Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection is often asymptomatic, but once established, chronic infection can progress to scarring of the liver (fibrosis), and advanced scarring (cirrhosis) which is generally apparent after many years. In some cases, those with cirrhosis will go on to develop liver failure or other complications of cirrhosis, including liver cancer.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread by blood-to-blood contact. New evidence shows it may be able to spread through bodily fluids. Most people have few, if any symptoms after the initial infection, yet the virus persists in the liver in about 85% of those infected. Persistent infection can be treated with medication, peginterferon and ribavirin being the standard-of-care therapy. Only 51% are cured overall. Those who develop cirrhosis or liver cancer may require a liver transplant, and the virus universally recurs after transplantation.

The basis of any argument in favor of medical marijuana claims that it can relieve pain, reduce nausea, and increase appetite in those with chronic disease. While illnesses such as cancer and HIV are approved for some medical marijuana legislation, Hepatitis C has been largely ignored. However, a 2006 report demonstrated a positive use of marijuana for people with HCV.

While therapy for chronic Hepatitis C is most often based on interferon medication, its value is limited due to the uncomfortable side effects it can induce, such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle and joint pain, and depression. These symptoms often lead to interferon therapy’s poor adherence, which manifests either in a dose reduction or discontinuation of treatment—both of which hinder interferon’s potential effectiveness against HCV.

Published in the October 2006 European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, a Northern California study involving 71 participants demonstrated that moderate marijuana use may relieve interferon’s side effects, helping people with Hepatitis C stick with the full treatment regimen.