Cannabis could have a role in treating obesity-related fatty liver disease, according to a Hebrew University project that has been awarded funding by a UK-Israeli startup.
The research focuses on cannabidiol, also known as CBD, a naturally occurring chemical found in marijuana plants.
It accounts for about 40% of the extract of the cannabis plant and is classed as a medicine in the UK and Israel.
“We know CBD is potentially able to elicit positive metabolic effects under fatty conditions such as an unbalanced diet,” said Dr Joseph Tam, from the university’s Obesity & Metabolism Laboratory unit.
He stressed that the CBD extract does not have the psychoactive effects of the full cannabis plant.
“What we’re exploring in this study is whether CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabis compounds can diminish, inhibit or reverse the growth of fatty liver cells and even prevent their development.
“Our laboratory experiments are very promising.”
Cannabis has two key ingredients — THC and CBD — and it is THC that can make people intoxicated, anxious and psychotic.
But when isolated, CBD has the opposite effect and calms people down, leading some to use it in small doses as a medicine.
It has also been shown to modulate fatty acid accumulation in the liver and inhibit weight gain in rats on high-fat diets.
CBD could have a potentially huge market, with more than one in two adults in Western countries defined as overweight or obese and afflicted by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
“With CBD already legal in the UK, it may not be very long before we can prove that the plant is an effective remedy,” Dr. Tam said. “At the Hebrew University, we have been researching the medicinal qualities of cannabis for 55 years.
“It is a tragedy that a plant that is so rich in medicinal qualities was kept illegal in the west and has been tagged with the stigma of substance abuse for so long.”
The funding is provided by Ciitech, a cannabis biotech firm that is based in the UK.
“CBD possesses many health benefits and with this study, we believe cannabis could usher in a new era of natural weight loss therapy,” said Clifton Flack, one of the founders of the company.
“There are too many people in the UK missing out because they think medical cannabis isn’t available for them.
“Non-psychoactive cannabis supplements provide consumers with a real alternative option for health and wellbeing and demonstrate why countries such as the UK don’t necessarily need to legalise medical cannabis to reap the benefits.”
Medical cannabis is becoming a major industry in Israel with dozens of companies involved in research, growing and marketing of cannabis for the treatment of a broad range of conditions.
Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture believes Israel could be exporting $1 billion [£740 million] of medical cannabis annually within a decade.