Fast forward to the 21st century. Scientists are trying to understand not only the molecular structure of cannabis, but also how it interacts with the complex web of biological systems in our bodies. However, despite many exciting discoveries, we still know relatively little, especially about the interaction between marijuana and the immune system.
Some research suggests that cannabinoids like THC and CBD are immunosuppressive, which may explain the relief experienced by medical marijuana users with autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation. Other studies have found that regular cannabis use may increase the number of white blood cells in immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV, suggesting an immune boosting effect.
The matter becomes even more complicated when we consider that the effects of cannabis are primarily mediated by the endocannabinoid system, which scientists believe interacts with all biological activity, including our immune system.
Most importantly, there is a lot to discover about the effects of marijuana on our immune system. Here's some of what we know so far.
Our Immune System: An Overview
We are constantly exposed to infectious diseases, bacteria and viruses (antigens), with the intention of running amok and wreaking havoc. Without built-in defenses to keep these invaders at bay, we would all survive on this planet for about five minutes. Thank goodness we have the immune system: a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work with military precision to keep us healthy.
A key player in the immune system's arsenal are white blood cells or leukocytes that seek out and destroy unwanted guests. Leukocytes can be divided into two groups: 1) lymphocytes (B cells and T cells), which destroy antigens and help the body remember previous attackers; and 2) phagocytes that absorb and neutralize foreign intruders.
Many of us are familiar with T cells because of their association with the HIV virus that wipes them out; this is what makes HIV patients vulnerable to normally harmless infections.
Our immune system also plays a key role in detecting malfunctioning cells in our bodies, and through the process of apoptosis or cell death, it ensures that these cells do not continue to grow and become cancerous.
Killing cells is a key part of the healthy functioning of the immune system, which maintains the delicate balance between growth and death. If, for example, cell death is too high, autoimmune diseases can occur, while too little can create the ideal environment for cancer.
The endocannabinoid system and the immune system
Optimal function of the immune system is related to a complex balancing action, which is based on constant communication between our cells of the immune system, tissues and organs. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s. scientists have discovered another key piece of the puzzle.
The endocannabinoid system consists of two major G-protein coupled receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous ligands known as endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), as well as proteins that transport our endocannabinoids and enzymes that break them down in the body.
The ECS is a homeostatic regulator - it works constantly to maintain a state of biological equilibrium.
Endocannabinoids are produced on demand, traveling backwards through chemical synapses and modulating cell activity. This partly explains why the ECS has been called a homeostatic regulator - constantly working to maintain a state of biological equilibrium.
The ECS regulates a myriad of physiological processes, including immune system function and inflammation. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on immune cells, although there are 10 to 100 times more CB2 receptors than CB1. Endocannabinoids act on immune cells directly through the CB2 receptor.
CB2 receptor activation produces an anti-inflammatory effect and is therefore a therapeutic target for autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases1. However, any immunosuppressive activity of the ECS is considered to be transient and may be reversed if necessary in the event of an infection 2
Scientists know that plant cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) affect our health by interacting in different ways with the endocannabinoid system. Therefore, it makes sense that consuming medical marijuana will also directly affect our immune system. But scientists are trying to understand exactly how.
Cannabis and the immune system
When we talk about cannabis, there are over 400 different molecules. These include the more studied cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, over 100 other smaller cannabinoids, dozens of terpenes, and many flavonoids - the combination of which varies depending on the strain of cannabis.
While most of the work has been done on individual cannabinoids, THC and CBD in particular, if you're looking for solid conclusions about their effects on the immune system, think again.
THC has been the subject of most studies. THC binds to the CB2 receptor and activates it, which has an anti-inflammatory effect. This suggests that THC is an immunosuppressant. As such, THC is considered to hold promise in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis.. CBD, despite its low binding affinity to cannabinoid receptors, is also considered an immunosuppressant, reducing cytokine production 3
and inhibiting T cell function 4
But that's only part of the story. A new wave of research and a growing body of anecdotal evidence indicate that cannabinoids have an adaptive, immunomodulatory effect, not just immune suppression.
Cannabis and HIV
Medical marijuana is a well-established palliative treatment for HIV thanks to the plant's ability to reduce anxiety, improve appetite, and relieve pain. However, recent research picks up the role of THC even further, suggesting that it may actually up-regulate the immune system, potentially improving patient outcomes.
Initially, preclinical studies supported the notion that THC was immunosuppressive against HIV, increasing viral load and worsening the course of the disease. 5
More recent studies, however, suggest an immune-stimulating effect.
A 2011 study by researchers at Lousiana State University showed astonishing results when monkeys were administered THC 28 days before being infected with SIV (the monkey version of the virus). THC appears to have some sort of protective effect, extending the life of monkeys and reducing viremia 6
The researchers found that the number of infection-fighting immune cells was higher in HIV patients using cannabis.
Additional research by the same team in 2014 took these findings a step further. This time, the monkeys were given THC for a period of seventeen months before being infected with SIV. Not only was there an increase in T cells and a decrease in viral load, but THC appeared to protect the monkeys from intestinal damage usually caused by the virus 7
These exciting results have also been replicated in humans. In a study by researchers at the universities of Virginia and Florida, CD4 and CD8 white blood cell counts were compared on a sample of 95 HIV patients, some of whom were chronic cannabis users 8
The researchers found that both types of resistance to infection were higher in cannabis patients, suggesting that the plant boosted their immune systems.
Cannabis, cancer and the immune system
Cancer will affect one in two of us at some point in our lives. There is no clear-cut and quick rule on why it occurs, but most cancers follow the same mechanism.
Our immune system is equipped to detect rogue cells and, through mechanisms such as apoptosis, to eliminate those that can become cancer.. Unfortunately, cancer cells can outsmart our immune system by acting to their advantage.
Esther Martinez, a cannabinoid scientist at the Complutense University of Madrid, describes the type of connection between cancer cells and the immune system. "When a tumor talks to immune cells, it reverses the signal," said Project CBD. "So it's like this:" I'm here and now I want you to work for me. ". And instead of attacking the tumor, it gives survival signals, so the immune system around the tumor undergoes a change. Tumors have the ability to turn off the immune system. '
Hemp oil, fresh hemp flower and pink ribbon on white background
When the immune system is unarmed, cancer cells grow out of control. Until recently, the only approved anti-cancer weapons were therapies like chemotherapy, which destroy not only cancer cells but also rapidly growing, healthy cells.
So it comes as no surprise that the tremendous excitement is linked to the anti-cancer properties of cannabis, especially THC and CBD.. In fact, Esther's colleagues at Complutense University, Manuel Guzman and Cristina Sanchez, paved the way to investigate the effects of cannabinoids on cancer, mainly but not exclusively through apoptosis. 9
However, very little is known about the relationship between the immune system and cannabinoids in this process. One reason is that in many preclinical studies, human tumors transplanted into immunosuppressed mice are used to avoid rejection by their host rodent.
There are studies using immunocompetent mice, such as Dr. Wai Liu's 2014 report, which investigated the effects of THC and CBD on brain tumors in conjunction with radiation therapy. According to Dr. Liu, a London-based scientist and cannabinoid scientist, not only did the tumors shrink significantly, but also little if no suppression of immunity was observed 10
This is good news as cannabinoids can also cause apoptosis in lymphocyte cells, potentially suppressing the immune system. The ability of cannabinoids to both suppress and enhance immune function lends credence to the idea that the endocannabinoid system is involved in immunomodulation, as Dr. Liu Project CBD said: those immune cells that serve to stop immunity-based killing cells. '
Uncertainty over interactions between cannabinoids and the immune system raises questions about medical marijuana use in immunotherapy. Hailed as a miracle cure for cancer of the future, immunotherapy retrains white blood cells to detect and kill cancer in the body. So far, however, there has only been one study looking at how cannabinoids can influence this process - and the results have been problematic.
Carried out at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, patients taking medical marijuana along with immunotherapy with the anti-cancer drug Nivolumab responded by 50% compared to patients receiving immunotherapy alone11. Interestingly, people taking medical marijuana with a high THC content responded better to immunotherapy than those taking a low-potency THC product.. There was no significant change in overall patient survival.
There are also anecdotal reports from cancer patients in California claim to have benefited from combining immunotherapy with a low-dose, CBD-rich cannabis diet under medical supervision. Furthermore, a small but growing body of preclinical evidence suggests that the combination of CBD and THC with conventional chemotherapy and radiation therapy may have a strong synergistic effect as an anti-cancer treatment.. But these findings have not been replicated in human studies.
Cannabis is immunosuppressive when there is a hypersensitivity reaction, but it also regulates and corrects the immune system, restoring balance to the body.
Despite the lack of clarity on cannabinoids and immunotherapy, the preponderance of scientific data suggests it is time to ditch the antiquated and confusing immunosuppressive label and embrace the idea that cannabinoids are bidirectional immunomodulators. This is what Dr. Mariano Garcia de Palau, a Spanish cannabis clinician and member of the Spanish Medical Observatory for. Hemp.
"I believe [cannabis] is immunosuppressive when there is a hyperimmune reaction," says Dr. Garcia de Palau, "but otherwise it regulates and corrects the immune system.. In fact, it can be said to act as an endocannabinoid system to keep the body in balance. "
What does this mean in practice if you regularly use cannabis, have a weak immune system or start immunotherapy? If possible, consult a doctor. In the meantime, we can only hope that more research will shed light on the complex relationship between the endocannabinoid system, our immune response, and the compounds in the cannabis plant.
Mary Biles is a journalist, blogger and educator with a background in holistic health. She lives in the UK and is committed to accurately reporting on the progress of medical marijuana research. source: unfomat.pl