For thousands of years, Cannabis Sativa has been used for wellness and dietary purposes. Many ancient cultures would include marijuana in their medical treatments – from the Chinese to the Greeks. At that time, nobody wondered why or how cannabis eased the pain and soothed the senses.
Several centuries later, researchers are seeking not only to comprehend cannabis ‘ molecular makeup but also how it intersects with our bodies ‘ complicated web of biological processes. And we still understand comparatively little despite many significant findings, particularly when it comes to the interrelationship between cannabis and the immune system.
Several studies suggest that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are immunosuppressive, which may justify the cure of autoimmune conditions and chronic inflammation experienced by medical cannabis consumers. Some others have found frequent cannabis consumption in immunodeficiency illnesses such as HIV can boost the number of white blood cells, indicating an impact of immune-boosting.
What is the immune system?
People are often subjected to infectious diseases, bacteria, and viruses (antigenes), all of which are designed to cause damage. We would all last about five minutes on this planet with no built-in defenses to avoid these invaders. Thankfully we have an immune system: the complicated network of cells, tissues, and organs that run with great accuracy to maintain us healthy.
White blood cells are the main player in the core of the immune system that tracks and destroys any intruders. Leukocytes can be split into two groups: lymphocytes (B cells and T cells) that dissolve antigens and assist the body to recognize prior attackers; and phagocytes that absorb foreign intruders and neutralize them.
Our immune system can also detect dysfunctional cells within our bodies and ensure that these cells do not keep growing and become tumors through apoptosis (cell death).
Killing cells is a key component of a strong immune system that retains a sensitive equilibrium between development and death. If cell death gets too much, for instance, it can lead to autoimmune diseases, while too little can generate the ideal cancer setting.
The endocannabinoids and the immune system
The ideal immune function involves a complicated balance based on constant contact between our immune cells, tissues, and organs. Another key part of this puzzle is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), as research has shown.
The endocannabinoid system consists of two major protein-coupled receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous receptors called endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), as well as the proteins that carry our endocannabinoids and their enzymes.
On-demand, endocannabinoids are generated, traveling back through chemical synapses and amplifying cell activity. This describes in part why the ECS was called a homeostatic regulator – continuously working to preserve a biological equilibrium state.
The ECS controls a multitude of physiological mechanisms that include immune function and inflammation. It is possible to find both CB1 and CB2 receptors on immune cells, though there are 10-100 times more CB2 receptors than CB1. Endocannabinoids operate straight via the CB2 receptor on immune cells.
Activation of the CB2 receptor produces an anti-inflammatory impact, thus is a therapeutic goal for autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative disease. However, any ECS immunosuppressive activity is considered to be temporary and may be overruled in the presence of infection where needed.
Researchers understand that plant cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) affect our wellness by connecting with the endocannabinoid system in various ways. It makes sense, therefore, that the consumption of medical cannabis also affects our immune system directly.
The immune system on cannabis
We’re dealing with over 400 distinct molecules while we’re talking about cannabis and these include the more common cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. Yet it still hard to reach a conclusion on how they can boost the immune system.
Most of the studies focus on THC, which binds and activates the CB2 receptor, which has an anti-inflammatory impact. This indicates the immunosuppressive nature of THC. Appropriately, for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis, THC is believed to be promising. CBD is also regarded as immunosuppressive despite low binding affinity with cannabinoid receptors, decreasing cytokine production and restricting T-cell function.
HIV and cannabis
Due to the capacity of the plant to decrease anxiety, enhance appetite, and relieve pain, medical cannabis is a well-established soothing treatment for HIV. However, the current study takes the position of THC further, implying that it can effectively upregulate the immune system and possibly improve the results of patients.
The clinical trial had originally verified the opinion that THC in HIV was immunosuppressive, increasing the viral load and aggravating the disease. However, a more recent study has suggested the impacts of immune stimulation.
A 2011 research disclosed amazing outcomes when chimps received THC over 28 days before infection with SIV (the virus ‘ primate version). THC seemed to have some sort of protective impact, prolonging their life and decreasing the viral load.
These results were taken one step further when monkeys were provided THC for seventeen months before infection with SIV. There was not only an increase in T-cells and a decrease in viral load, but THC seemed to have protected the monkeys from bacterial harm frequently induced by the disease.
These interesting findings were repeated in humans as well. In another research, white blood cell numbers of CD4 and CD8 were compared in a sample of 95 HIV patients, many of whom were chronic cannabis users. Scientists found that both kinds of infection-fighting immune counts were greater in cannabis-using patients, implying that the plant had strengthened their immune systems.
Cannabis, cancer and the body’s defensive mechanisms
Our immune system is designed to detect renegade cells and reduce any that may become tumors through processes such as apoptosis. Alas, by having it function in their favor, cancer cells can outsource our immune system.
Cancer cells develop hysterically with the immune system disarmed. Until recently, medications such as chemotherapy were the only authorized anticancer weapons that kill not only cancer cells, but also quickly-growing, normal cells. So it’s no wonder that excitement resides around the cannabis plant’s antitumor characteristics, especially THC and CBD.
Even so, in this phase, little is understood about the connection between the immune system and cannabinoids. Some trials do occur in combination with radiation therapy using immune-competent mice that examine the impacts of THC and CBD on brain tumors. It was shown that the tumors have been significantly reduced, while little to no immune suppression was found. Cannabinoids ‘ capacity to suppress and enhance immune function credits the concept that the endocannabinoid system is engaged in immunomodulation.
Immunotherapy for cancer
The uncertainty over the relationship between cannabinoids and the immune system casts doubt about the use of medical cannabis during immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, a groundbreaking cancer treatment, keeps white blood cells in the body to identify and destroy cancer. However, up to now, there has been only one research investigating how cannabinoids can influence this process – and the findings have been difficult.
Patients taking medical cannabis alongside the immunotherapy cancer medication Nivolumab, in the study conducted at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, reacted 50% less than those taking only immunotherapy. Curiously, individuals taking medical cannabis high in THC reacted faster to immunotherapy than those taking a less potent THC product. There was no important change in general patient survival rates.
Despite the absence of understanding about cannabinoids and immunotherapy, the predominance of scientific evidence implies that it is time to leave the outdated and false classification of immunosuppressants and adopt the concept that cannabinoids are bidirectional immunomodulators.
In practice, what does this mean if you use cannabis frequently, have a weakened immune system, or start immunotherapy? Consult your medical practitioner wherever possible. Meanwhile, we can only expect that more studies will examine the complicated endocannabinoid system connection, our immune reaction, and cannabis compounds.