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Will inhaling vaporized marijuana/cannabis hurt my liver?
July 15, 2012 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I need my liver to recover after years of alcohol abuse. Will vaporizing marijuana have a detrimental effect?

I'm alcoholic, and have finally realised I have to completely abstain. I am seeing a psychiatrist (specliasing in addiction), and he had me do a Liver Function Test. He told me lots of gibberish about the results, which I didn't understand, but then summarised it by saying that on the mild/medium/extreme level, my liver damage is mild, and reversible, if I completely abstain from the booze.

I've done a bit of research since, and I guess I definitely have Alcoholic Liver Disorder, but it hasn't yet progressed to Hepatitis, or Chirrosis. I am determined not to let it escalate any further.

I believe that I've been using alcohol to self-medicate away my anxiety and mild depression issues, with which my doctor agrees, but he refuses to look further into that until I have been sober for a few months, so he can see the "real me".

But above all that, I want to make sure I do whatever I can to get my liver back to a healthy state. I am taking multi-vitamins, milk thistle, and improving my diet (along with Campral and Naltroxene which are supposed to reduce alcohol cravings).

He's given me Valium to help over the first week or two of sobriety, which is helping well.

My question is, if I vaporize a bit of marijuana from time to time rather than having a drink, will that have a detrimental effect on my poor liver's recovery? I'm not talking about a lot - just to get over those "I need something more" moments.

I used to smoke cannabis with tobacco in excess up to about 10 years ago, but then quit, and concentrated on the drinking (aside from the occasional toke at a party from time to time). I still smoke cigarettes, and know I need to kick them too, for the liver at least, but... one step at a time.

Even though I still smoke cigarettes heavily, I can't smoke marijuana - it just makes me cough. But I've recently discovered vaporizing and it seems to do the job without making me cough for half an hour.

I know you guys are not my doctors, but I've tried looking this up on more specific websites, and they're either one extreme or the other: Medical sites - "complete abstinence from everything is the only solution!". Pro-marijuana sites - "Dope is completely harmless".

Please don't suggest AA.

And I know some may think I'm just replacing one crutch with the other. But it's a case of harm minimisation. Like I said, I won't be vaping daily, and even when I do it will be very small quantities.

Anecdata: 40 yo, single male.

Summary: Will inhaling vaporized marijuana/cannabis hurt my liver?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
 
What you are asking about is called hepatotoxicity, or the effect that shit has on the liver.

There is actually surprisingly little data on the hepatotoxicity of marijuana in the medical literature, but there does appear to be a significant correlation between liver damage and chronic marijuana use. So the answer is probably, and your liver isn't really in a good position to chance it.

This is the publication of note

And this is a more recent publication [full text in HTML]

If you, or any other answerers/Mefites, MeMail me an email address I'd be happy to send you a PDF of the first study, as well as any other studies that this thread might find.

Congratulations on your sobriety!
posted by Blasdelb at 8:02 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I used to smoke cannabis with tobacco in excess up to about 10 years ago, but then quit, and concentrated on the drinking

That's the risk. It's something you did along with alcohol and your brain probably still connects it. So for the sake of not replacing one with another, as you said, I would recommend to ask your therapist for something additional that you can safely take in "the moments you need a bit more".
posted by MinusCelsius at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The framing of your question suggests you are fishing for a specific answer. So, here it is--only use drugs that have had thorough clinical trials re: hepatotoxicity and only use them under direct medical supervision with regular liver function tests. Also, minuscelsius brings up an excellent point regarding sobriety--people, places and things associated with drinking are strong triggers for relapse. Wishing you the best
posted by rmhsinc at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2012


Don't do it. Agree that it could be triggering. I know it will hard for you, but you really need to fight through those times when you need "something more." Quit weed and definitely eventually quit smoking cigarettes, too. It's worth it!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2012


IANAD, but I think it's a little strange that your doctor is not treating your anxiety/depression. I have a bit of a drinking problem myself. I was at least partially self-medicating my anxiety. When I discussed my drinking problem with my physician, she prescribed lorazepam for short-term withdrawal symptoms, naltrexone for cravings, and sertraline for anxiety. The combo worked well for me, and I stayed on the medications for 6 months.

I know that this doesn't address your liver function concerns, but like you said in your question, it does seems like you're just planning on replacing alcohol with marijuana for self medication. There are safer, well-researched solutions out there. Maybe you should talk to your psychiatrists and let him know that you need help with your anxiety so that you're not forced to self-medicate.

To put it bluntly, I think the waiting to see the real you is crap, and not helpful to your recovery. Good luck!
posted by shrabster at 9:22 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I believe that I've been using alcohol to self-medicate away my anxiety and mild depression issues, with which my doctor agrees

The problem with self-medicating is that if you do it too effectively, you take away the impetus for you to seek out any real treatment or long-term solutions to your problems.

Also, in my experience cannabis can backfire on you in the anxiety department, especially if you consume more and more of it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:17 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know how canibus will treat your liver, but I think that you're really undermining your recovery by considering it. How easy is it to replace one addiction with another? While you have the best of intentions, history shows that you don't really handle mind-altering substances well.

I agree with shrabster that you might want to seek out a shrink who specializes in addiction (can you see Dr. Drew?) I'd hate for you to put your whole recovery in jeopardy for those moments where you "feel you need something more". That something more is what got you addicted in the first place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:40 AM on July 15, 2012


It is generally strongly disrecommended for anyone in recovery from addiction to Substance A to use Substance B at the times when they are feeling a craving for Substance A. When the person in question says they used to be a heavy user of Substance B, the red flags are enormous.

Recovery from addiction is about learning to deal with life without self-medication. You're kidding yourself that you're going to be able to use weed responsibly. Get clean.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:35 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


MinusCelsius: "Congratulations on your sobriety!"

I know the intent was good, but let's be clear; valium to manage WDs from booze and contemplating ramping up vaping grass is far from sober.

As others have pointed out--substitution. The addiction psychiatrist is not helping with the valium, and is in fact making things worse by subtly enabling. I'd also be curious as to the shrink's thoughts about the decision to burn. Oh, wait, you're not going to mention that?

I have personally played all these games myself. Not judging--at all--just pointing out the same alleyways of cognitive distortion I've traveled myself and which have retarded my sobriety . . .

There are no shortcuts.
posted by eggman at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is generally strongly disrecommended for anyone in recovery from addiction to Substance A to use Substance B at the times when they are feeling a craving for Substance A. When the person in question says they used to be a heavy user of Substance B, the red flags are enormous.

Yes, I don't want to pile on too heavily, but I will say that I've worked with a lot of addicts and I've had many tell me a story that goes like this: "I don't think I have a problem, and if I did, I'd be able to just quit using. I quit using heroin, I just quit it." The unstated, and perhaps misunderstood part of the story, is that they quit using heroin because they started using crack, and found that they liked it better. Or vice versa. It wasn't ever a story of conquering addiction, it was a story about finding their drug of choice.

Why does this matter? It matters because you are unlikely to be able to confine yourself to occasional and minimal pot use. You are likely to basically end up using pot as you used to before you switched to alcohol, which is how addictions typically work. So your question is really whether substantial pot use is harmful to your liver, and the answer to that is that it likely is, especially if your liver is already compromised.
posted by OmieWise at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2012


As I understand it, inhaled medicine will bypass the liver since it goes right into the bloodstream. Oral consumption however will pass through the liver.

But I'm not a doctor and I still think it's a bad idea.

I will suggest you pick up In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and give it a read. You call yourself an alcoholic but what you are is an addict. Understanding addiction will help you get a plan.
posted by chairface at 8:08 PM on July 15, 2012


As I understand it, inhaled medicine will bypass the liver since it goes right into the bloodstream.

Um. . . that's how stuff gets into your liver, is through your bloodstream. It's not like your intestines hook right up to it or anything.

To the OP: I don't have any information on whether or not marijuana is hepatotoxic, but from my own experience and observations, it is frequently a piss-poor anxiolytic. I know more people who have quit pot because it made them jumpy and paranoid than I do people who get significant relief from anxiety symptoms from it. For that reason alone, I'd say stay off the weed.
posted by KathrynT at 11:23 PM on July 15, 2012


"As I understand it, inhaled medicine will bypass the liver since it goes right into the bloodstream."

Livers are just big filters that all of your blood goes through. They are particularly fragile because they do almost all of the metabolic heavy lifting for the chemistry that your body needs to do.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:50 AM on July 16, 2012


Having suffered from long-term hepatitis (gone for decades now), no one ever told me I shouldn't smoke cannabis.
posted by Goofyy at 6:35 AM on July 16, 2012


See? That's why you shouldn't ask the internet for medical advice. I stand corrected.
posted by chairface at 6:56 AM on July 16, 2012


Please talk to your doctor. Substituting another drug strikes me as a bad idea.

Coffee is actually good for your liver.
Tylenol is quite bad for your liver.
Be incredibly cautious about supplements
This looks like a good article on diet.
hepatotoxic agents I didn't read all of this, but my quick take is that household and other chemical, esp. the benzenes, are really bad for your liver. Your doctor should be able to help you learn more about this.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 AM on July 16, 2012


Its a good thing you've recognized and been taking steps to further prevent damage to your liver. Coffee is an excellent beverage on the liver.

I am going to go against the grain here and say go for it. Cannabis is safe, and useful medication. To reach a dangerous levels, you would need to inhale an ungodly amount.

Vaporizing is quite nice. A little goes a long way. Feel free to mefi mail me with research or questions.
posted by handbanana at 8:13 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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