The new study conducted in Israel found that in mice with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease symptoms, CBD worked better than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in improving food intake, glucose tolerance, and reducing inflammation – likely by altering the “gut microbiome.”
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease covers a broad range of conditions where even individuals who drink little to no alcohol still end up with too much fat stored in the liver. Without proper diet, exercise, and other lifestyle interventions, the condition can lead to liver failure and even cancer.
Researchers found that a major contributing factor is a change in the body’s metabolism, or the ability to break down and appropriately store sugars, fats, and other nutrients. This can be caused by constantly eating a high-fat and high-sugar diet.
Over time, the dietary pattern can influence the “gut microbiome.”
“[The gut microbiome is] the collection of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, archaea living in the gut,” the research authors explained. Healthy metabolism requires a balance of different types of microorganisms. A shift in this balance can trigger inflammation and alter nutrient absorption.
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CBD Can Improve the Gut Microbiome in Mice with Disease Symptoms
When compared to healthy mice, the research team found that animals consistently eating a high-fat diet that triggers nonalcoholic fatty liver disease had a significantly altered microbiome.
One key change was a reduction in Ruminococcaceae, a group of bacteria that can help break down plant material to produce short-chain fatty acids. These fats are the main energy source for the body’s cells in the colon and are needed for proper gut health.
Diseased mice also had a relatively higher quantity of Mucispirillum schaedleri, a microbe that can prevent the maintenance of a healthy intestinal mucus layer. High levels of this microbe have been shown by previous research to be associated with inflammation and the development of fatty liver disease.
Surprisingly, CBD more so than THC helped reverse both effects, bringing the balance closer to what is typically seen in healthy mice.
CBD Also Improves Food Intake, Lowered Blood Sugar, and Signs of Inflammation
When the team looked at other nonalcoholic fatty liver disease symptoms they found that mice given CBD generally had a healthier appetite and ate portion sizes similar to healthy mice. A closer look at blood sugar levels also showed that CBD could prevent the increase in glucose levels caused by the high-fat diet.
THC, on the other hand, had no effects on food intake or blood sugar levels.
Likewise, CBD but not THC also reduced the amount of iNOS in the liver, a protein that can cause inflammation and damage.
While the results are promising, the study authors aren’t sure yet if the improvement in the gut microbiome directly led to these other improvements in food intake, blood sugar, and inflammation.
“What remains to be determined is whether alterations of the microbiome are actually the cause of the other changes observed or only associated effects,” the study authors said.
Nonetheless, these findings align well with what previous studies have seen with CBD and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
The authors explained that previous observational studies revealed that frequent cannabis users in the US are typically less likely to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A recent 2019 clinical trial that followed over 300 patients for three years also found that fat buildup in the liver was less frequent in cannabis users.
However, additional studies are needed to determine whether CBD is the link between the two.
“Although cannabis and the cannabinoids found therein may produce a protective effect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” the study authors said. “Further work is needed to more clearly elucidate their potentially therapeutic effects.”
Calvin Chan is a researcher and medical writer from Edmonton, Canada. As a big science nerd, he loves reading and writing about everything science - from cannabis to dark matter and even alien life. Calvin has a PhD from the University of Alberta.