Weed Seems to Protect Your Liver From the Effects of Hard Drinking

September 10, 2018

Though it shouldn’t encourage anyone to start slamming shots after taking a dab​.

In January, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issued new rules declaring that intoxicating drinks cannot be infused with marijuana. Of course, that isn’t going to stop many people from simultaneously consuming weed and booze, especially as more states like California roll back cannabis prohibition.

These people might be interested to hear about a string of recent studies suggesting that cannabis can actually have protective benefits for the liver. Still, they should resist the urge to start slamming shots after taking a dab, or vice versa.

The largest study of the bunch found that drinkers who smoke weed had significantly lower odds of developing liver diseases including hepatitis, cirrhosis, steatosis, and even hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. Researchers at the National Institute of Scientific Research at the University of Quebec looked at the discharge records of nearly 320,000 patients who had a past or current history of abusive alcohol use.

“We found that if people are using cannabis in the dependent manner, they actually are much more protected from alcoholic liver disease,” Terence Bukong, a hepatologist and the study’s lead investigator, tells Tonic.

Alcohol abusers who didn’t use weed had about a 90 percent chance of developing liver disease, whereas light cannabis-using heavy drinkers had about an 8 percent chance. For dependent cannabis users who drink a lot, there was only a 1.36 percent chance. In other words, this study suggests that heavy pot use could mean a better defense against alcohol-related disease compared to light or no marijuana use.

This was a population-based correlation study, so it’s too early to draw strict conclusions. However, it’s consistent with another paper published in October, which looked at more than 8,200 patient records and found that the “lowest prevalence of [non-alcoholic fatty liver disease] was noted in current heavy users of marijuana.” (Some of the participants in this study did drink, but the data was adjusted to account for that.) They also found that cannabis users had worse diets than non-smokers—they consumed more calories, soda, and alcohol—yet they were less likely to be obese.

The researchers, led by a team at the Stanford University School of Medicine, hypothesize this might be related to the link between marijuana use and lower fasting-insulin levels, which could also protect the liver from non-alcoholic liver disease. Liver disease is frequently associated with insulin resistance and is caused when the liver accumulates too much fat, thus impairing glucose metabolism. So, cannabis may protect the liver even from dietary risks.


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