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cannabis & Hepatitis C | Health

In the State of Arizona, if a person has the Hepatitis C virus, then this is a qualifying condition to receive a Medical Marijuana (MMJ) card to help treat the symptoms associated with being Hep C positive.  The hepatitis virus lives within the liver cells and can ultimately destroy the liver if left untreated. The virus leads to inflammation of the liver as well as fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain, and eventual scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis) which results in diminished functioning of the liver and decreased blood flow to this critical organ. Liver cancer, liver failure, and death can be the grim result of being positive with the Hep C virus.  The leading reason for liver transplants is due to the damaging effects of the Hepatitis C virus. There is no vaccine for Hep C. There are now medications used to cure Hepatitis C, but not everyone who is Hep C positive is a candidate to receive treatment. Medical marijuana can be a way to treat the virus and for those who do take the prescription medications, there can be side effects of nausea and vomiting, poor appetite, aches and pains, diarrhea, headaches, and fatigue. The use of MMJ can lessen these side effects so that the medication can be continued to be taken resulting in a cure of the Hepatitis C virus.

The Hepatitis C virus is spread through the blood from one infected person to another. The people who are more at risk of being positive for the Hepatitis C virus are: the Baby Boomer generation, drug users who inhale or inject, people who were in prison, people who received a tattoo or piercing in an unclean environment or using equipment that was not sterile, anyone born to a mother who was Hep C positive at the time of birth, healthcare workers who are exposed to blood,  being HIV positive, and those people who have received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992. Prescription medicines are now available that will provide a cure for the Hepatitis C virus. This means that future liver damage and liver cancer can be prevented. Receiving the medication is dependent upon approval from health insurance companies. Without insurance, the cost for the treatment is very expensive and can cost over $90,000 to receive the standard treatment which is to take one pill a day for 12 weeks.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), about 3 million people in the U.S. are Hep C positive. In Arizona, there are estimated to be about 100,000 people living with Hep C and most of those infected are men.  The Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1965, are 5 times more likely to be infected than those born in other years. The statistic is that 1 out of 30 Baby Boomers is infected but may not know it because they have no symptoms and they have never had their blood tested for the Hep C virus.  According to the CDC, infection control standards in the 1970s and the 1980s were not what they are today. So, many Boomers may have received blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s with blood that was unknowingly tainted with the Hepatitis C virus. The Hepatitis C virus was not discovered until 1989 and donated blood was not screened for Hepatitis C until 1992. So, there is a window of time where people could have received transfused blood containing the Hepatitis C virus. It can take years or even decades for the symptoms of Hep C to appear; thus Baby Boomers today, in 2018, may be experiencing Hep C symptoms but may not know that they are even Hep C positive. So, for any Baby Boomers reading this… get your blood tested and see if you are positive to the Hepatitis C virus.

The liver is an amazing organ which is located on the right side of the upper abdomen right under the rib cage. The liver is so important and responsible for so many functions in the body that it is able to regrow itself. That’s right. If a person loses 2/3 of their liver to either surgery or exposure to toxic chemicals (as found in poisonous mushrooms, chronic acetaminophen (Tylenol) usage, chronic drinking of alcohol or using cocaine or exposure to chemicals in the workplace), then the remaining liver can grow bigger and replace the once missing or damaged liver tissue.  If, on the other hand, the liver has lost too much of its functioning due to cirrhosis leading to loss of function, then the brain is affected and the condition is now known as hepatic encephalopathy. The person can become confused, irrational, and have slurred speech. Toxins in the body accumulate because the liver can no longer function. Ammonia levels in the body rise which damages the brain, bile is not properly produced anymore so the skin becomes yellow as do the whites of the eyes. The abdomen and liver will be enlarged and painful to the touch. The body will slip into a coma and then death.

A healthy lifestyle can help the health of the liver whether someone is Hep C positive or not. If a person who is Hep C positive also drinks alcohol and then takes a few Tylenol the next day for the hangover, then this is a cocktail for liver damage.  People who are Hep C positive are best to avoid drinking alcohol and avoid taking Tylenol or acetaminophen which is known to cause liver damage. The herb, milk thistle is an herb whose seeds are used as medicine to help the liver to heal and to provide protection to the liver cells from chemicals that can cause harm. Milk thistle is easily found at stores like Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Natural Grocer’s. It is available in capsule form or in a tincture (liquid) form. Drinking water with fresh lemon squeezed into it is also a great way to keep the liver healthy. Eating beets either fresh, boiled, or roasted is a good way to keep the liver functioning well. In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that the emotion of anger is stored in the liver. Releasing anger in healthy ways is good for the liver.

At All Greens Clinic in Surprise, Arizona, we see on average 4 patients a month who are Hepatitis C positive and are using MMJ to help with the symptoms.  Medical marijuana can help soothe the symptoms of Hepatitis C as well as the side effects from taking the Hepatitis C medications. Nausea, poor appetite, pain, fatigue, diarrhea, headache, and insomnia can all be treated with MMJ. If you’re going to get a tattoo or a piercing, then go to a shop that practices safe and clean needling. If you are positive for Hep C, then you need to practice safe sex since there is a chance of spreading the virus through sex.  Whether you are positive for the Hepatitis C virus or not… Love your liver!

To read more articles from Dr. Landino, click here.

Kimberly Landino

Kimberly Landino is currently practicing at All Greens Clinic in Surprise, AZ where she certifies qualifying patients to receive their Medical Marijuana card and experience the therapeutic benefit from using medical marijuana to treat their health conditions. Before this, she practiced family medicine for 16 years in Phoenix, Tempe, Flagstaff and in Tuba City on the Navajo reservation. 



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