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Hepatitis C

Updated on June 15, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Hepatitis C is an often chronic infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can result in cirrhosis of the liver. If you’re newly diagnosed with hepatitis C, it’s likely that you’re wondering what the condition is, the potential side effects of conventional treatment and whether medical cannabis for hepatitis C can help you.

Research suggests that cannabis has the potential to offer therapeutic benefits to patients with Hepatitis C and many states have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of hepatitis C.

How and Why Marijuana Is an Effective Treatment

While pot alone cannot treat hepatitis C, you can use it in a complementary way along with your physician-prescribed medications. Its mood-elevating, pain-killing properties can provide you with relief, enabling your body to begin to heal.

A correlation exists between the use of medical marijuana and hepatitis C symptoms. Research suggests medical marijuana has therapeutic benefits if you’re suffering from HCV. Additionally, the medicine’s side effects are typically mild and classified as “low risk,” with euphoric mood changes among the most frequent.

Scientific and anecdotal evidence tell us medical marijuana is a safe, effective medicine that helps patients with Hepatitis C endure the side effects of treatment—therefore helping patients complete the entire treatment regimen. Marijuana can help to alleviate side effects such as aches and pains, decreased appetite and nausea.

A 2006 report published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology discussed a study conducted in Northern California that supported this idea.

Here’s how it works. The two main cannabinoids found in marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), bind with your body’s cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). When CB2 is activated, it creates a positive, anti-inflammatory effect in your liver that decreases the severity of HCV symptoms.

One study in 2013 debunked previously held clinical conclusions that smoking pot harms the liver. Another discovered taking cannabinoids inhibited some pro-inflammatory processes and significantly reduced liver injury in mice.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use

There are many marijuana strains that provide a positive and energy boosting effect and help you to manage vomiting, nausea and other upsetting symptoms of conventional hepatitis C treatment.

For relieving inflammation and pain, you’ll want to use an Indica strain. These strains are high in THC and function as powerful sedatives that may enable you to get the rest you need.

Indica-dominant strains usually have a strong, sour or sweet odor and create a relaxed feeling that’s helpful in treating sleeping disorders, physical pain and generalized anxiety. Some medical pot patients find that consuming Indica buds before going to bed helps even if they were previously experiencing sleeping difficulties.

Other Indica strains include:

  • Northern Lights
  • Northern Lights Bubblegum
  • Dynamite
  • Misty

If you find heavy Indica strains to be too sedating, try a hybrid or Indica-dominant strain consisting of 70 percent Indica and 30 percent Sativa. Some examples are:

  • Cripple Creek
  • Grapefruit
  • Medicine Woman
  • White Widow x Big Bud

Sativa strains tend to smell more natural and “grassy.” They generate a more energized and uplifted feeling, making them more suitable for daytime use. These strains can be useful if you’ve been suffering from a low mood. Some examples include Jack Herer, Sour Diesel and Purple Haze. Additional strains include:

  • Jack Herer (anxiety)
  • Purple Haze
  • Sour Diesel

When investigating the right strain to use, it’s a good idea to speak to a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary budtender.

Best Method of Marijuana Treatment

Treating hepatitis C symptoms with a combination approach is considered to be the best way to manage the condition. To stimulate your immune system, you could take essential hemp oil a few times a day. If pain comes on suddenly, vaporizing the drug can help. Should your discomfort continue, edibles in the form of cookies or brownies might be beneficial. These can be eaten no matter where you are and without drawing unwanted attention to yourself.

Getting the medical marijuana for hepatitis C dosage right involves trial and error. After time and with the right information from your medical marijuana doctor or a budtender, you’ll soon find the combination that works for you. It’s recommended to start off slowly with minimal amounts of cannabis. Taking too much too soon could make you feel groggy and unwell until the effects of the drug wear off.

Research on marijuana as a treatment for HCV is still in its infancy, but preliminary thoughts are positive. If you feel that pot could be a useful addition to your personal treatment plan, it’s time to search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today.

Finding Relief From the Side Effects of HCV and HCV Treatment with Medical Marijuana

Now you know about the positive effects medical marijuana can have, you may be interested in the next step. First, you’ll need to find out if your state has marijuana laws related to hepatitis C.

Thirteen marijuana states include Hepatitis C on their list of qualifying conditions: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. With a recommendation from a physician, some states, including California, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C. will consider allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed for hepatitis C.

State laws on the use of medical marijuana are continuously being passed. You can be added to our medical marijuana for hepatitis C wait list if your state has yet to qualify medical cannabis for cancer.

If you or a loved one is looking to find relief from symptoms of hepatitis C, MarijuanaDoctors.com can help. We can connect you with hundreds of quality marijuana doctors and dispensaries in all legal marijuana states and ensure you are in compliance with your state laws. Book an appointment today and let us help improve your quality of life!

Additional Hepatitis C & Cannabis Resources

For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Hepatitis C, check out our resources:

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C attacks your liver. Spread through contaminated blood or via sexual contact with someone who’s infected, hepatitis C is a viral infection, known as the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, that causes inflammation of the liver. It can lead to significant liver damage.

About half of the people infected with the disease are unaware of their hepatitis C status because symptoms of the disease sometimes do not show for decades. Thankfully, chronic hepatitis C is usually curable by taking medications for between two and six months.

Your liver is the largest and one of the most vital organs in your body. It helps remove toxins, stores energy and digests food. Hepatitis C doesn’t go away by itself. You can be infected for a lifetime. Without treatment, you can continue to suffer cirrhosis of the liver or develop liver cancer.

HCV exists throughout the world most commonly in two different forms: type 1 and type 2. Type 1, the more prevalent of the two, is mostly diagnosed in North America and Europe. Type 2 is less widespread, although it’s also found in people in these two places. Other strains of the virus are primarily found in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

You are most at risk of contracting the virus if you:

  • Have ever inhaled or injected illegal drugs
  • Have HIV
  • Are a healthcare worker who has come into contact with infected blood (i.e., through a needle stick injury)
  • Were born to a mother with the infection
  • Received a tattoo or piercing in a dirty environment and via unsterile equipment
  • Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Received an organ transplant or a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Were ever in prison
  • Received hemodialysis over an extended period
  • Had unprotected sex with someone carrying the virus
  • Used an infected person’s toothbrush, nail clippers or razor
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965. This age group has the highest numbers of HCV infection

You cannot contract hepatitis C from any of the following:

  • Sitting close to an infected individual
  • Sharing eating utensils with an infected person
  • Holding hands or shaking hands with someone who has hepatitis C
  • Hugging an infected individual
  • Sharing food or drinking water
  • Being sneezed or coughed on by someone with hepatitis C

Additionally, a baby cannot contract hepatitis C from breast milk.

Hepatitis C Statistics

Hepatitis C is responsible for most of the liver transplants conducted each year. It affects 300 million people worldwide, and 8,000 to 10,000 people die each year from the chronic liver disease caused by this condition.

Information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases indicated that hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne chronic viral infection in the U.S. Between 2.7 and 3.9 million people in the country have chronic hepatitis C.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that:

  • About 71 million people worldwide suffer from the chronic hepatitis C infection.
  • Of those people, a significant portion will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • Nearly 400,000 people die annually from hepatitis C.
  • Antivirals have the potential to cure as many as 95 percent of people with the virus.

Although there are currently no vaccines for HCV, ongoing research is being conducted in this area.

The History of Hepatitis C

The most common way to contract hepatitis C is by sharing drug paraphernalia like needles, water, cotton and spoons. Before 1992, it was possible to get the disease through organ transplants and blood transfusion. Since then, all donated organs and blood are screened for hepatitis C, so it’s extremely unlikely to contract the virus in this way now.

A slow parade of drugs has been introduced to treat HCV. We’ll touch on them in more detail later.

In 1989, Chiron Corporation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked together to identify the virus. Then, in 1991, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Intron A to treat HCV. By 1998, the FDA had approved the use of a combination of Ribavirin and Interferon, which became paramount to the advancement of HCV therapy.

A new HCV rapid antibody test, known as the OraQuick test, was introduced in 2010. The OraQuick test can provide results within just 20 minutes. In 2013, new medications were approved. Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and Simeprevir Olysio boast higher cure rates, can be taken orally, take less time to work and have fewer side effects than older drugs.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

When you’re suffering from a long-term (chronic) hepatitis C infection, you’ll find yourself experiencing some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Bruising easily
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Jaundice
  • Poor appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
  • Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
  • Dilated veins in your esophagus
  • Slurred speech, confusion, and drowsiness (hepatic encephalopathy)

Chronic hepatitis C begins with an acute phase. You might not even know you’re ill during this stage of the disease, as you rarely have symptoms. Because acute HCV infection is most often asymptomatic, it’s uncommon that people are diagnosed during the acute phase.

If there are symptoms present during the acute phase, you’ll usually feel fatigue, fever, muscle aches and have jaundice. These symptoms show between one and three months after you’ve been exposed to HCV.

Acute HCV doesn’t always lead to the chronic stage. Some individuals can clear the infection from their bodies by themselves. However, between 75 and 85 percent of people with the acute form of the disease will progress to chronic hepatitis C. If you feel you’re at risk of having contracted the virus, your first move should be to get tested. That way, you can get on the road to health quickly.

Effects of the Condition

Having hepatitis C can make you feel sick. Therefore, a quick diagnosis and treatment are imperative. If you don’t seek help, the following can occur:

  • Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver. If you’ve been infected with hepatitis C for more than 20 or 30 years, cirrhosis can occur. This then makes it harder for your liver to work properly.
  • Liver cancer. A small number of people with HCV go on to develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure. If you’ve been suffering from advanced cirrhosis, your liver may cease to function altogether.

A hepatitis C diagnosis is something that should never be taken lightly. Thankfully, using a combination of traditional medical treatment and medical marijuana, the disease can be eradicated. In many cases, you can go on to live a full and healthy life.

Current Treatments Available and Their Side Effects

HCV treatments are changing rapidly. Hepatitis C is typically treated with interferon medication, but many patients are unable to complete the full treatment regimen due to the severe side effects it can induce. These include fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, chills, fever, muscle and joint pain, and depression. Because of these side effects, many patients are forced to reduce their doses or discontinue treatment altogether — both of which deter interferon’s effectiveness against the Hepatitis C virus.

The usual hepatitis C treatment is now centered on direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs). Antiviral drugs tend to have fewer side effects than interferon.

Some of the most commonly prescribed treatments and their side effects include:

Treatment

Potential Side Effects

Low blood cell counts
Insomnia
Depression
Gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea)
Flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, headache, chills, fever, fatigue)
Arthritis-type pain in joints and back

Nausea
Headache
Fatigue

Insomnia
Depression
Flu-like symptoms
Low blood cell counts
Gastrointestinal symptoms
Hair loss

Olysio with Ribavirin and Interferon

Rash with sensitivity to sunlight

Sovaldi with Ribavirin and Interferon

Itching
Flu-like symptoms
Low red blood cell count
Nausea
Insomnia

Sovaldi with Ribavirin

Viekira Pak with Ritonavir, Dasabuvir, Paritaprevir and Ombitasvir

Weakness
Fatigue
Itching
Nausea
Skin reactions
Insomnia
Severe liver injury if you already have severe liver disease

Headache
Low red blood cell count
Fatigue
Skin reactions
Gastrointestinal problems

The symptoms and side effects of treatment can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that you need to continue to take your doctor-prescribed medications to rid your body of the virus. For some, using conventional treatments and medical marijuana for hepatitis C symptom relief is extremely effective.

Could medical marijuana help ease the symptoms of Hepatitis treatment? Learn more about options and reviews on doctors in your area at Marijuana Doctors.

Is Marijuana Effective for Treating the Side Effects of Hepatitis C Medication?

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a widespread virus that can lead to chronic liver problems. Some people are turning to marijuana, or cannabis, to manage the unpleasant side effects associated with HCV and HCV medications.

Is this treatment right for you? Learn more about the benefits and risks of cannabis use.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. It’s transmitted through infected blood, often through sharing needles during drug use. It can also be transmitted through:

  • tattoo needles
  • the birthing process (from an infected mother to their baby)
  • blood transfusions
  • sexual contact (rarely)

People infected with HCV may have no symptoms for months, years, or even decades. The condition is typically diagnosed when liver symptoms lead to complications and medical testing.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a group that works to reform marijuana laws, explains that many people with HCV use cannabis to ease their general symptoms from the virus. Cannabis is also used to ease the nausea associated with other HCV treatments. This practice is relatively popular, but research results have been mixed. It’s unclear if marijuana is helpful overall and if there are any overall risks.

Marijuana alone doesn’t treat an HCV infection, and it doesn’t treat the complications that lead to liver disease and cirrhosis. Instead, the drug may be particularly effective at reducing nausea associated with the medications used to treat the virus. Marijuana can be:

  • inhaled by smoking
  • ingested by taking cannabis pills or edibles
  • absorbed under the tongue as a tincture
  • vaporized

A few studies have credited marijuana use with stricter adherence to treatment protocols. These studies have presented the idea that reducing the unpleasant side effects makes the antiviral medications more tolerable. This way, more people will finish the full course. In turn, people experience better outcomes.

Research on this topic has mixed outcomes. The Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology reports that marijuana use among people infected with HCV is prevalent. The study also showed that people who included the drug in their overall treatment plan didn’t necessarily stick to the plan more closely than their counterparts who didn’t take the drug.

Using marijuana didn’t influence liver biopsies or impact the “hard outcomes” of the antiviral treatment. At the same time, taking the drug didn’t necessarily hurt anything. The study didn’t find any evidence that smoking or taking cannabis pills does any additional damage to the liver, despite what previous research had suggested.

Marijuana isn’t legal in all states. This is the case even when it’s used for medical management of HCV. What’s the good news? Advances in the field are improving medications and lessening treatment durations.

Antiviral medications are usually a first line of defense against HCV. Traditional courses of medication take 24 to 72 weeks. This therapy can give you flu-like symptoms, anemia, or neutropenia. New combinations of antiviral medications may shorten treatment duration to just 12 weeks. It also significantly lessens the most uncomfortable side effects.

If you experience nausea in response to your medication, your doctor can prescribe anti-nausea drugs. These can include:

  • Zofran
  • Compazine
  • Phenergan
  • Trilafon
  • Torecan

If your nausea keeps you from taking pills, you can find some that are available as suppositories.

You may also be able to control your nausea through dietary and lifestyle changes:

  • Keep a food diary to track any triggers.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • If your nausea is worse in the morning, try keeping some food next to your bed and getting up more slowly.

As with most other drugs or treatments, there are certain risks with the use of cannabis. Marijuana may cause dizziness. It can also increase your risk of bleeding, affect your blood sugar levels, and lower your blood pressure.

Marijuana can also affect your liver. Whether or not marijuana makes HCV liver disease worse is still up for debate.

Clinical Infectious Diseases published a study in 2013 about the connection between cannabis use and worsening liver symptoms from HCV. In the group of nearly 700 people, the median use of marijuana was seven joints per day. In the end, this study found no significant link between marijuana smoking and liver fibrosis. For every 10 additional joints a person smoked per week over the median, their chance of being diagnosed with cirrhosis increased only slightly.

A 2006 study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology shares that people with HCV who use marijuana adhere more closely to their treatment protocols. Their conclusion is that any “potential benefits of a higher likelihood of treatment success appear to outweigh risks.”

Still, not all researchers agree. More work needs to be done in this area to assess the benefits and risks further.

Antiviral medications used to treat hepatitis C virus (HCV) can cause some unpleasant symptoms. Medicinal marijuana may be able to curb these side effects.