Does cannabis help or hurt the immune system?
Cannabis and the immune system
Cannabis is a special type of plant that has a wide range of effects on the body, in particular the human immunity. There is a strong interaction between the human immune system and the active components of this plant. The reason for it is CBD cannabinoids which are immunomodulators. Cannabis is a psychoactive drug derived from hemp. The most potent of the cannabinoids is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Specialists distinguish three main types of hemp: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis, while the latter contains the least amount of tetrahydrocannabinol. In this article, based on the results of scientific research, we will analyze exactly how cannabis affects the human immune system and whether CBD has a negative effect and whether CBD can weaken the immune system.
Let’s delve into history. For centuries, cannabis has been used as a drug that improves human health. Several ancient civilizations – from the Greeks to the Chinese – included cannabis in their pharmacology. At that time, no one wondered how and why cannabis relieves pain and increases the strength of the spirit. All that mattered was that cannabis had a positive effect on the body.
In the 21st century, scientists have the opportunity to research and analyze the properties of this plant. However, the studies are not completely accurate and the opinions of some experts differ. This is due to the fact that the use of cannabis is not legalized in all countries of the world.
And at the same time, scientists are studying the molecular structure of cannabis and its interaction with various biological systems of the body.
In general, doctors agree that cannabis has a positive effect on the human body and has an immunomodulatory property. However, the debate between scientists is about how cannabis affects the immune system.
A new series of studies conducted by scientists in New Jersey in 2020 indicates that cannabinoids have adaptive immunomodulatory effects.
Other studies have shown that regular cannabis use can increase the white blood cell count in immunodeficient conditions, suggesting an immunostimulating effect.
Let’s take a quick look at our immune system
Any viruses and bacteria tend to harm our bodies. And it is the immune system that protects our body: a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that works to maintain our health. The main building block of the immune system is white blood cells, or leukocytes, which destroy unwanted cells.
Historically, the immune system has been divided into two parts: humoral immunity and cellular immunity. It is important to understand that immunomodulation is the result of a coordinated chain of reactions from both sides. Immune is a complex network of different types of immune cells that interact with different receptors in the body, producing some hormones/substances and reacting to others. For people far from biology, scientists give an analogy with a lock (receptor) and a key that can open this lock (hormones).
Cellular immunity is one of the main components of the adaptive immune system. The body’s response to foreign cells in this case consists of the production of specialized protective cells that can recognize and neutralize the “enemy” (pathogens, pathogens, tumor cells). Humoral immunity complements cellular immunity, while the protective functions are performed not by cells, but by molecules contained in the blood plasma (antibodies that neutralize antigens or pathogens that the body has recognized as foreign).
An important key part of immunity is the endocannabinoid system, which scientists discovered in the 1990s. ECS is a homeostatic regulator – constantly working to maintain a state of biological balance.
Scientists know that plant cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) affect our health by interacting in different ways with the endocannabinoid system. Hence, consuming CBD also directly affects our immune system.
Cannabis has over 400 substances in its composition. The most commonly studied cannabinoids are THC and CBD, the combination of which varies by cannabis strain.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most commonly researched drug. It has anti-inflammatory effects. Hence, THC is an immunosuppressant. Cannabidiol is also considered to be an immunosuppressant, as evidenced by a new wave of studies that have shown that it has an immunomodulatory effect.
Science knows that CBD can help reduce inflammation and is one of the main ways it affects the immune system. There are studies showing that cannabinoids like CBD can suppress the immune system by inhibiting inflammation.
There are situations, the purpose of which is to suppress the immune system or suppress inflammation in this way.
Inflammation also has important functions in the body. It includes infections and injuries.
It means that suppression of the immune system is undesirable with a properly functioning immune system and inflammation, as it can slow down the healing process.
Inflammation in the human body always has a purpose. And if CBD is used incorrectly and in the wrong dose, you can change the balance, which is highly undesirable.
Scientists have found that it is cannabinoids that can balance different parts of the immune system through the endocannabinoid system, which was mentioned earlier in this article. Scientists also note that excessive stimulation of the immune system can lead to allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders. This is why balance is so important.
And at the same time, if the immune system is not sufficiently stimulated, cancerous and catastrophic infections can occur. In this situation, cannabinoids can help balance the immune system for optimal functionality, which can drastically reduce the rate of negative effects.
To maintain the quality of the immune system, the body’s systems must work harmoniously and in balance. Studies in the early 90s showed that cannabinoids affect the functioning of the immune system, and in the tissues of any organ of the body. This fact has an impact on the endocannabinoid system of the body.
In the course of these studies, it turned out that ECS and cannabinoids play a key role in restoring the balance between the components of the immune system.
It is worth noting here that constant, unlimited consumption of cannabis for health has a detrimental effect.
And scientists studying the function of the pacemaker and the effect it has on the immune system unanimously argue that plant cannabinoids, as well as endogenous cannabinoids, are able to positively affect neuroinflammatory processes, systemic inflammation. In other words, cannabinoid treatment is effective in autoimmune diseases that appear as a result of malfunctions of the body’s immune system.
However, in autoimmune diseases, it happens that the inflammatory process does not proceed quite correctly, which aggravates the situation. In this case, the immune system begins to attack healthy cells in a person, leading to chronic inflammation that can be harmful to health.
A 2019 study in Canada showed that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many modern diseases. Among them are depression, multiple sclerosis, asthma, arthritis, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and many others. As a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, cannabis can be beneficial for those with health problems caused by chronic inflammation, which is also regulated by the immune system.
Let’s look at the effects of cannabis on some diseases that depend directly on the functionality of the immune system.
Cannabis and HIV
In this case, cannabis helps to relieve pain and discomfort, improve tone and appetite, and improve sleep quality.
Studies of the cannabinoid effect on the health of patients diagnosed with HIV, conducted at the beginning of the century, concluded that the substance, in general, has a noticeable immunosuppressive effect on the body. In the course of these studies, it became known that immunomodulators are contraindicated in this diagnosis, and they can harm the body.
However, in 2011, a team of researchers from Louisiana State University published a paper that for the first time provided convincing arguments about the compound’s immunomodulatory properties. More specifically, during the experiment, which involved about a dozen experimental monkeys, the animals consumed an average dose of the extract of the substance with food, about 28 days before the injection of the HIV virus strain.
By 2014, the same team of scientists was able to obtain the resources to conduct a more in-depth, larger-scale trial of the effectiveness of THC in the fight against HIV infection. This time, a larger and more varied sample of monkey subjects regularly consumed a small amount of THC extract in their diet every day for about 17 months, prior to receiving an injection into SIV (Monkey Immunodeficiency Virus).
Experiments were also conducted with human volunteers in the states of Florida and Virginia. These studies have found that people with HIV who are frequent or chronic users of CBD have increased excretion of CD4 and CD8 white blood cells than those who do not use cannabis for symptomatic treatment, which is a positive effect.
Scientists differ on the use of cannabis and HIV, but with each new experiment, doctors’ opinions are inclined to believe that cannabis is more positive than negative.
Cannabis and cancer
Studies carried out on rodents and human cancer cells grown in laboratory conditions have shown that cannabis compounds trigger the process of apoptosis. This means that the chemicals in marijuana successfully kill cancer cells. For this reason, today a large number of scientists around the world are studying the potential anti-cancer properties of cannabis.
In 2014, Dr. Liu in Madrid, while observing subject rats, also discovered a curious phenomenon of the dual effect of a mixture of cannabinoids on the activity of the body’s immune system and the manifestation of its reactions. He confirmed the manifestation of the phenomenon of suppression of the immune system by cannabinoids at certain stages of treatment, noting that in addition to the death of cancer cells, cannabinoids also somewhat accelerated the death of lymphocytes, which, most likely, is the reason for the manifestation of the immunosuppressive effect.
He also notes: “Judging by all the information we have, provided both by private scientific teams and by the opinions of individual doctors and patients, CBD has a noticeable suppressive effect on the immune system, only in those cases when it can or shows an overactive reaction to some irritants ”.
Let’s summarize. Is cannabis good for immunoids?
It’s important not to jump to conclusions when it comes to cannabis and the immune system. All the studies mentioned above show that it can interact with the immune system. Whether this leads to a positive or negative effect, it is impossible to say unequivocally. It all depends on each specific situation, dosage, and purpose of using CBD.
With uncontrolled and unrestricted use of cannabis, will lead to negative consequences and harm to the immune system.
For example, a professor at the University of South Carolina Prakash Nagarkatti called cannabis a “double sword.” In his opinion, cannabis is an active assistant in the fight against ailments caused by increased activity of the immune system (arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, a number of skin diseases). The professor also notes that cannabis impairs immunity, getting into the human body, not confirmed by disorders of the immune system.
For a healthy person, the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis are useless. Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system and is vital if you want to stay healthy and alive.
In summary, the various plant-based cannabinoids found in cannabis (even in industrial varieties) show tremendous potential in maintaining the balance of the immune system.
At the moment, there is no absolutely clear data from research on when cannabis may be beneficial for immune function and when not. By comparing the results of the scientists’ tests, we can summarize that the effects of cannabis on cancer and HIV / AIDS, marijuana can have a positive effect on immunity.
In the future, the study of the interaction of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, as well as the mechanisms of their influence on human immunity, can radically change modern concepts of medicine.