Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that is transmitted through blood contact. It can cause liver disease and liver failure but is curable if treated in time. There are approximately 2 ½ million people with hepatitis C in the United States at any given time, frequently not experiencing any symptoms to alert them of the disease’s presence.

Did You Know? Hepatitis C is responsible for most liver transplants performed annually.

There are six common genotypes of hep C, and treatment is typically tailored to the specific type of genotype which is present. Patients are considered to be cured when there is no trace of hepatitis C in the bloodstream for three months. Even if an individual is cured of hep C, however, they can be reinfected.

Transmission of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C spreads when blood from an infected individual enters the system of an uninfected person. At one time, the disease was transmitted from person to person through blood donations and transfusions. Over the last two decades, blood testing has become far more reliable, nearly eliminating the problem. These days, hepatitis C is most commonly contracted by sharing needles or other paraphernalia associated with drug use.

Other methods of transmission include getting tattoos in an unsafe setting, having sexual contact with an infected person, or mother-to-baby transmission during childbirth. Approximately six babies out of 100 contract the virus if their mother was infected.

Who is Most at Risk for Hepatitis C?

  • Injection drug users, even if their drug use was many years ago.
  • Those who received clotting factor concentrates (prior to 1987)
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Children born to virus-positive parents
  • People with known or increased exposure to hepatitis C, such as health care workers, people with HIV infection, or people who are incarcerated.

Symptoms, Side Effects & Treatments

Chronic hepatitis C infections commonly exhibit the following symptoms.

  • Fatigue, drowsiness, loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Jaundice, itchy skin, easily bruised skin, spider blood vessels on the skin
  • Clay-colored stools, dark-colored urine
  • Swelling in the legs, fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Slurred speech and confusion

Aside from the above symptoms, hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, cancer of the liver, or liver failure.

Hepatitis is generally treated with interferon medication, but many patients do not complete the full course of treatment due to severe side effects, including fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, chills, fever, muscle and joint pain, and depression. These unpleasant reactions cause many patients to discontinue treatment, which is not advisable.

How Does Medical Cannabis Help?

While medical cannabis does not treat hepatitis C, it can be taken alongside prescribed pharmaceutical medications. Research indicates that medical cannabis has therapeutic benefits. The pain-killing attributes of marijuana can help the body to relax and heal, while its mood-elevating properties bring another type of relief. Side effects are considered to be low risk and mild, with euphoric mood changes being the most commonly cited.

The Research: In 2006, the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology published a report detailing cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) effects on the liver in hepatitis C patients. When bound to receptor CB2, symptom severity decreased and an anti-inflammatory effect on the liver was observed.

Medical marijuana has been proven a safe and effective treatment option, enabling hepatitis C patients to more easily endure the adverse side effects of treatment. Cannabis can assist in alleviating aches and pains, decreased appetite, and nausea. Because these undesirable side effects are mitigated and eased, patients have been more likely to complete their entire recommended course of treatment.

Sarasota neurologist Dr. Daniel P. Stein is one of the area’s leading experts in medical cannabis treatment options. If you are living with hepatitis C – or any of the other conditions on Florida’s medical cannabis qualifying conditions list – call for an appointment today.