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Marijuana helps HEP-C patients stay on medication



Marijuana helps patients stay on medication

Wed Sep 13, 2006 11:29am ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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