Does CBD Cause Liver Problems

Studies about Cannabis may prevent liver damage in people with alcoholism, it worsened the condition in some cases.

Human Liver

A new study finds that cannabis can damage your liver

Affecting a wide range of industries such as healthcare, food and beverages, and cosmetics, the CBD (cannabidiol) market is exploding, providing fodder to forecasts and analysis. According to the latest BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research, CBD sales in the U.S. will reach over $20 billion by 2024.

That will make for a huge increase from 2022’s estimated sales, which are expected to around USD$1.8 billion. Those 2022 sales are themselves a massive increase from 2018 figures, when cannabis sales were a tad over half a billion dollars.

Gross U.S. CBD consumer sales between 2014 and 2022 (million U.S. dollars). Source

Thus, there is no denying that CBD is becoming more and more popular with each passing year. This, no doubt, is fueled by growing studies and beliefs that the compound is a solid medicinal product that can treat a number of conditions. However, a new study has revealed possible astonishing effects of CBD on our health.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science recently investigated CBD hepatotoxicity in mice. The study revealed that while cannabis is gaining recognition in the wellness industry, people who ingest CBD are at a higher risk of liver toxicity than those who do not.

The findings, published earlier this year in the Journal Molecules, indicate that while people use CBD as a safer alternative to standard pain relievers, the compound may actually be equally harmful to their livers.


About the research

Researchers utilized all dosage and safety recommendations from a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex as a legal oral treatment for seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy -- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome -- in patients age two and older. This was the first time in history that a cannabis-based medicine was approved for legal, countrywide distribution in the US.

Researchers examined mice that ingested different doses of CBD. Some received lower doses, while others were given higher doses. Surprisingly, researchers found that the mice that were given higher doses of CBD showed signs of liver damage within only 24 hours. Nearly 75 percent of the mice in the sub-acute phase had either died or were about to die within a few days.

Liver toxicity is caused by various substances such as alcohol, drugs, and, sometimes, natural supplements, even in healthy individuals. The above cannabis study was the first study of its kind, revealing that CBD might be just as hazardous to the human liver as other chemicals.

Epidolex was approved by the FDA as a treatment for epilepsy-related seizures. Source

Lead author of the study, Igor Koturbash, stated that CBD’s liver damaging risks are printed in black and white on GW Pharma's Epidiolex packaging, clearly stating the warning for liver damage. In clinical trials, 5-20% of the participants developed increased liver enzymes, and some of them were withdrawn from the trials.In simpler words, anyone consuming CBD on a regular basis, in higher doses, might find themselves with liver diseases in the long term.

Several previous studies have also shown that the cannabis plant can be harmful to the liver. Although one study states that cannabis may prevent liver damage in people with alcoholism, it worsened the condition in some cases.


The FDA’s cautious approach

None of this means that CBD is unsafe. However, this study raises some warning signs that there is still a lot to learn about what CBD could do to human health and what its long-term effects are. Researchers at the University of Arkansas are conducting additional studies to explore these effects.

Moreover, since the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) thoroughly reviewed GW Pharmaceuticals' CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, thereby likely understanding how CBD affects the liver, this could explain why the FDA prohibits CBD additives in foods, dietary supplements, and beverages. Even though hemp-derived CBD is legal for use countrywide, the FDA has not budged on its premise that there is an insufficient safety profile for CBD as an additive.


Final words

This mice model study may have little to no impact on near-term CBD sales all around the world. With no cannabis overdose-related deaths recorded officially, consumers may assume that CBD-rich products are as safe to consume as cannabis. But the FDA isn’t likely to win, even with popular opinion likely pushing the agency for a green light on adding CBD to foods and beverages.

None of the CBD products sold in grocery stores and malls have received FDA approval. Moreover, the only CBD pharmaceutical approved by the regulatory body, Epidiolex, is stamped as a big risk of potential liver damage. Perhaps Eidolex can be regarded as a Big Pharma CBD-based pharmaceutical, as opposed to a purely natural CBD oil extract. Perhaps some may find comfort in such a distinction, and use it to explain away the results of the study. Regardless of what the case may be, the fact remains that the CBD realm is quite new as a legal medicine, and thus more studies are surely needed.