What does cbd oil do for your liver
We support health writers who wish to spread their work to a wider audience. This article was submitted by Natalie Shae.
Note, the study cited in the article was very small with children under physician care but if you are a liver patient it is a cautionary note if you are considering CBD oil. We are not aware of any research that would suggest using it more broadly but consult your doctor.
Liver Damage and CBD Oil
June 4, 2019 by Natalie Shae
The FDA has approved a CBD-based drug named Epidiolex®. The drug was researched and made by Greenwich Biosciences, and the company’s vice-president of U.S. professional relations, Alice Mead, has stated to the FDA that CBD is “potentially” a liver toxin. She said this during the FDA’s first public hearing on CBD oil on May 31, 2019.
What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol oil is extracted from the hemp plant, which is in the same family as marijuana. Unlike THC in marijuana, CBD does not cause a “high” or chemical dependence. CBD that is extracted from the hemp plant is legal, but individual states have laws to regulate it.
Because CBD oil is not considered a drug, it can be a common additive in many products. This includes e-cigarettes (vape oil), lotions and various herbal supplements. It has also been shown to relieve symptoms of different disorders like epilepsy, anxiety and multiple sclerosis.
How does it impact the liver?
The few studies performed on how CBD affects the liver are not clear.
In one study , 10% of the subjects developed high liver enzymes—they had to stop using CBD for this reason. Other research suggests that CBD can improve liver function.
As determined by the studies done on Epidiolex®, CBD is metabolized by the liver. People with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are encouraged to limit over-the-counter (OTC) medications to avoid stressing the liver.
How much CBD is too much?
To further complicate the question, products with CBD oil may not give the exact amount listed on the package . Depending on the brand, the consumer may be using much more or less than they think. This is especially true of OTC supplements and e-cigarettes.
Now that CBD oil is appearing in different products, anyone with liver damage needs to be alert to this. A doctor or specialist should be consulted before adding it to the diet.
CBD and Liver Damage: How Does It Affect Liver Functions?
As the use of CBD is booming across the United States, people have become more aware of its health benefits as well as potential risks associated with the consumption of CBD products.
One recent study has sparked concerns among CBD users when it comes to liver function. While the study did show that extremely large amounts of CBD can damage the liver, the news coverage that warned about the potential risk of taking CBD failed to put the study into context.
It goes without saying that CBD — like any supplement or medication — does have side effects, including dose-dependent danger to liver health. However, while users using the peak-tested dosages should have their liver enzymes in check, the vast majority of people can safely use CBD without worrying about a negative impact on their liver function.
In this article, we’ll explain the context of the said study and provide evidence supporting the health benefits of regular doses of CBD for liver health.
Let’s resolve the doubts surrounding the topic of CBD and liver function.
Is CBD Oil Bad for Your Liver?
CBD has a remarkably good safety profile. Researchers have tested the efficacy and safety of CBD in humans using doses as high as 1,500 mg – 3000 mg CBD daily.
With 1,500 mg of CBD taken for a six-week period, no dangerous side effects were observed (1).
However, the recent 2019 study on mice showed that high doses of CBD can damage the liver — causing widespread sensation all over the media.
The study has also garnered attention among CBD skeptics who have been trying to undermine the therapeutic potential of CBD looking for at least one serious side effect.
Now, we’re not saying CBD doesn’t have any side effects — it does, like any other health supplement — but should you actually worry about your liver when you use normal doses?
Let’s shed some light on the infamous study on mice.
The Study on CBD and the Liver of Mice
According to researchers from the University of Arkansas, who investigated the effects of treatments of various doses of CBD on a group of 8-week-old mice, the study addressed the problem of a “lack of comprehensive toxicological studies devoted to CBD safety that are critical for further marketing of CBD and CBD-containing products.” (2)
The majority of mice tolerated the CBD, but those administered the highest doses — an equivalent to 200 mg of CBD in humans — showed clear symptoms of liver toxicity, as reported by the researchers.
In addition, repeated doses of a smaller amount of CBD (50 mg) also showed signs of liver damage and swelling.
Here’s what the authors wrote at the end of the paper:
“Although (a dose of) 200 mg is not applicable to most real-life scenarios, it does provide critical information regarding the potential consequences of CBD overdose as well as for doses needed for further subchronic and chronic toxicity studies.”
However, one of the caveats of this study was that it tested the maximum recommended daily dosage for humans. While all mammals share the same endocannabinoid system, mice and humans are different physiologically. The size of the liver is just one of the many variables that should be taken into consideration when evaluating the safety of CBD in human subjects.
Experts Say It’s About the Dosage
Although the results of the above study sound potentially discouraging, most experts say there’s no need to freak out over the impact of CBD on the liver. While experts stress the importance of knowing the risks of taking health supplements, the amount of CBD the mice were exposed to is much higher than what most humans take.
According to Dr. Diana Martins-Welch, attending physician in palliative medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, there are certain quantities in which CBD may not be safe for humans; CBD also isn’t always more effective in high doses.
“Many people know that taking too much ibuprofen or Tylenol can have detrimental consequences. CBD is no different. Generally speaking, therapeutic CBD doses range from 0.5 mg/kg/day to 20 mg/kg per day. This study in mice used significantly higher doses of CBD (in relation to their weight) than what is usually taken for therapeutic benefit in humans.” Martins-Welch explained.
Martins-Welch also said that therapeutic-range CBD is generally safe, and while toxicity at extremely high doses is a concern, it is no different than with other supplements or medicines.
Therefore, what the study essentially showed was how people need to be careful if they take high doses of CBD daily.
Human studies that have examined the safety of different doses of CBD have found no negative effects at the recommended maximum daily dosage of 20 mg/kg. This dosage was taken from the trial of Epidiolex, a CBD-based pharmaceutical for treatment-resistant seizures. To put that in context, an individual weighing 150 pounds would need to take over 1,300 mg of CBD per day, which is way above what most people take (10–80 mg daily).
Effects of CBD On the Liver
Okay, so now you know that extremely high doses of CBD may cause liver toxicity when taken regularly. You also know that it’s impossible to trigger toxicity with normal doses of CBD oil.
Now it’s time to ask a different question: what positive effects does CBD have on the liver?
There are plenty, to be honest.
In the next section, we elaborate on the potential therapeutic uses of CBD oil for liver function.
CBD Oil for Fatty Liver
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is found in all mammals and consists of receptors (CB1 and CB2) endogenous cannabinoids, and enzymes that facilitate their production or break them down.
The ECS is responsible for regulating many of our homeostatic control processes. In other words, this network controls the balance of various systems and organs in the body, including the liver.
When the liver gets damaged, inflamed, or dysfunctional, the body starts to release more endocannabinoids to solve the problem. A healthy liver is correlated with a modest activity of the endocannabinoid system. In fact, this particular organ has a relatively low concentration of the ECS components.
However, inflammation in the liver causes the endocannabinoid to be very active in this area. Unfortunately, an overactive endocannabinoid system plays a role in the development of fatty liver disease (3).
CBD is the modulator of CB1 and CB2 receptors. In simple English, it keeps them from going crazy by stopping the compounds that make these receptors go haywire in the liver.
CBD ensures the proper functioning of a system that balances us. So while it won’t cure fatty liver disease, it can prevent its development. And should the disease occur, it may be able to reduce the inflammation in the organ, protecting it against further damage.
CBD Oil for Liver Cancer
To this day, studies on cannabinoids and their effect on liver cancer show that cannabinoids can both prevent the dividing of tumor cells and kill cancer cells while protecting the healthy ones. Besides stopping cancer proliferation, there are several mechanisms CBD uses to help tackle liver cancer.
First, it provides anti-metastatic actions, preventing distant tumor masses from forming in the liver.
Second, it prevents the formation of blood vessels that facilitate tumor growth.
And last but not least, CBD triggers apoptosis, which is programmed cell death. Researchers have found this ability during animal and laboratory models; these properties apply to both CBD and THC (4).
Although no study has yet analyzed the effects of CBD on liver cancer in humans, current research supports the use of cannabinoids as a complementary therapy as well as a means of reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
CBD Oil for Viral Hepatitis
Viral hepatitis is one of the most common infectious diseases characterized by inflammation. It is also a great contributor to many deaths globally. Hepatitis can lead to the formation of liver cancer and cirrhosis.
CBD has been shown to have therapeutic effects on the models of viral hepatitis, especially Hepatitis C. According to a study published in the journal Pharmacognosy Research, CBD was shown to inhibit the replication of hepatitis C virus by almost 90% (5).
The inhibitory effects on the virus were dose-dependent but showed little toxicity towards the cells. CBD was also found to induce death in the infected cells containing the hepatitis B virus, although it did not inhibit the virus itself.
Finally, the attenuation of the immune response through the interaction with the ECS in the immune cells may help in alleviating autoimmune hepatitis.
CBD Oil for Hepatic Ischemia
Ischemia is a very common injury that occurs as an aftermath of liver surgeries and liver transplantations. It involves major inflammation and is responsible for deaths in the case of transplants and rejections. Oxidative stress can worsen the condition.
CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties, so it could be useful in reducing the inflammatory response and protecting the liver against oxidative damage. In experimental models, CBD effectively reduced inflammation, oxidative stress, and promoted the death of malignant cells in the liver.
Other studies found that administration of CBD to the rats with ischemic liver injury resulted in a significant reduction of liver damage associated with the condition (6).
CBD Oil for Hepatic Encephalopathy
Hepatic encephalopathy is characterized by psychological changes resulting from the damage and failure of the liver. Some symptoms include altered personality, confusion, movement problems, etc. It can lead to a coma in severe cases.
Inflammation is one of the main causes of hepatic encephalopathy. A study conducted on mice models of hepatic encephalopathy reported positive effects. The research team observed that applying CBD to mice could restore the neurological functions and cognitive performance in the mice. CBD also reduced the levels of ammonia in the blood, helping restore liver function and normalize the number of liver enzymes (7).
CBD Oil for Autoimmune Hepatitis
Autoimmune hepatitis results from a weakened immune system that attacks the liver. Again, inflammation is the key player in the development of this disease. One study has reported that the activation of TRPV1 vanilloid receptor — part of the ECS — lowers inflammation by activating myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). These cells, in turn, block inflammation and the development of autoimmune hepatitis.
CBD happens to activate the TRPV1 receptors, not only reducing the pain but also inhibiting the proliferation of T cells that trigger inflammation (8). Therefore, it’s within reason to assume that CBD could be used for the prevention and treatment of liver inflammation and autoimmune hepatitis.
CBD Oil for Alcohol-Induced Liver Injury
Liver fibrosis is a common result of chronic liver damage caused by binge drinking. It can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
CBD has been shown to have anti-fibrosis properties by eliminating cells that secrete collagen and cause fibrosis. It can also reverse alterations in the liver associated with alcohol-induced injury (9).
Does CBD Oil Increase Liver Enzymes?
The studies performed on how CBD affects liver function have brought conflicting results.
For example, one study found that 10% of the subjects had higher levels of liver enzymes and had to stop using CBD for this reason. Other studies suggest that CBD can improve liver function. Since CBD is metabolized by the liver — as shown by the studies done on Epidiolex — patients with liver diseases should limit over-the-counter (OTC) medications to avoid potential CBD-drug interactions and reduce the stress experienced by the liver.
Long story short, CBD is generally safe for your liver enzymes if you don’t exceed the dose of 20 mg CBD/kg/day.
CBD Dosage for Liver
If you’re looking to improve liver function with CBD oil, you’re probably wondering how much CBD is enough to provide relief from pain and inflammation and to keep this organ healthy.
Unfortunately, there are no official dosage recommendations when it comes to CBD and the liver. Most clinical trials that suggest specific dosages of CBD have been performed on anxiety, chronic disorder such as epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis models in humans. No clinical study has yet investigated the efficacy of different doses of CBD on the symptoms of liver disease.
The optimal amount of CBD for each individual depends on factors such as weight, metabolism, age, gender, the severity of symptoms, and previous history with CBD products.
The best approach you can take is to start low and gradually increase the dose until you experience the desired relief. We suggest that you start with 5–10 mg CBD and try it out for one week, monitoring the effects. If you deem the dose insufficient, add another 5 milligrams and continue for another week, reassessing the results.
We also encourage you to consult a doctor knowledgeable about CBD and cannabis in general. A qualified physician should help you avoid potential interactions with other medications and determine the right dosage range.
Side Effects of CBD
As mentioned earlier in the article, CBD has an excellent safety profile. People turn to CBD because it’s a low-risk alternative to conventional treatment options for liver disease. That being said, it has a few relatively mild effects when consumed in high doses, including:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
Some of these side effects may result from consuming a mislabeled product that has more than 0.3% THC, or one that has been sourced from poor-quality hemp or extracted with aggressive solvents. When you take high-quality CBD oil at regular doses, the above side effects are nearly non-existent.
However, there’s a risk of potential drug interactions, as CBD is metabolized by the same group of enzymes that process active ingredients in pharmaceuticals. As an inhibitor of those enzymes, CBD can lead to either subtherapeutic effects or substance toxicity when taken along with medications for liver function. That’s why we recommend consulting a doctor before adding CBD oil to your routine.
CBD Oil and Liver: Bottom Line
The liver is a fundamental detoxifying organ that performs many important functions to keep the body in the optimum state. It plays a role in digestion, detoxification, drug metabolism, and more.
There are many diseases affecting the liver as it is constantly exposed to environmental damage from pollutants, alcohol, drugs, medications, etc. It is also prone to autoimmune diseases.
CBD has been shown to have therapeutic effects in many major liver diseases, including viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease, ischemia-reperfusion injury, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and liver cancer.
High-quality full-spectrum CBD oil could be beneficial in a range of disorders that involve liver dysfunction and might help replace the long-term use of other medications.
Although extremely high doses of CBD taken daily have been associated with liver toxicity, so have other supplements and medications. Therefore, it’s best to keep your use of CBD within reason. Doses as high as 20 mg of CBD per kg don’t pose a threat to your liver’s health, as tested in the clinical trial of Epidiolex, a CBD-based anti-seizure medication.
Patients should seek medical consultation before incorporating CBD into their routine to discuss the dosage and establish the right time schedule to avoid potential interactions with other medications.
- Iffland, Kerstin, and Franjo Grotenhermen. “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 2,1 139-154. 1 Jun. 2017, doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034
- Ewing, Laura E et al. “Hepatotoxicity of a Cannabidiol-Rich Cannabis Extract in the Mouse Model.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)vol. 24,9 1694. 30 Apr. 2019, doi:10.3390/molecules24091694
- Purohit, Vishnudutt et al. “Role of cannabinoids in the development of fatty liver (steatosis).” The AAPS journal vol. 12,2 (2010): 233-7. doi:10.1208/s12248-010-9178-0
- Vara, D et al. “Anti-tumoral action of cannabinoids on hepatocellular carcinoma: role of AMPK-dependent activation of autophagy.” Cell death and differentiation vol. 18,7 (2011): 1099-111. doi:10.1038/cdd.2011.32
- Lowe, Henry I C et al. “Potential of Cannabidiol for the Treatment of Viral Hepatitis.” Pharmacognosy research vol. 9,1 (2017): 116-118. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.199780
- Fouad, Amr A, and Iyad Jresat. “Therapeutic potential of cannabidiol against ischemia/reperfusion liver injury in rats.” European journal of pharmacology vol. 670,1 (2011): 216-23. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.08.048
- Avraham, Y et al. “Cannabidiol improves brain and liver function in a fulminant hepatic failure-induced model of hepatic encephalopathy in mice.” British journal of pharmacology vol. 162,7 (2011): 1650-8. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01179.x
- Muller, Chanté et al. “Cannabinoid Ligands Targeting TRP Channels.” Frontiers in molecular neuroscience vol. 11 487. 15 Jan. 2019, doi:10.3389/fnmol.2018.00487
- Zurier, Robert B, and Sumner H Burstein. “Cannabinoids, inflammation, and fibrosis.” FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology vol. 30,11 (2016): 3682-3689. doi:10.1096/fj.201600646R
Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
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Effects of CBD Oil on Your Liver: Is It Bad?
An estimated 30 million Americans have a form of liver disease , and it is the 12th most common cause of death in the US. As you may already know, the liver is our largest internal organ. It is involved in cleaning the blood, processing food material, producing vital nutrients, and detoxifying harmful substances. Even when damaged, a healthy liver has an astounding ability to regenerate cells. However, when the liver is too damaged, it loses its ability to heal itself and creates scar tissue.
Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease, which can ultimately prove fatal. Interestingly, various studies have found a link between marijuana and the restoration of liver function. While these studies have been primarily on mice, we would have a promising cirrhosis treatment option available if the results translate to humans.
However, there have been reports of some liver toxicity with CBD use, so let’s look at the evidence.
One problem with purchasing CBD (cannabidiol) is the lack of regulation in the industry. Some even refer to it as the ‘wild west’ due to its level of lawlessness. It was hoped that the passing of the Farm Bill of 2018, which legalized the growth of industrial hemp, would help tighten regulations.
However, laws still remain murky. Not only does this allow dishonest brands to take advantage of potential customers, but it circulates more misinformation about CBD too.
In 2017, a study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that almost 70% of CBD products didn’t contain the amount of the cannabinoid promised on the label. Over 40% contained too little CBD, while 25% contained too much. Even more concerning, almost 20% of the products contained significantly high levels of THC.
CBD Interactions with Prescription Medications
The main concern with CBD is its potential interaction with other drugs. CBD itself is metabolized by an enzyme called CYP3A4. There are prescription drugs that hinder CYP3A4, which can thereby slow the breakdown of CBD and increase its rate of physiological activity. Other drugs increase levels of the enzyme and lead to rapid CBD breakdown.
In addition, CBD interacts with cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are responsible for the metabolism of several pharmaceuticals. At sufficiently high doses, CBD even inactivates cytochrome P450, leading to toxic levels of pharmaceutical drugs.
Because of these concerns, it’s always recommended to consult a trusted health care provider before trying CBD, especially for those already on medication.
CBD’s Effect on the Liver
A 2019 study on mice showed that CBD led to the elevation of liver enzymes at high levels, an indicator of liver damage. However, the CBD dosage was high, representing the maximal amount someone taking the CBD-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex may be consuming. No data is yet available on the actual liver status of humans who have taken Epidiolex , as the drug is still relatively new.
Nonetheless, the relationship between CBD and the liver isn’t all doom and gloom. It should be noted that another study found that lower levels of CBD were actually protective against alcohol-induced liver damage in mice. Researchers found that CBD was a promising treatment for damage associated with inflammation , oxidative stress, and steatosis (fatty liver).
Quality of CBD Matters
In addition to avoiding interactions with other drugs, ensuring you verify the quality of your CBD is crucial. Ask yourself the following questions when buying from a new brand.
1) Is the Company Well-Established?
Take the time to do some quality research, spend plenty of time reading, and make a genuine effort to inform yourself about quality, safety, etc. Well-established brands will offer complete transparency from lab reports to information about their team and origin. Simply put, your overall experience with CBD will hinge upon the quality of extract you choose.
2) Does It Post the Results of Third-Party Lab Tests on Its Site?
Again, this is crucial. Avoid purchasing CBD from any manufacturer that doesn’t offer lab reports verifying the presence of cannabidiol. And furthermore, make sure that the lab reports also verify the absence of unwanted chemicals, including things like fertilizers and pesticides.
3) How Does It Extract CBD? Does It Use Solvents or Supercritical CO2 Extraction?
Most high-quality sellers nowadays use CO2 extraction techniques. CO2 is, of course, a natural substance and is found in many of the foods and beverages we consume on a daily basis. Supercritical CO2 is generally regarded in the industry as providing the safest, most efficient, and most advanced extraction techniques.
Use of clean alcohol as a solvent is acceptable, but avoid CBD extracted using butane.
4) Is the Oil Free from Pesticides, Insecticides, and Heavy Metals?
It should come as no surprise that these are not things you want to be ingesting. A quality CBD oil that’s been formulated using CO2 extraction techniques should be free from things like unwanted chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, etc.
5) Does the Company Outline Its Extraction Process in Detail?
Believe it or not, some companies in the market still fail to mention how their products are made. If you scan through a brand’s website and can’t find any information on extraction processes, you’ll probably want to avoid buying from that brand.
6) Where Does It Source the Cannabis or Hemp?
This is another crucial consideration as the quality of your CBD oil can only be as high as the quality of your hemp. And believe it or not, not all hemp contains high amounts of CBD. Good, high-quality CBD oil is sourced from industrial hemp that has been specifically cultivated for its cannabidiol content.
Furthermore, hemp grown in the US or the EU is subject to much stricter agricultural guidelines than in other parts of the world. Know where the hemp was grown that was used to make your CBD oil, and you’ll be well on your way to choosing a quality tincture.
Final Thoughts on CBD and the Liver
There is scant evidence to suggest that CBD itself causes any issues with liver function at low levels. However, it’s still important to keep some key things in mind. One of the first things to keep an eye out for is low-quality CBD, which may harm your liver by exposing it to toxins.
The other main danger is if you are already using prescription medications. Any medication metabolized by your liver is affected by CBD, so please speak to your physician before using CBD. Regardless if they understand cannabidiol, they can help by regularly checking your blood for signs of abnormalities.
For those who want some guidance on the best CBD oils on the market, take a look at our list below.