Updated on December 19, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, making it the most prevalent disability in the United States. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t just a joint disorder, like most types of arthritis — it’s an autoimmune disease. These disorders develop when the body’s own immune system starts attacking healthy cells.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Some treatments help patients manage their painful symptoms, while others attempt to suppress the immune system to prevent further arthritic deterioration. However, a weakened immune system means patients are more susceptible to disease and infections.
As medical marijuana becomes an accepted treatment option across the world, researchers are discovering its many medicinal properties. One such benefit could be its ability to boost the immune system. Not only does cannabis help patients manage their severe symptoms, but it could also prevent antibodies from attacking and destroying healthy cells.
The immune system is an essential part of how we function. It safeguards the body, keeping it free of foreign bodies and infection. Inflammation is the immune system’s way of dealing with an injury as it attempts to repair damaged tissue.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases have an immune system that’s not performing properly. Something sets the immune system off, and inflammation is misdirected. The protective tissue that lines joints, called the synovial membrane, becomes inflamed and thickens. The inflammation can grow, causing damage to other parts of the body.
No one knows what causes the immune system to go haywire, but several factors could come into play:
There are many treatment options for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but there’s no cure. Physicians attempt to find medications that prevent inflammation and flare-ups, while also helping patients manage the pain and improve their quality of life. Options include:
Unfortunately, none of these treatment options provide relief on multiple fronts, and some have adverse side effects that can worsen a patient’s condition — that’s where medical marijuana is different. It helps patients manage painful symptoms with the added bonus of boosting the immune system.
The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis are well-documented. Though studies on this are limited, researchers are finding this feature is linked to marijuana’s effect on the immune system.
Our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of receptors in every part of our body and every essential system, including the immune system. Compounds present in cannabis, called cannabinoids, can bind to ECS receptors affecting certain bodily functions.
Because marijuana is a Schedule I drug, limited research is available. But, recent reports are showing cannabinoids have the following effects on our body’s immune system:
MarijuanaDoctors.com provides information to patients searching for cannabis-related answers. However, our advice shouldn’t replace that of a qualified professional. If you’d like to find out if medical marijuana is right for you, contact a physician qualified to recommend cannabis treatments. You can also get your questions answered by contacting a helpful budtender at a local marijuana dispensary.