DEC 29, 2017 08:55 AM PST

Research Roundup: A Year in Medical Cannabis News (Part II)

WRITTEN BY: Loren DeVito

It's been a very busy year for medical cannabis research – and, if you read Part I of this article, you may have learned about some of these studies. Below we summarize a few other key updates in cannabis research from this year:

Gut Health

While it’s well known that cannabis compounds play an important role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body, less is known about how it regulates these processes and how exactly how this happens. A pre-clinical study published this year shed a little light on how this works – at least, in the gut.

While research on cannabis has seen a renaissance in the past few years, gut health research still takes center stage, as scientists have linked gut disruption to many different health conditions. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed a role for the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide, and CB2 receptor in immune function in both the pancreas and gut. This newly identified pathway holds enormous potential for a greater understanding of how cannabis could help restore immune balance to the gut, as well as contribute to the etiology of diabetes.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Two studies published this year in PLoS One revealed a role for cannabis in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The prevalence of NAFLD has increased rapidly over the past two decades and is expected to continue growing. Patients with NAFLD are at higher risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer, thus representing a significant healthcare burden.

In a study of over 20,000 patients, cannabis use was associated with a decreased risk of NAFLD. An additional study found similar results in a population of over 5 million patients. Cannabis users had a significantly lower prevalence of NAFLD compared to non-users. While both these studies were observational in nature (the direct effect of cannabis on NAFLD was not evaluated), these data are encouraging and suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis may help prevent the development of a common and potentially serious form of liver disease.