Hepatitis C

Can medical cannabis help with the symptoms of Hepatitis C? Find out more below. 

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) if left untreated.

Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with infected blood. This can happen in various ways, including sharing needles or other equipment used for injecting drugs, receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, or having unprotected sex with an infected person.

Symptoms of hepatitis C may include fatigue, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. However, many people with the virus may not experience any symptoms.

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed through blood tests that detect antibodies to the virus or the virus itself. Treatment options for hepatitis C include antiviral medications that can help clear the virus from the body and lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet.

It’s essential to seek medical attention if you have been exposed to the virus, as early detection and treatment can help prevent severe liver damage and other complications.

What causes Hepatitis C?

The leading cause of hepatitis C in humans is the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is spread through contact with infected blood. Some of the most common ways that people contract hepatitis C include:

  • Injection drug use: Sharing needles or other equipment used for injecting drugs is one of the most common ways people contract hepatitis C.
  • Blood transfusions and organ transplants: Before widespread screening of blood and organs began in the 1990s, hepatitis C was sometimes spread through these procedures.
  • Healthcare exposures: Healthcare workers who are accidentally exposed to infected blood, such as through a needle stick, are at risk for contracting hepatitis C. People who receive medical treatments or procedures in countries with poor infection control practices are also at risk.
  • Mother-to-child transmission: A pregnant woman with hepatitis C can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth, although the risk of transmission is low.
  • Unprotected sex: Although the risk of hepatitis C transmission through sexual contact is relatively low, it can still occur, especially among people with multiple sexual partners or who engage in rough sex that causes bleeding.

Hepatitis C is not spread through casual contact with other humans, such as hugging, kissing, sharing utensils, or drinking glasses. However, it is possible to contract the virus through sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come into contact with infected blood.

Are there Signs & Symptoms?

Most people with hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the infection. Many people with the virus are unaware that they have it until liver damage becomes apparent, which can take several years.

If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Fatigue: This is one of the most common symptoms of hepatitis C. People with the virus may feel exhausted and lack energy, even after enough rest.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever is another common symptom of hepatitis C. It can range from a mild temperature to a higher fever.
  • Nausea and vomiting: These symptoms may occur in some people with hepatitis C but are not always present.
  • Loss of appetite: People with hepatitis C may lose their appetite and not feel like eating. This can lead to weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain: Some people with hepatitis C may experience pain or discomfort in the upper right side of their abdomen.
  • Joint pain: Hepatitis C can cause joint pain and stiffness, especially in the hands and feet.
  • Jaundice: This is a yellowing of the skin and eyes that can occur in some people with hepatitis C. It happens when the liver cannot process bilirubin, a substance typically filtered out of the body.

Not everyone with hepatitis C will experience symptoms, and some people may not develop symptoms until the later stages of the infection. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus, getting tested and talking to your doctor about your risk factors is essential.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Diagnosis of Hepatitis C is typically made through blood tests. The tests can detect the presence of HCV antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the virus and the virus itself (HCV RNA).

If HCV antibodies are detected, additional testing may be done to determine if the virus is still present and if treatment is necessary. Additional tests may include viral load tests, which measure the amount of virus in the blood, and liver function tests, which measure the levels of certain enzymes produced by the liver.

There are several treatment options for Hepatitis C, a viral infection affecting the liver. Treatment aims to eliminate the virus from the body and prevent further liver damage.

  1. Antiviral medications: The most common treatment for Hepatitis C is antiviral medications. Several antiviral medicines include interferon, ribavirin, and direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). DAAs are newer medications that are more effective and have fewer side effects than interferon and ribavirin. They work by targeting specific proteins that the virus needs to replicate.
  2. Liver transplant: In severe cases of Hepatitis C where the liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant may be necessary. During a liver transplant, the damaged liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.
  3. Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes can also be important in treating Hepatitis C. This includes avoiding alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. These changes can help improve liver function and overall health.
  4. Herbal supplements: Some people with Hepatitis C use herbal supplements, such as milk thistle or licorice root, to help support liver function. However, talking to a healthcare provider before taking herbal supplements is essential, as some can interact with medications or have harmful side effects.

The treatment for Hepatitis C will depend on several factors, including the genotype of the virus, the extent of liver damage, and the individual’s overall health. Working with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for each case is crucial. 

Can medical cannabis help? 

There is limited evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may benefit people with Hepatitis C, but more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Studies have shown that using medical marijuana can help reduce symptoms associated with Hepatitis C, such as nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This is because marijuana contains compounds known as cannabinoids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.

In addition, some studies have suggested that cannabinoids may have antiviral effects and could help reduce viral load in people with Hepatitis C. However, these findings are based on small studies, and more research is needed to confirm these findings.

The use of medical marijuana for the treatment of Hepatitis C should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider, as there are potential risks and side effects associated with its use. In addition, medical marijuana should not be used as a replacement for antiviral medications or other treatments recommended by a healthcare provider.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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