Is CBD the alcohol antidote we've been waiting for?
When I read a recent study in one of the Nature journals, Scientific Reports, I rushed to write this blog: US scientists have found that consumption of cannabidiol (CBD oil) can reduce the harmful effects of alcohol in the liver.
This is a blog about alcohol and from the outset, I want to be clear – I’m not here to judge! In fact, my wife and I regularly enjoy a rum and dry at home while watching TV. You could say it’s part of our routine. Unfortunately, my medical degree confers no immunity against the harmful effects of alcohol – which is right up there with cigarette smoking as the biggest “reversible” risk factor for any number of diseases including cancer, stroke and heart disease.
From a public health perspective, alcohol is positively evil.
In the UK each year, over 1 million people have an alcohol-related hospital admission, and about 1.5% of all deaths are caused, in one way or another, by alcohol. So as a GP, one of the most meaningful things I can do is to explain the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Most people are aware that alcohol is bad for their liver, but what they don’t know is how important the liver is! The liver is amazing, playing a role in metabolism, storage, detoxification, digestion, energy production and the list goes on. Furthermore, what we now know is that the risk of damage to the liver, which occurs as inflammation, fat deposition and scarring, as well as the risk of cancer and heart disease, rises proportionately with alcohol consumption above just 100g per week!
As a side, and just for humour, let me tell you about one time in my life that I thought I’d struck gold. At the time, I was a scientist working alongside my dad at the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine in Melbourne. One of my father’s career-long scientific interests was actually what is known as “alcohol appetite”. It turns out that humans are pretty much the only animal that, when given a choice of alcohol and water will ever actually choose alcohol! Animals can’t stand the stuff – it is a toxin after all – so to make an animal drink alcohol you basically have to offer it as the only thing on the menu! Important for context and much to my amusement, sheep are only able to metabolise alcohol at a fraction of the rate humans can – so they stay drunk for hours on a single drink.
One day my dad administered a particular drug to one of the drunk sheep he was studying and found that its blood alcohol plummeted precipitously. The second I heard the news, I thought that’s it – we have just found the future best-selling drug in the world. Forget about Viagra.
Imagine – you’ll be able to have a huge night out and go from staggering to sober in an instant. No more regrettable conversations or ‘mating’ choices and the complete eradication of drink-driving!
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. We couldn’t repeat the finding and that partially explains why I still have an eye-watering monthly mortgage payment. Ah well…
The work was done at National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health in the USA – which happens to be where I did part of my post-doctoral fellowship. Incredibly, the authors found that administration ofCannabidiol (CBD) – a non-psycho-active oil extracted from cannabis plants – markedly reduced every measure of liver damage following chronic and binge alcohol consumption in experimental mice. The authors found a reduction in oxidative stress, fatty changes and inflammation.
It is certainly early days (and after all, this was a study in mice not humans), but these findings hold enormous promise for human health. If this translates to humans, we may find ourselves taking CBD oil to avoid or at least reduce the harmful effects of alcohol and other substances on the liver. And given the fact that CBD is now considered safe and approved for use (in high dose) in severe childhood epilepsy syndromes and MS, it is definitely worth a look. Especially if you’re inclined to have a glass of wine or two at dinner or, perhaps, a few pints on the weekend.
If you’re keen to see the paper itself, you can find it here.
Dr. Harry holds qualifications in optometry and medicine and works regularly as a general practitioner. He completed his Masters and PhD at the University of Melbourne in the fields of visual neurophysiology and visual development and has been published in Nature Medicine, Science, PNAS and Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.
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