Dr. Dean

I'm Getting Treatment For Hepatitis C. Will Marijuana Help Me Or Harm Me?

Posting Date: 01/16/2003

Original Posting: 11/30/2000

Ernie: I have hepatitis C and I'm getting ready to start the interferon ribarvirin therapy. As an occasional marijuana user, I was hoping to continue smoking it to help me get through the loss of appetite, and restlessness at night. Is there any danger in the way that it is metabolized?

Dr. Dean: Good question.

Marijuana, like most medications, is metabolized in the liver. With active liver disease, a little dose of marijuana may go a long way. In addition, street marijuana has such variability, predicting its effect is difficult.

I know of no contraindication and you know that I'm in favor of medical marijuana, but I'm uncomfortable recommending an illegal substance to you, a person with a serious illness.

This is a very specific question that I think you should ask your doctors. You won't be the first person to ask it.

People with worse illnesses than yours have used marijuana to fight nausea with no negative consequences and any anti-nausea drug that the doctor gives you will also be metabolized by the liver. I feel more secure with your liver trying to handle marijuana. Marinol, the FDA-approved pill form of marijuana has shown no toxicity to the liver.

I would estimate marijuana to be as safe as anything else. Interferon and ribarvirin is a pretty hefty combination that can be curative in a significant percentage of cases. It's basically all we have for hepatitis C. Interferon can make you pretty sick, but ribarvirin is fairly easy on you. They are both antiviral drugs.