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Cbd oil for liver problems

Cannabidiol attenuates alcohol-induced liver steatosis, metabolic dysregulation, inflammation and neutrophil-mediated injury

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Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, which has anti-inflammatory effects. It has also been approved by FDA for various orphan diseases for exploratory trials. Herein, we investigated the effects of CBD on liver injury induced by chronic plus binge alcohol feeding in mice. CBD or vehicle was administered daily throughout the alcohol feeding study. At the conclusion of the feeding protocol, serums samples, livers or isolated neutrophils were utilized for molecular biology, biochemistry and pathology analysis. CBD significantly attenuated the alcohol feeding-induced serum transaminase elevations, hepatic inflammation (mRNA expressions of TNFα, MCP1, IL1β, MIP2 and E-Selectin, and neutrophil accumulation), oxidative/nitrative stress (lipid peroxidation, 3-nitrotyrosine formation, and expression of reactive oxygen species generating enzyme NOX2). CBD treatment also attenuated the respiratory burst of neutrophils isolated from chronic plus binge alcohol fed mice or from human blood, and decreased the alcohol-induced increased liver triglyceride and fat droplet accumulation. Furthermore, CBD improved alcohol-induced hepatic metabolic dysregulation and steatosis by restoring changes in hepatic mRNA or protein expression of ACC-1, FASN, PPARα, MCAD, ADIPOR-1, and mCPT-1. Thus, CBD may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of alcoholic liver diseases associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and steatosis, which deserves exploration in human trials.


Chronic alcohol consumption is a leading cause of alcoholic liver disease in the USA and worldwide, which eventually may progress to cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma in susceptible subjects 1 , 2 . Interestingly, while most heavy drinkers develop fatty liver, only about 20% of them will develop liver cirrhosis 3 . Although numerous advances have been made in the understanding the complex mechanisms of alcohol-induced steatohepatitis (involving inflammation and oxidative stress) in cellular systems and animal models, the translation of these findings to clinical practice is still limited.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most abundant non-psychoactive constituent of marijuana plant (Cannabis Sativa) with excellent safety profile in humans even after chronic use 4 – 6 . An extract containing 50% CBD (Sativex) is used for treatment of pain and spasticity associated multiple sclerosis in numerous European counties and Canada 6 . Recently, CBD received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the evaluation of its effect in refractory childhood epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome) and glioblastoma multiforme in phase 3 and 1 clinical trials, respectively. In multiple preclinical disease models, including cardiomyopathies 7 – 9 , nephrotoxicity 10 , neuroinflammation 6 , 11 , colitis 12 , diabetic complications 13 and cancer 14 CBD has been reported to exert potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects 6 .

CBD improved brain and liver function in a fulminant hepatic failure-induced model of hepatic encephalopathy in mice 15 , decreased hepatic ischemia-reperfusion induced injury both in mice 16 and rats 17 , attenuated alcohol-binge-induced injury in mice 18 and hepatotoxicity of cadmium 19 and cocaine 20 . Some of these studies have not explored the detailed mechanisms behind the protective effects of CBD against liver injury, but others proposed attenuation of the pro-inflammatory response and signaling (e.g. neutrophil infiltration, TNF-α, macrophage inflammatory protein-1α/2, cyclooxygenase 2, nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), oxidative/nitrative stress, stress signaling (p38MAPK and JNK) and cell death (apoptotic/necrotic), as well as promotion of autophagy 16 – 18 . CBD also attenuated bacterial endotoxin-triggered NF-κB activation and TNF-α production in isolated Kupffer cells 16 , and attenuated the intracellular adhesion molecule 1 expression in TNF-α stimulated primary human liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, and attachment of human neutrophils to the activated endothelium 16 . Silvestri et al. investigated the effects of CBD on lipid levels using in vitro and in vivo models of hepatosteatosis 21 . Using nuclear magnetic resonance-based metabolomics they demonstrated that CBD directly reduced lipid accumulation in vitro in hepatocytes and adipocytes and induced post-translational changes in CREB, PRAS40, AMPKa2 and several STATs indicating increased lipid metabolism 21 . They also demonstrated that CBD increased lipid mobilization and inhibited development of hepatosteatosis in zebrafish and obese mouse models 21 .

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Since hepatic steatosis and neutrophil infiltration 1 , 22 , 23 are critical pathological features of alcohol-induced liver injury, and the previously discussed studies suggested that CBD had beneficial effect on these processes, we investigated the effects of CBD on alcohol-induced liver steatosis, metabolic changes, inflammation and neutrophil-mediated oxidative injury, using a well-established model of chronic ethanol feeding plus binge alcohol gavage (NIAAA model) 24 , 25 , which closely relates to human drinking behavior 26 . Our results may have important implication for treatment of liver steatosis in alcoholic liver disease.


Mice, alcohol feeding and treatments

Mice (C57BL/6 J) were purchased from The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME). All animal experiments were approved by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Animal Care and Use Committee. The study was carried out in line with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Guidelines for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Ten to twelve-week-old female mice with weight over 25 g were subjected to the following feeding protocol. Initially mice were fed the control Lieber- DeCarli diet (Bio-Serv, Frenchtown, NJ) ad libitum for 5 days to acclimatize them to a liquid diet. Then mice were pair-fed with an isocaloric control diet (control-fed groups) or Lieber-DeCarli diet (alcohol-fed groups) containing 5% ethanol for 10 days. On day 11, ethanol and pair-fed mice were gavaged early morning with a single dose of ethanol (5 g/kg b.w.) or isocaloric dextrin-maltose, respectively, and sacrificed 9 hours later 24 .

CBD was isolated as described 27 . It was dissolved in vehicle solution (one drop of Tween 80 in 3 ml 2.5% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) in saline) and injected i.p. (5 or 10 mg/kg/day) for 11 days during the ethanol exposure. Vehicle solution was used in control experiments.

Biochemical assays

Serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels were determined using a clinical chemistry analyzer Idexx VetTest 8008 (Idexx Laboratories, Westbrook, ME, USA) as described 28 . Liver triglycerides were extracted with a 2:1 chloroform:methanol mixture and measured using the EnzyChrom Triglyceride Assay Kit (BioAssays Systems, Hayward, CA) 29 .

Hepatic protein 3-nitrotyrosine (NT) content

Hepatic NT levels were determined using ELISA kit from Hycult biotechnology, Cell sciences, Canton, MA, USA, as described earlier 29 .

Hepatic 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE) content

Levels of hepatic HNE were measured by using the kit from Cell Biolabs, San Diego, CA, USA. In brief, BS A or hepatic tissue homogenates (10 μg/ml) were absorbed on to the 96- well plates for 12 h at 4 °C. The HNE adducts contained in the samples were captured with anti-HNE antibody, followed by a HRP-conjugated secondary antibody. The HNE protein adducts in liver samples was determined based on standard curve generated with BSA-HNE according to the protocol supplied by the manufacturer 29 .

Liver histology and immunohistochemistry

Liver specimens were fixed in 10% buffered formalin, embedded in paraffin, and cut into 5 µm sections. Paraffin embedded tissues were deparaffinized by changes of xylene and rehydrated in decreasing concentrations of ethanol. The sections were then subjected to hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining. For myeloperoxidase (MPO) staining slides were deparaffinized and hydrated in descending gradations of ethanol, followed by antigen retrieval procedure. Next, sections were incubated in 0.3% H2O2 in PBS to block endogenous peroxidase activity. The sections were then incubated with anti-MPO (Biocare Medical, Concord, CA, USA) or anti-malondialdehyde or anti-HNE (Genox, Baltimore, MD, USA) or anti –NT(cayman chemical, Ca) antibodies overnight at 4 °C in a moist chamber. Biotinylated secondary antibodies and ABC reagent were added according to the kit’s instructions (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame, CA, USA). Color development was induced by incubation with a DAB kit (Vector Laboratories) for 2–6 min, and the sections were counterstained 16 , 30 . Finally, the sections were dehydrated in ethanol and cleared in xylene and mounted. The specific staining was visualized and images were acquired using an IX-81 microscope (Olympus, Center Valley, PA). The morphometric examination was performed in a blinded manner by two independent investigators. The quantification of MPO positive cells was performed as described earlier 29 .

Oil-O-Red staining and liver triglyceride content measurement

Liver samples embedded in optimal cutting temperature compound were cut at 10 μM sections and stained with Oil Red O to evaluate the hepatic lipid content. Briefly, cryosections were air-dried and fixed in 10% formalin and then stained with 0.5% Oil Red O in propylene glycol for 10 mins at 60 °C and subsequently washed with 85% propylene glycol. Sections were counterstained with hematoxylin, washed in water and mounted with aqueous solution.

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Triglyceride content was measured from liver tissue by Triglyceride Quantification Colorimetric Kit (Biovision) according to manufacturer’s instruction.

Isolation of hepatic leukocytes and flow cytometry analysis

Liver tissues were passed through a 70 µm cell strainer in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), and the cell suspension was centrifuged at 30 g for 5 minutes to pellet the hepatocytes. The supernatant, which was enriched in nonparenchymal cells, was centrifuged at 300 g for 10 minutes. The pellet was resuspended in 15 ml of 35% Percoll (GE Healthcare, Pittsburgh, PA) and centrifuged at 500 g for 15 minutes. The resulting leukocyte pellet was resuspended in 2 ml of ACK lysing buffer (BioWhittaker, Walkersville, MD). After incubation for 5 minutes on ice, the cells were washed in PBS containing 2% fetal bovine serum. The cells were pre-incubated with Mouse BD Fc Block™ (purified rat anti-mouse CD16/CD32, clone 2.4G2, BD Biosciences, San Diego, CA) for 10 minutes at 4 °C and then stained with the designated antibodies for 30 minutes at 4 °C. The following antibodies were used: anti-F4/80 (clone BM8, eBioscience, San Diego, CA), anti-Gr-1 (clone RB6–8C5, eBioscience), anti-CD11b (clone M1/70, BD Biosciences), and anti-CD62L (clone MEL-14, BD Biosciences). Flow cytometry analysis was performed using a FACSCalibur (BD Biosciences).

Oxidative burst assay from isolated liver leukocytes and human neutrophils

For detection of superoxide production we used Dihydrorhodamine 123 (30 mM stock in DMSO; Sigma Chemicals, St Louis, MO) at a final concentration of 100 μM with a modified method of Rothe et al. 31 . Isolated leukocytes from mouse liver were stained with Gr1-PE-Cy7.7 and CD11b-APC. Human granulocytes were isolated from human blood obtained from NIH clinical center by Polymorphprep according to manufacturer’s instruction (Axis-Shield, Norway). Human neutrophils were stained with CD11b-PE-Cy7.7 and CD66b-APC. The IRB was approved (99-CC-0168) by Department of Transfusion Medicine (NIH clinical center) for Collection and Distribution of Blood Components from Healthy Donors for In Vitro Research Use.

Cells were incubated with DHR and catalase (1000 U/ml, Sigma Chemicals, St Louis, MO) in the dark at 37 °C for 20 minutes. Cells loaded with DHR were treated with phorbol ester (PMA) at indicated concentration for 30 mins. For human cells, CBD and cannabinoid 2 receptor antagonist SR144528 were added as described in the text for 1 hour at 37 °C followed by phorbol ester (PMA) at 100 µg/ml for 30 mins. Finally, DHR intensities were measured by flow cytometry (FACS Calibur, BD Bioscience) in FL1 channel. Polymorphonuclear neutrophils were gated on the basis of their surface staining.

Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR)

Total RNA was extracted from liver tissue using the TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA) and treated with Turbo DNA-free (Ambion, Austin, TX) according to the manufacturer’s protocols. cDNA was synthesized using HT Fisrt stand CDNA synthesis kit (Qiagen, MD). Real-time PCR was performed in duplicate for each sample using the ABI PRISM 7500 Real-Time PCR System and SYBR Green Master Mix (Applied Biosystems) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The specificity of transcript amplification was confirmed by melting curve profiles generated at the end of the PCR program. The expression levels of target genes were normalized to the expression of beta-actin and calculated based on the comparative cycle threshold Ct method (2 −ΔΔCt ). Primer sequences used were previously described 29 , 32 . The data shown represents the means ± SEM.

Western Blot

Western blot was performed as described earlier 29 . The primary antibodies used are gp91phox (Biolegend, San Diego, CA), FASN, ACC1, PPAR-αl, and beta-actin (Abcam, Cambridge, MA).

Quantitative ELISA

E–selectin and TNF-α were quantified using Simple Step Mouse E-Selectin ELISA Kit (Abcam) and Mouse TNF-alpha Quantikine ELISA Kit (R&D system) according to manufacturer’s instruction.

Statistical Analysis

All the values are represented as mean ± SEM. Student’s t-test was used to determine difference between two groups. One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) test was used to determine difference among more than two groups. Tukey’s post hoc tests were then performed to find significant differences between groups. The analysis was conducted using GraphPad-Prism 4 software. P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.


CBD treatment attenuates chronic-plus-binge ethanol-induced liver injury and steatosis

Chronic-plus-binge ethanol feeding induced significant liver injury as shown by H&E staining (Fig. 1A ) and by elevated serum transaminases ALT and AST (Fig. 1B ). Marked alcohol-induced hepatic lipid/triglyceride accumulation was also observed, indicated by Oil Red O staining (Fig. 2A ) and elevated liver triglyceride content (Fig. 2B ). All these pathological changes were markedly attenuated by CBD treatment (Figs 1 and ​ and2). 2 ). CBD treated did not cause any changes in pair-fed groups.

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Effect of cannabidiol treatment on chronic-binge ethanol-induced liver injury. (A) Representative H&E staining of liver sections (B) and serum ALT, AST levels in indicated groups. Values represent means ± SEM (n = 4–7). *P < 0.05 vs. Pair-fed group, # P < 0.05 vs. EtOH group determined by One-way ANOVA, followed by Tukey’s post-hoc test.

Effect of cannabidiol treatment on chronic-binge ethanol-induced liver steatosis. (A) Representative Oil red O staining of liver sections and (B) TG, liver triglyceride content from indicated groups. Values represent means ± SEM (n = 4–7). *P < 0.05 vs. Pair-fed group, # P < 0.05 vs. EtOH group determined by One-way ANOVA, followed by Tukey’s post-hoc test.

Cannabidiol modulates genes and proteins involved in metabolism and liver steatosis

Because dysregulated metabolism plays an important role in alcohol-induced liver steatosis we examined a series of metabolic genes involved in fatty acid biosynthetic, oxidation and mitochondrial pathways (Fig. 3A–D ). We found that alcohol enhanced hepatic expression of several genes involved in fatty acid biosynthesis (Fatty Acid Synthase (FASN), malonyl-CoA decarboxylase (Mlycd), and acetyl-Coenzyme A carboxylase alpha (ACC1)), while decreasing gene expressions involved in fatty acid oxidation (adiponectin receptor 1 (Adipor1) and medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (MCAD); (Fig. 3AB ). All these effects were attenuated by CBD treatment (Fig. 3AB ). Alcohol feeding decreased hepatic carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1α (mCPT1α) and transcription factor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα) mRNA expression levels (Fig. 3C,D ). Alcohol also increased the protein expressions of FASN and ACC1 and decreased PPARα (Fig. 3E,F ). These alcohol-induced effects were ameliorated by CBD treatment (Fig. 3C–F ). CBD treatment had no effect on the above mentioned variables in pair-fed mice (Fig. 3A–D ).

Cbd oil for liver problems

We support health writers who wish to spread their work to a wider audience. This article was submitted by Natalie Shae.

Note, the study cited in the article was very small with children under physician care but if you are a liver patient it is a cautionary note if you are considering CBD oil. We are not aware of any research that would suggest using it more broadly but consult your doctor.

Liver Damage and CBD Oil

June 4, 2019 by Natalie Shae

The FDA has approved a CBD-based drug named Epidiolex®. The drug was researched and made by Greenwich Biosciences, and the company’s vice-president of U.S. professional relations, Alice Mead, has stated to the FDA that CBD is “potentially” a liver toxin. She said this during the FDA’s first public hearing on CBD oil on May 31, 2019.

What is CBD oil?

Cannabidiol oil is extracted from the hemp plant, which is in the same family as marijuana. Unlike THC in marijuana, CBD does not cause a “high” or chemical dependence. CBD that is extracted from the hemp plant is legal, but individual states have laws to regulate it.

Because CBD oil is not considered a drug, it can be a common additive in many products. This includes e-cigarettes (vape oil), lotions and various herbal supplements. It has also been shown to relieve symptoms of different disorders like epilepsy, anxiety and multiple sclerosis.

How does it impact the liver?

The few studies performed on how CBD affects the liver are not clear.

In one study , 10% of the subjects developed high liver enzymes—they had to stop using CBD for this reason. Other research suggests that CBD can improve liver function.

As determined by the studies done on Epidiolex®, CBD is metabolized by the liver. People with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are encouraged to limit over-the-counter (OTC) medications to avoid stressing the liver.

How much CBD is too much?

To further complicate the question, products with CBD oil may not give the exact amount listed on the package . Depending on the brand, the consumer may be using much more or less than they think. This is especially true of OTC supplements and e-cigarettes.

Now that CBD oil is appearing in different products, anyone with liver damage needs to be alert to this. A doctor or specialist should be consulted before adding it to the diet.