In a large human immunodeficiency virus–hepatitis C virus coinfection cohort, we found no evidence that marijuana smoking accelerated progression to significant liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, or end-stage liver disease. Previous studies reporting an association may have been biased by reverse causation due to self-medication.
Background. Marijuana smoking is common and believed to relieve many symptoms, but daily use has been associated with liver fibrosis in cross-sectional studies. We aimed to estimate the effect of marijuana smoking on liver disease progression in a Canadian prospective multicenter cohort of human immunodeficiency virus/hepatitis C virus (HIV/HCV) coinfected persons.
Methods. Data were analyzed for 690 HCV polymerase chain reaction positive (PCR-positive) individuals without significant fibrosis or end-stage liver disease (ESLD) at baseline. Time-updated Cox Proportional Hazards models were used to assess the association between the average number of joints smoked/week and progression to significant liver fibrosis (APRI ≥ 1.5), cirrhosis (APRI ≥ 2) or ESLD.
Results At baseline, 53% had smoked marijuana in the past 6 months, consuming a median of 7 joints/week (IQR, 1–21); 40% smoked daily. There was no evidence that marijuana smoking accelerates progression to significant liver fibrosis (APRI ≥ 1.5) or cirrhosis (APRI ≥ 2; hazard ratio [HR]: 1.02 [0.93–1.12] and 0.99 [0.88–1.12], respectively). Each 10 additional joints/week smoked slightly increased the risk of progression to a clinical diagnosis of cirrhosis and ESLD combined (HR, 1.13 [1.01–1.28]). However, when exposure was lagged to 6–12 months before the diagnosis, marijuana was no longer associated with clinical disease progression (HR, 1.10 [0.95–1.26]).
Conclusions In this prospective analysis we found no evidence for an association between marijuana smoking and significant liver fibrosis progression in HIV/HCV coinfection. A slight increase in the hazard of cirrhosis and ESLD with higher intensity of marijuana smoking was attenuated after lagging marijuana exposure, suggesting that reverse causation due to self-medication could explain previous results.