The liver is a vital organ that helps to keep your body functioning normally. It performs many important functions, including regulating blood clotting, metabolising glucose and proteins, and flushing out bilirubin.
The effects of cannabis on the liver vary from person to person, and depend on how you use it. Whether it’s smoked, vaped or taken as an edible, it can cause harm or help to heal your liver.
What is the liver?
The liver is a complex organ that performs several important functions in the body. It is one of the main filtering stations in your body that helps remove harmful substances from the blood and prevents disease.
The organ consists of two main lobes (sections) that are separated by a band of connective tissue. The liver is located in the right upper abdomen below the diaphragm.
It is reddish-brown in color and shaped like a wedge or cone, with the small end above the stomach and the large end above the small intestine. It weighs between 3 and 3.5 pounds by the time a person reaches adulthood.
Inside the organ are thousands of liver cells called hepatocytes lined up in radiating rows. Between each row are a number of small blood vessels known as sinusoids that allow oxygen and nutrients to enter the liver cells.
Each hepatocyte processes the blood that passes through it by taking in some of the blood’s contents and reacting with it to make useful products, such as proteins. These useful products are ejected from the hepatocytes back into the blood where they flow towards the central vein and the portal tract.
As the blood passes through the liver, it carries a wide range of nutrients, including glucose and amino acids. This helps fuel the body when there is not enough food to provide it with energy.
In addition, the liver stores fat-soluble vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B12, D, E, K, iron and copper, releasing them only when the body needs them. It also breaks down toxic amino acid proteins into urea and excretes it via the kidneys into the urine.
The liver is also responsible for producing bile, a fluid that helps your body digest and absorb fats. It produces about 800 to 1,000 ml of bile each day.
The organ has a special structure that allows it to filter 1.7 litres of blood per minute. There are 300 billion specialized cells in the organ. These include hepatocytes, Kupffer cells and fibroblasts. The hepatocytes are the most important cells in the organ. They make many of the enzymes and proteins that are used by your body every day.
How does cannabis affect the liver?
The liver is an organ that performs many functions for the body, including regulating blood clotting, removing waste and toxins, and producing special proteins that help to make bile. It is also a part of the digestive system, helping to break down fats and carbohydrates into smaller molecules that can be used by the body for energy.
There are several factors that can influence the liver’s ability to function properly, including alcohol and drug use. For example, heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing hepatitis C and other liver diseases. In addition, consuming drugs that suppress the immune system can also negatively affect the liver.
Some research has found that the active ingredients in cannabis can reduce inflammation and fibrosis. These effects may help people who have been diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, which is the stage of a chronic liver disease when the liver no longer can repair itself and needs to be replaced.
Another study suggests that cannabis may be beneficial for those who are at risk for alcoholic liver disease, which is a condition caused by heavy alcohol use. It is thought that the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis can help to prevent oxidative stress, which causes alcohol-induced liver steatosis (fatty buildup in the liver).
This may be particularly useful for those who have alcoholic fatty liver disease because if they continue to consume alcohol, their condition will likely worsen over time and they could develop hepatitis C or other serious illnesses.
In 2019, researchers studied mice to determine how the cannabinoid CBD, which is a non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, affects the liver. They found that CBD can have negative effects on the liver in the same way as other hepatotoxic substances, such as alcohol and drugs.
However, while the results of this research are concerning, it is important to note that the study was done on mice and human studies need to be performed to see if the same results hold true in humans. It is possible that this is just a matter of different receptors being activated by the active ingredients in cannabis, and that these receptors might be more responsive to the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD than to those of THC.
What are the symptoms of a liver problem?
Your liver is a vital organ that helps your body digest food and convert it into energy, store energy for use when you don’t have enough to eat and remove harmful toxins from the bloodstream. Damage to your liver can cause serious health problems.
The most common symptom of liver disease is jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. This is caused by high levels of bilirubin in your bloodstream. Your urine may also be dark because of bilirubin in your stool (bowel).
Liver disease can start with inflammation. This happens when the immune system overreacts to toxins or other foreign materials in your bloodstream and causes enlarged, reddened liver cells. Then it can progress to fibrosis or scar tissue, which replaces the healthy liver tissue and reduces your liver’s ability to work properly.
You can see signs of fibrosis on an imaging test like ultrasound, elastography or CT scan. Your doctor may order blood tests to check your liver function, look for signs of cirrhosis and detect any bleeding or other complications.
If your symptoms are severe, you need urgent medical help. Especially if you have stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, sudden fever, and extreme fatigue.
A liver specialist will diagnose a liver problem by asking you about your symptoms, performing a physical examination and ordering blood and imaging tests. Depending on the type of liver problem, the doctor may recommend a liver biopsy. This involves using a long needle to extract a small sample of liver tissue.
Your doctor will prescribe medications to control any symptoms you have. You can have medicines for sleepiness or confusion (encephalopathy), diuretics, drugs to lower your blood pressure and vitamins to help your liver function better.
You can also get a liver transplant, which is a procedure to remove your sick liver and replace it with a healthy one from another person. This can help you feel better and lead to a more normal life.
What are the causes of a liver problem?
Your liver performs hundreds of different functions, converting food into energy for use when you need it and filtering out harmful chemicals from your blood. It also produces important body proteins and helps make blood clotting factors.
The causes of a liver problem are numerous and may include infections, genetic conditions, autoimmune disorders or cancer. If not treated, liver disease can lead to cirrhosis, which is the stage at which a person’s liver stops working properly.
In some cases, people do not experience any symptoms of their liver problem until it is too late. This is why it’s so important to get a diagnosis.
Some of the most common liver diseases include non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and cirrhosis. Liver disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
A person with liver disease can develop complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, which causes a buildup of toxins in the brain. This can cause coma and decreased mental function.
Hepatic encephalopathy can also cause confusion and a loss of memory. This can make it difficult to think clearly and concentrate on tasks, which can be very frustrating for a person with the condition.
Another common symptom of liver damage is jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin. This can happen if the liver can’t filter the blood correctly, and it usually starts to get worse as the liver gets damaged.
If you have jaundice, you should get medical attention right away. It can be life threatening and needs urgent treatment, especially if you’re vomiting blood or having black, tarry stools (poo).
Other possible complications of liver disease are hepatitis and bleeding varices. Bleeding varices happen when a buildup of pressure from the liver makes blood vessels swell and burst in the oesophagus (food pipe) or stomach. It happens most often in women and can be very serious.
A rare type of cancer called bile duct cancer can also occur in the liver, but it does not have to be accompanied by cirrhosis. This is uncommon, but it can occur if you have a family history of liver tumors or if you take birth control pills for a long time.