Jamaican scientists recently discovered properties in cannabidiol (CBD) found in cannabis that could be used as a novel treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV).
 
Untreated hepatitis is known to cause significant liver damage that typically results in hepatocellular carcinoma and other chronic diseases. While significant barriers have been overcome in developing treatments for HCV, a large number or patients remain untreated due to the high cost of curative antiviral drugs.
 
CBD is a promising pharmaceutical compound because it is nonpsychoactive, and has been studied across numerous disease states, including multiple sclerosis. While a majority of studies have analyzed the compound’s anti-inflammatory effects, little is currently known about the antiviral activity of CBD.
 
In patients with HIV, medical cannabis has been used to treat pain, wasting, nausea, and vomiting. Other studies have shown mixed results for medical cannabis use in HCV.
 
In the study, the investigators aimed to determine the potential therapeutic properties of CBD against HCV and hepatitis B virus (HBV) in vitro.
 
The researchers discovered that the CBD decreased HCV replication by 86.4% at a concentration of 10 µM, according to the study. However, CBD was not observed to be effective against HBV.
 
CBD was discovered to inhibit HCV without eliciting significant damage to the cells used to culture the virus, suggesting it may not be toxic to cells and safe for human use.
 
The investigators explored the use of lamivudine and interferon alpha as controls against HBV and HCV, respectively, and were seen to inhibit the viruses, while CBD was observed to have a dose-dependent inhibition of HCV, according to the study. 
 
CBD’s antiviral activity against HCV suggests it may combat viral and autoimmune hepatitis, which is caused by activated T cells and macrophages. In patients with autoimmune hepatitis, CBD was found to down inflammation.
 
Although the compound was not observed to be effective against HBV, the investigators believe it may be a promising treatment against HCV that would likely be less costly compared with current treatments.
 
Future studies should explore CBD as a combination treatment for HCV, and to analyze the results in animal models, according to the authors.
 
“This is a new discovery which has fantastic potential for the future, especially for people in developing countries, because there is a drug which was developed for hepatitis C treatment, but it’s over $85,000 per treatment and very few people in the developing world can afford this,” lead researcher Henry I. C. Lowe, PhD, told the Jamaican Observer. “So it is very important that we find less expensive means of treatment, and that is why this discovery and its potential to manage this disease is so important.”