Experts Call For Legal Cannabis To Treat Hep C Virus

Toronto, Ontario: Patients afflicted with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) should be legally permitted to use cannabis to combat treatment-related side effects of the disease, advises an international team of investigators writing in the October issue of the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

The researchers issued their recommendation following the results of an observational study by the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) that found that HCV patients who used cannabis were significantly more likely to adhere to their treatment regimen than patients who didn’t use it.

Patients on HCV therapy medications typically report numerous adverse side effects – including fatigue, headaches, nausea, anorexia, depression, and insomnia that cause many of them to prematurely discontinue treatment.

Commenting on the study, investigators from Canada and Germany wrote that cannabis’ “potential benefits of a higher likelihood of treatment success [for HCV patients] appear to outweigh [its] risks. … Even before such effects are conclusively established, HCV treatment patients … desiring to aid their treatment adherence by cannabis use should be legally permitted in doing so.”

Though survey data indicates that many HCV patients use cannabis therapeutically to treat both symptoms of the disease as well as the side effects of HCV therapy, no clinical studies have been performed to assess the safety or efficacy of cannabinoids for hepatitis C treatment. In addition, a 2005 retrospective study of untreated HCV patients reported that daily cannabis smoking was associated with hepatic fibrosis. However, UCSF investigators found “no significant difference in liver fibrosis” between moderate cannabis smokers and non-users in their observational study.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of studies, “Treatment for hepatitis C virus and cannabis use in illicit drug user patients: implications and questions” and “Cannabis use improves retention and virological outcomes in patients treated for hepatitis C,” are available in the October issue of the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Additional information on cannabinoids and hepatitis C is available in NORML’s new report, “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis,” online at: