Researchers from Stanford University and the Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea have found that adults with a history of cannabinoid use have a reduced risk of being diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) compared to those without a history of use.
NAFLD is a condition in which extra fat builds up in liver cells for reasons other than alcohol use. Affecting an estimated 80 to 100 million people in the United States, it is the most prevalent form of liver disease. NAFLD is now the fastest–growing reason for transplants in U.S. adults.
In a new study, published online in the journal PLoS One, the international team of researchers used a nationally representative sample of over 14,000 adults to evaluate whether there is an association between cannabinoid use and NAFLD.
“Active [cannabinoid] use provided a protective effect against NAFLD independent of known metabolic risk factors,” the study’s authors concluded. “[W]e conclude that current [cannabinoid] use may favorably impact the pathogenesis of NAFLD in US adults.”
A wide range of diseases and conditions can increase the risk of NAFLD, including high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides in the blood, and metabolic syndrome. However, previous findings suggest that cannabinoid use may be beneficial for treating diabetes, promoting a healthy body fat percentage, and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. This is likely due to the fact that cannabinoids help restore balance in the body by interacting with its native endocannabinoid system.
The researchers suggested that the inverse association between current cannabinoid use and NAFLD were related to cannabinoids’ anti-inflammatory effects. Despite that cannabinoid users were found to consume more calories, sodas, and alcohol than non-users, they had a lower prevalence of obesity than non-users.
Cannabinoids are compounds unique to cannabis plants, such as hemp. They share a similar chemical makeup to the body’s natural endocannabinoids, which allows them to interact with the endocannabinoid system, a signaling network responsible for regulating and keeping in balance a wide array of functions and processes.
“In our study, the lowest prevalence of NAFLD was noted in current heavy users of [cannabinoids], while current light users and past users demonstrated intermediate risk of NAFLD with lower prevalence of NAFLD compared to non-users of [cannabinoids],” the study’s discussion reads.
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