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Medical Marijuana Boosts Hepatitis C Treatment in New Study
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA -- A new study from the University of California, San Francisco, just published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, suggests that medical marijuana boosts the success of treatment for the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Untreated HCV can lead to liver failure and death, but in the new study, marijuana users being treated for HCV were three times more likely to have a "sustained virological response" -- i.e. HCV could not be detected six months after they completed treatment.
UC San Francisco Researchers Find Marijuana Users Three Times More Likely to Successfully Eliminate Virus
While extensive research has shown that marijuana can provide symptom relief, this is believed to be the first published study linking marijuana to improved cure rates for a life-threatening illness. HCV treatment utilizing the drugs ribavirin and interferon is notorious for its severe side effects, including nausea, vomiting, weight loss, sleeplessness, and depression, which cause many patients to discontinue the long, demanding regimen prematurely. In this study -- which focused on a difficult patient population: seventy-one recovering drug users receiving methadone maintenance while simultaneously being treated for HCV -- those using marijuana were significantly more likely to complete their treatment regimens. The researchers, with UCSF and OASIS in Oakland, California, theorized that marijuana relieved the patients' medication side effects sufficiently to allow them to complete treatment, and concluded, "our results suggest that moderate cannabis use during HCV treatment may offer significant benefit to certain patients."
Overall, 54 percent of marijuana users had a sustained virological response, compared to only 18 percent of non-users. The study was published alongside a commentary by a separate team of Canadian researchers describing the evidence that marijuana relieves debilitating side effects of treatment for HCV, cancer and AIDS, and calling for patients to be "legally permitted" to use it.
San Francisco patient Brian Klein, 48, (not a participant in the study) credits medical marijuana for enabling him to be successfully cured of HCV in his second attempt at treatment, in 2003-4. "One of the main reasons treatment succeeded was that I was able to stay on my medications," he said. "The first time I tried treating my HCV, in 2001, the nausea was so bad I couldn't even keep water down, and I had to stop after two months. Medical marijuana allowed me to successfully treat my hepatitis C and clear the virus."
"This is a landmark study, showing that medical marijuana can literally save lives," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "Every day that our government continues punishing the sick for using this medicine is literally a crime against humanity."
With more than 20,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://www.mpp.org.
Sylvestre DL, Clements BJ and Malibu Y. Cannabis use improves retention and virological outcomes in patients treated for hepatitis C. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2006, 18:1057-1063. Fischer B et al. Treatment for hepatitis C virus and cannabis use in illicit drug user patients: implications and questions. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2006, 18:1039-1042.
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