How Can Weed Help Hepatitis C?

Treatment for conditions such as Hepatitis C may help cure the virus but can come with a long list of unpleasant side-effects. Is Weed the answer? 

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Weed as a lot of perks. It's a hub of goodness, making it a go-to for inflammation, pain, and anxiety. It can even help spark your creativity. However, when you notice that hepatitis C is a qualifying condition in 13 out of the 33 U.S. States where medicinal marijuana is legal, it makes you tilt your head out of curiosity. How can weed help with a viral infection?  

The answer: it can't. At least, not the infection anyway.

Hepatitis C affects around 3% of the world's population and roughly 4 million Americans. In fact, many celebrities have come clean about having the virus including Pamela Anderson, Aerosmith's lead singer, Steve Tyler, and Orange Is the New Black star, Natasha Lyonne.

Hepatitis C is seldom diagnosed without testing for it, meaning that a person can go years without knowing. It's a condition that is usually noticed when its complications begin to set in. By the time this happens, there is only one avenue for treatment – medication. 

Thankfully, after years for research, hepatitis C can be cured, with a 95% success rate. However, it can be a long and tiring journey to get there. Like many ailments, weed doesn't provide a cure, but it can help ease any unwanted symptoms. 

In this case, it's the medications for hepatitis C that are the issue. Despite the high success rate, medications are extensive, bringing a whole list of side-effects for patients to endure. This makes it difficult for patients to want to last the course of treatment. 

Weed may not hold the cure, nor can help with its symptoms, but it can help ease the extensive treatment of curing hepatitis C.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection. The only way people can contract it is if your blood comes in contact with infected blood. The infection specifically attacks the liver, and, if left untreated can lead to severe liver damage, cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and liver cancer. Hepatitis C can be contracted from the following: 

  • Sharing needles
  • Getting tattoos with unsterilised equipment
  • Undergoing medical procedures with unsterilised equipment 
  • Sharing toothbrushes or razors 
  • Sexually transmitted from person to person (however, this is a very rare occurrence). 
  • If an expectant mother has contracted hepatitis C then her offspring has a 5% chance of contracting it as well.

People often confuse symptoms with signs of aging and won't realize that they're suffering from hepatitis C. These can include sleeping problems, fatigue, aches and pains, fever, mood swings or depression, and skin rashes. Other symptoms can include dry eyes, dry mouth, and poor appetite. Diabetes is also an indicator, with Type 2 patients being more likely to have hepatitis C patients than the general population.

When a person contracts hepatitis C, the body's immune system will begin to fight the virus. When this happens, one of two things will occur: patients will develop either an acute illness or a chronic illness. 

Acute illness of hepatitis C will only occur in 25% of patients. Patients will feel unwell, then recover because the body has successfully beaten the virus. If the virus stays in the body for more than six months then the patient will have a chronic illness. 

Chronic illness means that unless the virus is cured, it will remain in the body for the rest of the patient's life. This doesn't necessarily mean that the patient will feel unwell, but it will gradually cause irreparable damage to the liver. 

While there is a cure, there are several reasons that can affect the outcome for hepatitis C: the age when one contracts the virus; one's alcohol habits; and the presence of another viral infection. These indicators can influence the longevity of the illness and its chances of being eradicated. 

Chronic hepatitis C can be cured with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications. As mentioned, DAA medications are safe and are effective in 95% of cases. 

The issue lies within the longevity of the treatment period. In some instances, Hep C courses can take over a year to complete. While treatment is progressing, the duration of courses is becoming shorter and some can take as little as 12 weeks. Regardless, it's a long time to endure the side-effects. 

This is when weed can work its magic. 

Weed: A Treatment for a Treatment? 

It seems unnecessary, doesn't it? Undergoing treatment is one thing, but prescribing a treatment to treat the side-effects for the original treatment? Ridiculous. 

Or is it? 

Most medications cause some kind of side-effect. These can present as unpleasant symptoms like nausea, anxiety, and depression. Patients are usually prescribed more pills to combat secondary symptoms. 

This serves several problems: prolonged use of treatment can cause addiction and/or a heightened tolerance. Also, treatment is expensive, especially when courses need to be taken over a long period of time. This makes it difficult for patients to uphold the financial obligation, causing people to decide against completing the treatment or decide against treatment altogether.

Hepatitis C medications can cause flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal issues, anemia, depression, and neutropenia (a severely low count of neutrophils – a type of white blood cell) and more commonly, nausea.

Weed doesn't serve a treatment for the virus, or its complications – it serves as an aid for side effects of medication. 

This is not as unusual as you might think. Hyperemesis ravidarum (severe morning sickness) and chemotherapy-induced nausea are common qualifying conditions. Nausea from hepatitis C medication is no different. Cannabis is also great for treating inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and is an effective source for pain-relief.

Weed can play an important part in one's treatment plan because it can make the treatment course more tolerable for the patient. Imagine feeling like you've got a bad case of the flu along with nausea for 6 – 12 months – it's certainly not an attractive prospect to continue with anti-viral medication. 

As a bonus, weed doesn't do any damage to the liver, nor does it interfere with DAA medications. This means that patients who use weed to calm their nausea, aid their depression, and help them sleep won't be at risk of any more damage if used appropriately. 

How Does Weed Help Hepatitis C? 

When cannabinoids communicate with the endocannabinoid system, they react with its CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors react with our dopamine and serotonin levels that can alter our mood, make us feel tired as well as triggering anti-emetic responses. 

There has been an amalgamation of studies that provide evidence that cannabinoid-derived medicines, like nabilone and dronabinol, are effective for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. They can inhibit the binding of dopamine and serotonin associated with nausea and activate the endocannabinoid receptors in the emetic reflex pathways. They can also activate receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and interact with the dorsal vagal complex (DVC) in the brain stem.

The DVC is important because it's responsible for the signals (triggered by nausea-initiating medicines) in the blood and the nerve cells that activate the vomiting response. When cannabinoids like THC interact with the CB1 receptors in the DVC it can suppress nausea and vomiting.

Over the years, the association between hepatitis C and weed has been mixed. Some studies suggest that weed could progress liver damage, however, these have since been debunked

One study has shown that weed does not affect liver damage, its progression, or the outcome of hepatitis C. Another study shows that the cannabinoids in cannabis serve as natural anti-inflammatories.

In fact, studies show that patients who incorporate weed into their existing treatment plan are more likely to finish the course of treatment. In fact, Indica dominant, THC-rich strains such as Northern Lights are great for hepatitis C patients because of its calming effects while also helping with pain and sleep. However, you'll need to discuss potential options with your health care professional.

The best way to use weed to help ease the side-effects of hepatitis C treatment is to use a tailored dosage and strain. It's important to find a strain that best suits you, your needs, and your body.

If you feel like weed may be the way to help you through your course treatment, seek advice from your health care professional. Receiving ongoing treatment can be stressful enough, at least there's an option out there to help make the journey a little easier. 

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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