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Study: Cannabis Consumers Are Less Likely to Be Diagnosed With Liver Cancer

September 12, 2022 08:00 am ET
Study: Cannabis Consumers Are Less Likely to Be Diagnosed With Liver Cancer

Cannabis has been proving its therapeutic potential as a treatment option for many diseases and conditions. However, what is often neglected when thinking about cannabis and its benefits is the fact that it can protect people from so much. Joining amongst the ranks of protecting your skin from free radicals and protecting and improving neuroplasticity, as a condition which cannabis can assist with protecting you from is liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma. Not only will cannabis assist with lowering your odds of presenting with this cancer, but it also shows promise as a life-saving treatment option. 

Studying Cannabis and Liver Cancer

Data published in the scientific journal Cureus has found that adults who have a recent history of cannabis consumption are twice less likely to present with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)- which is the most common type of live cancer- when compared to adults who have never consumed cannabis. Ahmed ElTelbany and colleagues reported that those who have a recent history of cannabis use were “55 percent less likely to have HCC compared to patients without cannabis use.” ElTelbany et al used a total of 101, 231, 036 participants in their study, out of which 996, 290 (1%) patients had a diagnosis of cannabis abuse while remaining 99% had not been diagnosed with cannabis abuse- making this portion the control group.

ElTelbany and colleagues used multivariable logistic regression, adjusted for potential confounders, and found that “patients with cannabis abuse were 55% less likely to have HCC…” The researchers concluded by stating that “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first and largest population-based cross-sectional study of hospitalized patients to explore the association between cannabis use and HCC. … Due to the cross-sectional structure of our study, we are unable to draw direct causation effects. Hence, we suggest prospective clinical studies to further understand the mechanism by which various active ingredients, particularly CBD in cannabis, may possibly regulate hepatocellular carcinoma development.” 

Hepatocellular Carcinoma 

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a common liver cancer which is more likely to occur in people who have dealt with chronic liver-based disorders such as cirrhosis, explains the Mayo Clinic. However, Mayo Clinic explains that this type of liver cancer is also commonly found in people who consume large amounts of alcohol and who have accumulated fat in the liver. They go on to explain that HCC begins in the main liver cell known as hepatocyte but that “cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins in the liver cells.” Much like other cancers, HCC is named after the location of its origin.     

While most people won’t show any signs or have any symptoms during the early stages of HCC, when they do start appearing, they include losing weight without trying, loss of appetite, upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, abdominal swelling, yellow discoloration of the skin and teeth (jaundice), white ‘chalky’ stool, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Risk factors associated with this cancer include having a chronic infection with hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus, having dealt with cirrhosis, diabetes, inherited liver diseases such as hemochromatosis, exposure to aflatoxins, drinking too much alcohol, etc. While doctors may be able to identify where the liver cancer came from, there are still circumstances where the cause of the liver cancer remains unknown.    

The Anti-Tumoral Action of Cannabis on HCC

While ElTelbany and colleagues research concerning the likelihood of cannabis consumers presenting with HCC was only published recently, there are those who have looked to cannabis as a potential means of dealing with HCC. For example, researchers Vara, Salazar, Olea-Herrero and colleagues found that cannabis, particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a specific CB2 receptor known as JWH-015 “reduced the viability of human HCC cell lines.”

The researchers go on to explain that THC can trigger human glioma (a type of tumor in the brain or spine) cell death”- which is what led the team to consider the cannabinoid for HCC. They state that their research shows “that the natural cannabinoid Δ9-THC and the CB2 receptor-selective agonist JWH-015 inhibit HCC cell growth via stimulation of autophagy. In other words, THC was found to promote anti-tumoral action in the body, thereby reducing chances, or rates, of the HCC becoming malignant (becoming invasive, aggressive and deadly). 

Cannabis Oil for Liver Cancer

Meanwhile, researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) investigated the use of cannabis oil for liver cancer patients who have no further treatment options. The university reports that their research began as the result of two cases where “patients who have exhausted all other treatment options” turned to cannabis oil and their liver tumors began to shrink and eventually “completely disappeared.” While their research has not been published yet, they plan to involve 20 patients and they plan to carry out this research in order to help those who have ‘supportive care’ as their only option- at least until they try the cannabis oil. 

HCC claims the lives of almost 32, 000 people every year in America alone. Ailor explains that the amount of people who die from HCC has more than tripled since 1980 as a result of the risse in the hepatitis B – and C- viruses. They go on to explain that the deaths caused from HCC are increasing much more than that of the deaths caused by any other cancer and that this large mortality rate is largely due to the fact that people are diagnosed during late-stages- which are often deemed too late. 

While ElTelbany and colleagues found that frequent cannabis consumers have much better chances of avoiding the HCC, it remains unclear whether any of those cannabis consumers in the study actually had any of the risks which would make them susceptible to HCC. Still, the chances are lower than those who do not consume cannabis. For those who are at risk of HCC or who have already been diagnosed with HCC, consider cannabis oil as a treatment option- you have nothing to lose but everything to gain from making the decision to turn to cannabis. 

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