Hepatitis is characterized by an inflammation of the liver that is caused by viral and toxic contaminants. Patients suffer painful enlargement of the liver and many other symptoms, including fever, chills, vomiting, severe jaundice, fatigue, and death. The deadly Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) accounts for 70% of all chronic hepatitis cases throughout the world. The global prevalence of chronic hepatitis C is estimated at 3%, with 150 million carriers worldwide. Five million people are infected in Europe and four million people are HCV positive in the US, [1] where and estimated 504 new cases are contracted every day. [2] Research from 1997 estimates that six major HCV genotypes originated at least 500 years ago and possibly as long as 2,000 years in the past. [3] The virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, including unprotected sex and the sharing of needles in illicit narcotic use. A large number of cases were contracted prior to mid-1992 through tainted blood products in general hospital use. These cases are considered the most difficult to treat. Another common mode of infection has been through military application of multi-use inoculation devices. Many veterans, especially from the Vietnam-era,have fallen ill many years after their discharge from military service. HCV leads to cirrhosis, a progressive hardening of the liver similar to that in late-stage alcoholism. Symptoms can take up to 30 years to develop, and current medical advances have yet to counter the fatal consequences of late-stage HCV infection. Early detection is the key to avoiding liver transplant surgery, which can prolong a patient's life for up to ten years. HCV accounts for about 1,000 liver transplants per year in the United States.

Medical studies on the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of Hepatitis are lacking.  However, reams of anecdotal evidence indicate that cannabis can relieve some symptoms of hepatitis and also alleviate many adverse side effects of conventional hepatitis medications.[4]  Limiting medications is imperative in managing this terminal illness, yet compassionate physicians have no compunction against approving cannabis use by HCV patients. While conventional pain medications are frequently forbidden, some patients awaiting liver transplant surgery have been allowed to use marijuana, the safe and natural pain reliever, up to ten days prior to the operation.[5]  In other cases, liver transplants have been denied to patients that tested positive for cannabis.[6]  Thus, it is imperative that patients fully discuss the impact of medical cannabis with both their primary and transplant physicians many months prior to any organ transplant operation.

Related sections: AIDS, Immune Responses.


[1] Consensus Statement of the European Association for the Study of Liver Disease. International Consensus Conference on Hepatitis C, Paris, February 1999

[2] 10 o’clock News, Fox TV Channel 2 in San Francisco, June 23, 1998

[3] Smith, Paithirana, Davidson, et al., The Origin of Hepatitis C Genotypes. Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Edinburgh Medical School, UK, 1997

[4] High Times, p. 34, May 1998

[5] Anecdotal reports from the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana, 1998

[6] "Is medical-marijuana use reason to deny someone an organ transplant?" Seattle TImes and Associated Press, May 1st, 2008