Cannabis Use Can Improve Effectiveness of Hepatitis C Therapy

Recent research by Diana L. Sylvestre, MD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues suggests that the use of cannabis during hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment may offer symptomatic and virological benefit to some patients by helping them maintain adherence to the challenging and often painful medication regimen.

Standard HCV therapy entails the use of two powerful drugs, interferon and ribavirin, over a period of months. Due to severe side effects from these drugs, many patients do not finish treatment, and as a result may develop chronic liver disease, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Many HCV patients use cannabis for symptom relief, but the lack of availability of data about such use on treatment outcomes leaves clinicians without the necessary data to inform recommendations. To add to the body of clinical data, Sylvestre and colleagues conducted a prospective observational study of standard interferon and ribavirin treatment in 71 recovering substance users, of whom 22 (31%) used cannabis and 49 (69%) did not.

In the study, nearly one-quarter of patients discontinued therapy early, including one cannabis user (5%) and 16 non-users (33%). Although cannabis users were no more likely than non-users to take at least 80% of the prescribed interferon or ribavirin, they were significantly more likely to remain on HCV treatment for at least 80% of the projected treatment duration (95% of cannabis users versus 67% of non-users), and were three times more likely (54% of cannabis users versus 18% of non-users) to be classified as sustained virological responders (no detectable virus six months after the end of treatment).

Related Links

Marijuana Aids Therapy
Washington Post, September 13, 2006
Marijuana Helps Patients Stay on Medication
Reuters, September 13, 2006
Study: Pot Helps Hepatitis Treatment
Oakland Tribune, September 13, 2006