Sunday, September 17, 2006

Marijuana helps patients stay on medication

Recovering drug addicts who are
infected with hepatitis C virus may stick to their medications
better if they are allowed to use marijuana, U.S. researchers
reported on Wednesday.

Smoking or eating cannabis may help them tolerate the side
effects of the antivirals, which can clear the virus but often
cause fevers, chills, and muscle and joint aches, the
researchers said.

Diana Sylvestre and colleagues at the University of
California, San Francisco tested 71 recovering substance users
given interferon and ribavirin to treat their hepatitis C --
which is common among injecting drug users.

About a third of the patients also used marijuana.

Half of the marijuana users were successfully treated with
the antivirals, versus 18 percent of those who did not use
cannabis, the researchers reported in the European Journal of
Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

And just 14 percent of the cannabis users relapsed,
compared to 61 percent of non-smokers.

"It may in fact be an ironical truth that those persons who
contracted hepatitis C virus through a form of illicit drug use
may be aided in ridding themselves of this potentially fatal
virus by the use of another drug in addition to their HCV
therapy," Benedikt Fischer of the Center for Addictions
Research of British Columbia in Canada wrote in a commentary.

The hepatitis C virus damages the liver and can kill people
if not treated. A combination of interferon, to boost immune
response, and ribavirin, to attack the virus, can help clear it
from the liver, but it can take months.

"The majority of patients develop significant
treatment-related side effects, with almost 80 percent
experiencing an initial flulike syndrome that includes fevers,
chills, and muscle and joint aches," the researchers wrote.

They are often given a range of drugs to treat the side
effects, including medications to stop vomiting, analgesics,
antihistamines and sleeping pills.

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