Can medical marijuana help with symptoms of cirrhosis? Read on to learn more below. 

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a long-term liver disease that occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, resulting in liver failure. 

The liver is your body’s largest internal organ and is located under the ribs on the right side of the belly.

The liver has many essential functions, including:

  • Flushes toxins and medicines from the body
  • Produces bile to help digest food
  • Stores sugar used for energy
  • Creates new proteins


Symptoms of cirrhosis may vary, depending on severity.

Symptoms often include:

  • Fluid buildup in the stomach
  • Vomiting blood
  • Gallstones
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Easy bruising
  • Spider veins
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion

Causes of Cirrhosis

Common causes of cirrhosis are:

  • Hepatitis
  • Viral infections
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease 

Less common causes of cirrhosis are:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Blocked or damaged bile ducts
  • Certain medications
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Repeated episodes of heart failure
  • Parasite infections

Risk Factors

Cirrhosis of the liver affects approximately one in 400 adults in the U.S. Cirrhosis causes about 26,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and is the seventh leading cause of death among adults 25 to 64 years of age.

Cirrhosis of the liver may occur if you:

  • Use alcohol for a long time
  • Have viral hepatitis
  • Have diabetes
  • Have obesity
  • Share needles
  • Family history of liver disease
  • Unprotected sex

Diagnosis of Cirrhosis

  • Blood tests. These will include liver function tests to see if the liver is working and if blood can clot. 
  • Liver biopsy. Tiny tissue samples are removed from the liver with a needle or during surgery. They are checked under a microscope to determine the type of liver disease or liver cancer.
  • CT scan (computed tomography). This imaging test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed body images of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This test makes detailed pictures of organs and structures inside your body using a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy. A dye may be injected into the vein to show up clearly on the scan.
  • Ultrasound. This shows your internal organs and checks how blood flows through different vessels. It uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. This helps to check for advanced liver cirrhosis, acute liver failure, and other liver disorders that may cause the need for a liver transplant.

Treatment for Liver Damage

The damage to your liver from cirrhosis can sometimes improve if the trigger is gone, such as alcohol or a virus. Treatment goals are typically to slow down the buildup of scar tissue and prevent other health problems. You may be able to delay or stop any more liver damage when it comes to alcoholic liver disease and acute liver injury. With viral chronic hepatitis, it may be treated to slow the liver disease.

Your treatment may include the following to improve liver function:

  • Eating a diet low in sodium
  • Not having alcohol
  • Managing underlying health issues

Can medical cannabis help? 

Marijuana has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that could help relieve liver pain and eliminate further hepatic fibrosis. Several clinical trials and studies have shown cannabinoids may be able to treat gut and liver diseases.

Cannabidiol (CBD) can significantly help digestive health by affecting cb1 and cb2 receptors. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective results in clinical studies. CBD also has anti-fibrosis qualities that can help to reduce collagen secretion that causes liver fibrosis. It can reverse changes in the liver health associated with alcohol, a high-fat diet, and binge drinking.

CBD has the therapeutic potential to relieve various inflammatory changes and fatty degeneration from chronic liver disease. In a study published in the World Journal of Hepatology, researchers saw fewer nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) among cannabis users with chronic liver diseases.

So, does smoking weed affect your liver? The jury is still out on this one. A 2019 World Journal of Hepatology review looked at the conflicting research. It stated, “Marijuana use did not increase the prevalence or progression of hepatic fibrosis in HCV and HCV–HIV-coinfected patients. On the contrary, we noted a reduction in the prevalence of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in marijuana users. Future studies are needed to understand further the therapeutic impact of cannabidiol-based formulations in managing NAFLD.”

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

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