A new study showed that abusive alcohol users who also use cannabis are less likely to develop all types of liver disease.
A group of researchers set out to “determine the effects of cannabis use on the incidence of liver disease in individuals who abuse alcohol.”
They wanted to see if the observed anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis also affect the development of liver disease.
The research was headed up by Adeyinka Charles Adejumo of North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts. Adejumo also works at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Research into Alcohol and Liver Disease
During their research, the team analyzed the discharge records from the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project – Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS).
They focused on patients 18-years and older, who had a past or current history of abusive alcohol use. This amounted to a sample size of over 319,000 patients who abused alcohol.
Initially, the researchers divided the sample group into “cannabis exposure groups: non-cannabis-users (90.39%), non-dependent-cannabis-users (8.26%) and dependent cannabis users (1.36%).”
Then, they studied four distinct phases of liver disease. These included: alcoholic steatosis (AS) or alcoholic fatty liver; steatohepatitis (AH) or non-alcoholic fatty liver; cirrhosis (AC); and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or essentially liver cancer.
The researchers concluded:
Our study revealed that among alcohol users, individuals who additionally use cannabis (dependent and non-dependent cannabis use) showed significantly lower odds of developing AS, AH, AC and HCC. Further, dependent users had significantly lower odds than non-dependent users for developing liver disease.
Although the goal of this article is not to advocate the use of cannabis while under the influence of alcohol, Adejumo’s research raises an important question. Do the plant’s healing properties actually protect the liver from some of the damaging health effects of alcohol?
The Prevalence of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol is the most destructive drug. It causes an estimated 88,000 deaths per year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also responsible for about one-third of all traffic fatalities. That’s equal to an additional 10,000 deaths per year. (source)
Regardless of these horrifying statistics, the alcohol industry is thriving. In the U.S., alcohol consumption is on the rise. As such, researchers now estimate that 1 in 8 Americans are alcoholics.
Researchers continue to reveal the severity of this problem. For example, International Business Times reports on one relevant study:
Two large surveys carried out in 2001-02 and 2012-13 have found that harmful levels of drinking are increasing among almost all demographics in the US.
The number of people who had consumed alcohol in the past 12 months went up 11.2% in the time between surveys. High-risk drinking went up by almost 30%. This means that at present about 29.6 million Americans are putting their health at risk due to their drinking habits.
The authors of this particular study concluded:
Increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the US population and among subgroups, especially women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, constitute a public health crisis. Taken together, these findings portend increases in many chronic comorbidities in which alcohol use has a substantial role.
The research thus concludes that the existing rate of alcohol use signifies that more of the public will suffer from multiple chronic conditions in the future. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is definitely one of these destructive chronic illnesses.