Hepatitis C Positive People – Use And Self-Medication With Cannabis


A study by Lucy Charlesworth


Hepatitis C positive (HCV+) users of medicinal cannabis presently rely on an illegal substance for medication and effective relief of chronic symptoms.

This study collects anecdotal accounts from 20 people through interviews and questionnaire, to state a case for further research studies to be done into the issues surrounding medical use of cannabis in relation to the variety of symptoms associated with Hepatitis C infection. These include nausea and vomiting and loss of appetite, liver and abdominal pain and joint/muscle pain, headache and urinary problems, and depression from chronic illness. HCV+ people often worry that their illness will progress to life-threatening liver problems.

The stigma associated with HCV and the discrimination faced by HCV positive people are discussed,and the difficulties arising from gaining relief from chronic physical problems with an illicit substance. Difficulties include the trauma of using an illicit substance and fear of legal prosecution, the moral/legal dilemma versus the relief of chronic symptoms, and cost, quality, supply and consistency issues.

Cannabis is already accepted as beneficial in relieving symptoms suffered by AIDS and cancer patients, and it is for the same reasons it is useful in the treatment of Hepatitis C.

There is much anecdotal and historical research evidence of cannabis being useful in reducing symptoms of nausea, pain and depression.
These are the benefits of using cannabis in treating the symptoms of Hepatitis C, as these symptoms are present to various degrees in the course of the disease.
Cannabis appears very effective in enhancing mental relaxation and coping skills, and facilitating visualisation techniques and meditation. These skills are helpful in managing depression.

This study also examines the available literature relating to both the healing properties of cannabis use and issues surrounding medical cannabis for HCV.
The body of literature available to study regarding medical use of cannabis has grown considerably over the past 3-4 years.
Research breakthroughs included identifying receptors in the brain and body for cannabinoids, the neurological enhancing properties of cannabis, and the development of vapourisers as alternatives to smoking.

The available literature, and the results of this study, identify the benefits of medical cannabis for a variety of symptoms.
However, the lack of research into Hepatitis C specifically, most being tied to HIV in the past, mean there has been little consideration to date of research into HCV and cannabis use.
There is an obvious need for such research; with HCV now being the most commonly reported serious infectious disease in Australia; on both social and disease-related aspects of HCV+ people’s self-medication with cannabis.
The high rates of cannabis use in the general population also indicate an urgent need for more research into cannabis use.


In the past few years there has been an increase in the number of studies undertaken and results published in the area of medical cannabis use, however there is no available research on Hepatitis C specifically and cannabis use.

Many HCV+ people anecdotally provide information regarding positive benefits of cannabis use; self-medication using cannabis to reduce symptoms of nausea and pain, and to stimulate appetite and calm depression, in spite of its illicit status.

HCV can cause chronic nausea and digestive irregularities, making adequate nutrition difficult. HCV causes abdominal pain, headaches, and recurrent pain in muscles and joints. Using analgesics for the pain symptoms can aggravate liver dysfunction, and so cannabis is particularly suitable, as it enhances the effects of analgesics such as codeine, allowing lesser amounts to be taken for adequate effect.
Smoking is usually the preferred mode of self-titration, as it is almost instantaneous, allowing better control over the dose than eating or ingesting preparations, which take longer to be absorbed through the digestive system and may cause an overload on the liver and alimentary tract, causing cramps and bowel disturbances.

The stigma attached to HCV, and the anxiety caused by the unknown prognosis faced by many HCV+ people, on top of the debilitating effects of chronic illness, cause many to feel depressed.
Medical cannabis users report their ability to cope, to positively visualise and to meditate is enhanced by cannabis use.

Many HCV+ people have found that cannabis is the only medicine that suits them, (with tolerable side-effects) and have given up all other drugs and alcohol and only use cannabis. It is not surprising they find it the least harmful of substances; cannabis is the least toxic of the known pharmacopia, and it is almost impossible to consume a lethal dose, estimated to be 40,000 times an active dose. Legal medicines commonly have a lethal dose only ten times greater than their effective dose.
[6) The Great Book of Hemp, p.47]

Medical and social attitudes have changed towards cannabis use over the past 2-3 decades, and now a large number of people have used cannabis.
Medical cannabis users are sick of the law not recognising their prefered medication.
In the newspaper, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’ is an article about a HCV+ man, who protested, declaring, “I’m tired of being a criminal…”, Rob Brown said only marijuana alleviates his pain and nausea from hepatitis C and cancer.
[23) The Ottawa Citizen article]

It would be timely for research into the effects of cannabis on HCV + people to be undertaken further, as we know of the large and increasing incidence of both HCV infection, and cannabis use, in the community.
In the past most HCV research was tied to HIV research, although NHMRC announced a grant program for qualitative research into the social effects of HCV.

Different demographic groups require a different response for successful outcomes.
Political and social developments have meant the proliferation of Buyers Clubs for purchase of medical cannabis on a doctor’s written recommendation in some countries, such as the USA and the Netherlands. In Australia there have been similar trials proposed for cannabis cafes and medical buyers clubs.
Moving towards decriminalisation of cannabis for personal or medical use increases the need for continued cannabis research.

The majority of research trials into cannabis have had predominantly male participants. This study comprised approximately half males and half females. Females report symptoms accompanying HCV infection to be influenced by hormonal cycles and worsened before and during menstruation. Cannabis is reported to be especially useful during theses periods.
More research should concentrate on these issues, and gender factors specifically.

In an historical context, cannabis has only been prohibited for a relatively short period of time; from the 1930s.
Notably, Queen Victoria used marijuana for the relief of menstrual cramps.
[Source: 6) The Great Book of Hemp, p.54]

Refer to appendix d, Timeline of Medical Cannabis Use before Prohibition