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Cannabis Consumers Have Lower Rates of Liver Cancer, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 29, 2022   
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Frequent cannabis consumers are less likely to develop a form of liver cancer than their cannabis-sober counterparts, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Cureus, the study looked through data from a national patient survey and found that cannabis consumers were 55% less likely to have hepatocellular carcinoma than those who didn’t use the drug.

Cannabis and liver cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer in adults and the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths globally.

Prevalence of the cancer is closely tied to infections from hepatitis viruses, such as hepatitis B and C, but it can also arise from chronic alcohol use.

To investigate the cancer’s relationship with cannabis, a group of researchers – from the Cleveland Clinic, Arizona Liver Health, Georgetown University Hospital, and Southern Illinois University – looked at the data of 101,231,036 patients (from 2002 to 2014) using the US’s National Inpatient Sample database.

They isolated the data of 996,290 patients (1% of the total) who had a diagnosis of cannabis abuse. Compared to the control group, these patients had a higher prevalence of alcohol abuse and a greater history of smoking and hepatitis B and C infections – all factors associated with a higher risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

And yet, the cannabis-using patients also had a lower prevalence of hepatocellular carcinomas than the control group, along with reduced levels of obesity, diabetes, and gallstones.

Due to the observational nature of their study, the researchers couldn’t say why cannabis consumers were less prone to developing hepatocellular carcinomas, despite their risk factors, but they did offer some suggestions. The CBD present in cannabis, they say, could be decreasing hepatic injury by activating CB2 receptors across the body.

Other studies have found that CB2 agonists (similar to CBD) can also inhibit the growth of hepatocellular carcinoma cells.

“These studies collectively show that CB1 and CB2 have the potential to serve as therapeutic targets,” the authors of the Cureus paper wrote.

“In short, the CB-2 agonist activity exerted by cannabis, specifically CBD, offers an explanation to our observations by providing protection against HCC [hepatocellular carcinoma] or at least deceleration of disease progression. Furthermore, pharmaceutical development of compounds exerting the dual effect of CB1 antagonism and CB2 agonism can play a major role in the management of liver diseases.”


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