Cannabis, Antipsychotics & Liver Health

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Accumulating evidence from preclinical trials indicates that endocannabinoids modulate non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and related metabolic disorders. Population surveys actually associate chronic cannabis use with better outcomes in Type 2 diabetes and obesity. And this protective effect is particularly pronounced among people with schizophrenia. Why?

Antipsychotic drugs stress certain systems in the body, leading to side effects like weight gain and gut dysbiosis, perhaps due to their disruptive effects on the endocannabinoid system. A three-year long study by Spanish researchers has recently replicated these findings of the protective effects of cannabis in patients taking antipsychotics.

Published in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, the report noted that after three years cannabis users had significantly better outcomes with respect to liver health. In fact, NAFLD tended to get worse in all participants except the ones who used cannabis throughout the study. Cannabis use seemed particularly protective against steatosis, the abnormal accumulation of lipids in the liver.

The authors propose that cannabis is specifically effective at countering antipsychotic-induced weight gain, noting that previous research has demonstrated that antipsychotics alter the expression of the CB1 receptor. On a more technical level, the Spanish scientists highlight a decrease in circulating leptin (a hormone that regulates body weight) among cannabis users. Antipsychotics cause fat cells to produce more leptin and antipsychotics also promote weight gain by desensitizing a person to leptin.

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Adrian Devitt-Lee, Project CBD's chief science writer, is pursuing his PhD in Mathematics at the University College of London.