Marijuana’s Impact on the Immune System
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 11/16/2018 in Medical Marijuana
Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Cannabis medicine works naturally with our bodies to benefit our health. It interacts with our cells to tell our systems to function in certain ways, including the immune system. Medicinal marijuana’s impact on our immune responses is the key to many of its symptom-relieving properties. This guide will go over basic questions about the immune system’s response to cannabis.
What Does Cannabis Medicine Have to Do With the Immune System?
When you take medical marijuana, it acts like natural compounds we already have in our bodies. Everyone has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that creates and uses cannabinoids. We usually talk about cannabinoids that appear in marijuana, which we know as phytocannabinoids. But, the ECS creates cannabinoids called endocannabinoids, as well. Phytocannabinoids work like endocannabinoids and increase endocannabinoid activity. In other words, the cannabinoids we get from cannabis act just like compounds we already have in our bodies.
How Does Medical Marijuana Impact the Immune Response?
As part of the ECS, we have cell receptors called CB1 and CB2. They activate when cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) attach to them. Certain areas of our bodies have more of these receptors than others, including our immune cells. Immune system cells have plenty of CB2 receptors ready to take in cannabinoids. When the CB2 receptors activate, they suppress the immune response by reducing the number of substances like T cells.
Why Would a Patient Want to Suppress Immune Function?
You may wonder why someone would want to reduce their immune system’s ability to fight foreign substances. After all, doesn’t it protect us from disease? While our immune systems help us out when it works properly, it can also harm us when it doesn’t.
Think of your immune system as a security guard for the building that is your body. A good security guard keeps out people who can hurt the people inside the building. But, when the security guard enforces too much power, they create more harm than good. They keep out people who mean perfectly well and won’t cause any trouble. An overactive immune system has a similar issue. In addition to attacking dangerous cells, it goes for healthy cells. As a result, the normal cells become damaged.
Reducing your immune response with cannabis makes your system leave healthy cells alone. It relieves symptoms related to unnecessary immune functions.
Can Using Marijuana Medicine Make Me More Vulnerable to Sickness?
We don’t have much evidence showing that medical cannabis could make you susceptible to illness. Overall, we don’t have a lot of data connecting cannabinoids to humans’ immune response. However, we do have more supporting research on marijuana’s positive immunosuppressive effects than its negative ones. While our research so far on its benefits looks promising, the data related to an increased risk of illness doesn’t show much. If it does raise your chance of getting sick, cannabis’ health benefits still outweigh this risks.
Who Benefits From Cannabis’ Immunosuppressive Effects?
A large number of patients who use medicinal cannabis get relief from its effects on the immune system. More conditions have more of a link to an overactive immune response than you may think. Conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis stem from the immune system attacking healthy cells. Many chronic pain conditions result from too much inflammation in the affected area. Our immune systems trigger an inflammatory response to isolate foreign cells, but unnecessary inflammation damages healthy tissue.
Other ailments relieved by marijuana’s immunosuppressive effects include:
- Crohn’s disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Type 1 diabetes
- Alopecia areata
- Celiac disease
- Myasthenia gravis
How Else Does Medicinal Cannabis Help Patients With Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune diseases cause a wide range of health issues that don’t always have a direct connection to the immune system. Also, many patients with overactive immune systems have additional conditions to address. Medical cannabis tackles multiple health problems, not just issues related to autoimmune disorders. In addition to suppressing the immune response, marijuana medicine relieves symptoms like:
- Cachexia and wasting syndrome
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Nausea and vomiting
What Advantages Does Medicinal Marijuana Have Over Immunosuppressive Drugs?
Patients with autoimmune diseases often take immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the immune system’s activity. Cannabis medicine can provide many benefits that immunosuppressive medications don’t have, such as:
- Lower Cost: Insurance can cover the high cost of immunosuppressants, but not everyone has sufficient coverage. Without the financial help from a decent insurance plan, immunosuppressive drugs can cost thousands of dollars a month. In these situations, paying for a medical cannabis recommendation and going to a dispensary has a lower price.
- Safer Side Effects: We don’t have conclusive evidence showing that cannabis medicine has an impact on your disease-fighting abilities. Meanwhile, prescription immunosuppressants do have a track record of causing infections and illness. These drugs also cause toxicity and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Multi-Symptom Relief: If you take immunosuppressive drugs, you still need to get medications for the other symptoms your condition causes. As we discussed earlier, marijuana medicine relieves multiple health problems at once. Since it changes the way your body functions, it addresses more than one symptom.
Of course, everyone reacts uniquely to different medications, and marijuana counts as medicine as much as immunosuppressants do. We recommend consulting a cannabis-trained doctor to learn about your options.
Where Can I Learn More About Marijuana and the Immune System?
You can count on MarijuanaDoctors.com as your one-stop resource for everything related to cannabis medicine. If you want to discover even more about medical marijuana and the immune system, visit these pages:
- Endocannabinoid System Overview
- Autoimmune Disease Research Case Studies
- How Cannabis Can Boost the Immune System
- Medical Marijuana and Inflammation
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