge drinking or chronic, excessive drinking, there is a possibility of you creating a leaky gut,” also says Terence Bukong, a hepatologist, and part of the Canadian study, reports VICE.

“The bacteria transfer from your gut into the hepatic portal vein and then into the liver,” he says. Once this bacteria reaches the liver, the organ recognizes it as an invader, thus it starts to release inflammatory cytokines. This becomes an issue when it’s a recurring process as it builds low-grade, background inflammation, which essentially increases health risks. Any type of background inflammation is an indication of a more serious disease, and in this case, if left untreated, it may lead to conditions such as fibrosis, cirrhosis, or in worse patients, organ failure.

Enter marijuana, the magic plant appears to decrease the level of inflammatory cytokines in the blood in heavy users of alcohol. Hence the assumption that cannabinoids may actually protect the liver from the harmful effects of alcohol. But as Bukong says, we have to take this information with caution, and that it’s “a bit premature to make conclusions based on just preliminary data.”

While everyone might occasionally overindulge in alcohol, pot, or the combo of the two, it’s good to remember that moderate consumption of any substance is sometimes for the best.

Soft Secrets