How Can Cannabis Help with Autoimmune Disorders?
About 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases that cause abnormal over-activation, or under-activation, of the immune system.
In cases of over-activation, the immune system produces antibodies in response to an unknown trigger that attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. This can include the heart, brain, muscles, digestive tract, skin, eyes, joints, nerves, and lungs. In cases of under-activation, the immune system experiences difficulty in fighting off infections.
Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include psoriasis, which affects the skin; Crohn’s disease, which affects the digestive system; and multiple sclerosis, which affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Experimentation with cannabis has provided relief for some individuals living with autoimmune illness: for example, people living with psoriasis report that cannabidiol (CBD) oil eases their pain and inflammation, while a survey of fibromyalgia sufferers in Israel revealed that cannabis consumption significantly relieves their pain and improves their sleep quality.
While there are promising reports of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis as a treatment for diverse autoimmune disorders , more large-scale clinical research in humans is needed to understand better how cannabinoids affect autoimmunity. Changing laws concerning the use of medical cannabis may see greater numbers of studies, including clinical trials on humans, in the near future.
What are autoimmune diseases?
There are more than 100 diseases categorized as autoimmune conditions, with some of the more-often-diagnosed conditions including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.
Many autoimmune conditions share non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, and low-grade fevers, sometimes rendering them difficult to distinguish from one another. One trait nearly all autoimmune diseases share, however, is inflammation.
Cannabis as Therapy
Conventional medicine has mainly responded to autoimmune diseases with drugs that aim to suppress the immune system. Cannabis, however, offers an alternative to immunosuppressive medications.
“Cannabis is an immunomodulator, meaning it helps to regulate and influence functions of the immune system,” explained Dr. James Polston, chief scientific officer at medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics . “One of the primary mechanisms by which cannabinoids suppress the immune system is by decreasing inflammation.”
According to Sarah Russo, an herbal medicine educator, cannabis therapy offers a holistic response to complex autoimmune disorders, particularly when paired with dietary changes. “Cannabis can provide a holistic approach to treating (autoimmune) conditions, to bring the body into homeostasis and decrease the stress response,” she said.
How Could Cannabis Help?
Cannabis contains cannabinoids, which bind with receptors in the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) that extends throughout the body. “There are many cannabinoid receptors on immune cells, in joint tissue, the nervous system, brain, cartilage, and in the digestive tract,” explained Polston. “In fact, cannabinoid receptors are now known to be present in every system in the body where scientists have looked.”
According to Polston, the two cannabinoids that appear most beneficial for treating the inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases are CBD and THC . CBD has potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory qualities. THC is also immunosuppressive, but only at very high doses. At low doses, it can offer benefits as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory treatment, he said.
Sarah Russo also notes that other cannabis compounds, namely terpenes , may also support the treatment of autoimmune disease. Beta- caryophyllene can decrease inflammation by stimulating the CB2 receptor, and myrcene also boasts anti-inflammatory qualities.
Insights into cannabis for autoimmune diseases
Research exploring the potential of cannabis as an autoimmune therapy is emerging. Some compelling findings thus far include:
Preclinical data from the University of South Carolina, published in 2011 in PLOS ONE, shows that CBD can suppress inflammation in mice with hepatitis, thereby reducing damage to the liver.
An in vitro study of human skin cells published in 2006 in the Journal of Dermatological Science found that THC, CBD, cannabinol (CBN) , and cannabigerol (CBG) can all inhibit the proliferation of keratinocyte cells, depending on the concentration of the cannabinoids used. Keratinocytes are responsible for the painful inflammation and scaly buildup of skin cells experienced by psoriasis sufferers.
Spanish researchers conducted several surveys of 56 patients , 28 of whom smoked or consumed cannabis regularly. The findings published in 2011 in PLOS ONE reported that the cannabis users experienced significantly reduced pain and stiffness 2 hours after cannabis consumption.
Cannabis users also noted increased drowsiness, improved sense of well-being, and had a considerably higher score in the mental health component of one survey compared to the non-users. The mental health survey specifically measured anxiety, depression and energy levels.
Published in 2011 in the Israel Medical Association Journal, a clinical eight-week study of 30 patients unresponsive to standard Crohn’s disease treatment found that 21 patients experienced a significant decrease in symptoms after taking THC-rich cannabis. The researchers were able to demonstrate that within 8 weeks, Crohn’s patients also experienced enhanced well-being with no serious side effects.
A 2019 study in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences builds upon these findings by demonstrating that Crohn’s patients who use cannabis are less likely to experience serious complications (such as blood transfusions and abscesses), compared to patients who abstain from cannabis.
A January 2018 review of preclinical and clinical data published in the Elsevier journal Progress in Neurobiology reported that cannabinoids can reduce pain and spasticity symptoms in multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers noted that cannabinoids have not yet proven to be successful in halting neurodegeneration; possibly due to administration and dosage uncertainties.
According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, some of the strongest evidence we currently have about the medical benefits of cannabis is specifically related to its ability to reduce spasticity for MS patients.
What Are the Side Effects?
While it’s possible that studies in the future may reveal side effects, at present, few have been reported and there is still much to explore.
“Immunosuppressive drugs can cause side-effects that are particularly undesirable, such as a higher susceptibility to infection, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are dealing with an autoimmune disorder such as Crohn’s disease, these are unacceptable side-effects,” Polston said. “The single greatest strength of cannabis therapy in comparison to these Western pharmaceutical therapies is the lack of (known) side-effects.”
For Sarah Russo, the power of cannabis as an AI therapy is that it works in harmony with the body, rather than against it. “Cannabis is completely different from traditional therapies, which act to suppress the immune system completely or turn it off. Our immune system exists for a reason. There is so much we still don’t know about autoimmune illnesses, so holistic treatments like a clean diet and cannabinoid therapies represent a superior option.”
Polston notes that while it is critical to be mindful that cannabinoids can be biphasic, meaning that low and high doses can produce opposite effects, there is little chance of inhibiting inflammation too much. “A lthough we should be mindful of potentially aggravating autoimmune disorders with the biphasic effects of cannabinoids, it is not particularly distressing. This is especially true since we are primarily using (non-intoxicating) compounds such as CBD for autoimmune treatment.”
How Does CBD Affect the Immune System and Autoimmune Disease?
While more countries around the world continue to acknowledge the potential of CBD, the full biological effects of the cannabinoid are yet to be fully understood. However, some research demonstrates that CBD has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties.
But what does this mean for those that use CBD products, and who could potentially benefit from it?
CBD is one of the most common chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. It is classed as a cannabinoid, along with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabinol (CBN), and over a hundred other compounds in the plant. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals that have become known for their medicinal and wellness potential.
It is also clear that, in some cases, CBD might be used to treat particular diseases for which other available treatments have failed to be effective. Although we know that it produces effects in the central nervous system, in contrast to THC, which is psychoactive, CBD doesn’t create the so-called ‘high’ feeling.
Everything you should know about our immune system
In a nutshell, the immune system is the main defense our bodies have against diseases and other potentially damaging threats. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies and attacks intruders, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites – distinguishing them from our body’s healthy tissue.
Lymphocytes, or B cells and T cells, fight against antigens and they help the body to remember the once-beaten substances so that the next time the immune system can act quickly and effectively.
Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the Immune System
Despite the existence of the Endocannabinoid System only being confirmed by researchers in the 1990s, we already know that this system can play an important role in many bodily functions, including brain functions. Endocannabinoid receptors are expressed throughout the central nervous system, as well as in the human immune system.
Interactions between endocannabinoids and receptors are thought to influence mood, emotions, appetite, pain-sensation and memory, among other important physiological and cognitive processes. Phytocannabinoids (the most well-known are CBD and THC) interact with this system in similar ways to endocannabinoids.
So, what are the effects of CBD on our immune system?
According to research by James M. Nichols and Barbara L.F. Kaplan, it would appear that “considering all the studies conducted on immune responses and inflammation, the data overwhelmingly demonstrate that CBD is immune suppressive and anti-inflammatory.”
While the definition of something being anti-inflammatory should be clear, CBD functioning as an immunosuppressant might require clarification.
As a potential immunosuppressant, CBD may reduce the immune system’s inflammatory responses, promote apoptosis (cellular death), and prevent rapid cellular growth. In certain cases, these features may have a negative effect on a healthy human’s immune system.
In addition, CBD exposure may also suppress the functions of cytokines, chemokines, and T cells – all of which play an important role in immunodefense.
Using Immunosuppressants as a Treatment
It has been suggested that CBD may have potential as an adjunct treatment for some autoimmune diseases.
An autoimmune disease is when the immune system begins to attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs. This can occur basically anywhere in the body, and it can result in particular body functions weakening and, in some cases, life-threatening conditions. The most common autoimmune diseases include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Psoriasis.
Inflammation plays an important role in autoimmune diseases. As an anti-inflammatory, CBD might help the body to tackle the disease. In addition, CBD’s immunosuppressive nature might be able to help it to deal with hyperactive immune systems that attack themselves.
5 Cannabis Strains For Boosting Immunity
The human body depends upon immunological functions to stay away from diseases and health derangements. Your immune responses determine the frequency and the severity of the diseases. Also, a well-functioning immune system ensures lesser microbial attacks and inflammatory disorders. You can use various strains of medical marijuana to boost immune reactions and achieve salubrity. Some popular immune-enhancing strains of cannabis are harlequin and sour diesel. Also, you might consider the other variants to ensure safe and sound immune pathways. Make sure to research more about the benefits of cannabis strains to speed up the endocannabinoid system activity and suitable antioxidant action.
Here are the top cannabis strains that help you strengthen your immune system and achieve a disease-free state.
Here’s the perfect blend of cannabis strains that boost your immune system and keeps the microbial contamination at bay. Harlequin is a potent immune-enhancing cannabis strain that possesses Sativa components. Also, it arises from the combination of Nepali Indica, Thai Sativa, and Swiss Sativa. Due to the high levels of cannabidiol, it incorporates top-notch health benefits in your body. The ratio of CBD and THC of 5:2 is quite reliable to instill relief from pathogenic diseases. You can use the Sativa strains to boost focus, energy, and immune responses. Along with this, it may help in uplifting the mood and curb depressive episodes.
2. Grape God
If you’re looking for a cannabis strain that enhances the levels of immune cells, then you might take refuge in the Grape God strain. It’s an indica-dominant strain that contains around 18% of THC only. Due to CBD’s dominance, it may accelerate the endocannabinoid system’s functions and boost your immune health. Also, the strain is quite palatable and infuses an indulgence of grape coupled up with bubblegum. Most people use this strain to get rid of chronic painful conditions and injuries. But, it shows promising results in reducing infectious diseases and controls the inflammatory pathways of the body. Hence, you are less likely to suffer from inflammation and related medical conditions.
3. Sour Diesel
Another Sativa dominant strain that accelerates the immune functions in no time is the Sour Diesel Strain. It contains high cannabidiol levels and around 27% THC content that aids in euphoria and analgesic effects. Also, it proves to be of use as an antiemetic aid and controls the nauseous states. You are likely to experience a lemony and earthy essence due to this strain’s citrusy tasting notes. Upon acting on the neurological levels, it can boost your energy levels and incorporate dreamy states. Other than this, the strain may also enhance your immune pathways and control the depression-like conditions without any hassles.
Immune functions depend upon the right neurological processes and the action of the endocannabinoid system. Cannatonic is a cannabis strain that arises from the combination of MK Ultra and G13 Haze. Also, it contains high levels of CBD and only less than 6% THC content. Such chemical constituents ensure a relaxing and calming high that incorporates health benefits in no time. Also, Cannatonic is an excellent anti-inflammatory strain that controls the signs of inflammation right away.
The perfect blend of Sativa and indica ensures an optimistic, energetic, and calming high. If you’re a neophyte in the cannabis world, then the strain is quite reliable to start with. Also, it boosts your immunological pathways and ensures a smooth cytokine response.
5. Charlotte’s Web
Charlotte’s Web is one of the best cannabis strains to ensure the immune system’s proper functions. With around 17% CBD content, the strain works quite well in immunological ailments and autoimmune disorders. It acts on the endocannabinoid system and reacts with the receptors present in your brain. Further, the endocannabinoids induce top-notch immune responses and control the oxidation reactions due to free radicals. Not only does it boost our immunity, but it also helps in controlling epileptic conditions. On top of this, the lemony and citrusy essence of this strain is too good to be true.
Make sure to reduce medical conditions like parkinsonism and fibromyalgia using this cannabis strain. You must also get your hands on the authentic strains from a reliable marijuana dispensary to achieve the most benefits.
Cannabis is a potent immunological agent that boosts the cytokine responses and ensures a healthy immune function. You can use the various cannabis strains that speed up anti-inflammatory actions. Also, it can help in increasing the activity of white blood cells and keep infections at bay. Some top-notch cannabis strains like the harlequin, charlotte’s web, and sour diesel are quite reliable for preventing opportunistic infections. Also, make sure to get your hands on the authentic and suitable strains that induce a healthy immune reaction. Not only can it increase your ability to fight off the microbial attacks, but it may incorporate a salubrious immune response.