Medical marijuana is one of the most popular ways of using cannabis along with recreational marijuana. However, what gets the most scrutiny by researchers is its potential to alleviate symptoms of some medical disorders like PTSD, anxiety, sink, chronic pain conditions, cancer, and a lot more.
However, the findings of several researches are often mixed and often don’t have a clear consensus with regards to how it affects our immune system and immunity in general.
Some studies claim that it enhances our immune system to fight off cancer while others state that it suppresses the immune system thus leading to reduced symptoms of several autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
So which one is it?
This article will dissect the nitty-gritty of how cannabis affects our immune systems according to the research available in published journals.
What’s inside cannabis?
There are a lot of compounds present in the cannabis plant, but of great importance are THC and CBD. It is now understood that these compounds interact with the human endocannabinoid system to produce various effects in the human body.
The cannabinoid’s effects on the immune system are quite interesting. They are known to be immunomodulators, thus they regulate and modify how the immune system normally functions.
Understanding how these compounds interact and regulate with the immune system is essential to find out other possible leads to its application in medicine.
Is cannabis good or bad for the immune system?
Despite having no clear consensus as to whether cannabis is good or bad to the immune system, it is accepted that consumption leads to modified immune function. The exact mechanisms and explanations for its implications in medicine is still up for debate.
A research published in the European Journal of Immunology stated that cannabis users generally have a suppressed immune system and increases their risk of acquiring cancers later on in life. However, this immunosuppression is extremely important in several clinical applications especially in treating autoimmune disorders which lead to severe inflammatory responses like rheumatoid arthritis.
Cannabis’ immunosuppression leads to anti-inflammatory activity. However, this is not favorable in all circumstances. This is often a double-edged sword.
An inflammatory response is a normal immune response for keeping infection at bay. It helps trap harmful pathogens, isolate damaged parts of the body, and prevent the infection from spreading.
In this instance, medical marijuana’s immunosuppressive abilities could make things worse. This caveat should be carefully evaluated and assessed if the benefits outweigh the risks.
Autoimmune disorders and cannabis
A healthy immune system carries its normal immune functions in normal individuals, thus cannabis’ immunosuppressive properties can be of little benefit. Also, studies are not clear whether medical marijuana consumption in healthy individuals could generally harm that population.
Individuals with autoimmune disorders generally have overactive immune systems. This can manifest as chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and severe allergies.
This means suppressing an overactive immune system can help these individuals suffering from these conditions and the benefits generally outweigh the risks.
Cannabis on immunocompromised patients
Autoimmune disorders typically involve individuals who have overactive immune systems, however, individuals who are immunocompromised have weakened immune systems. These include cancer patients and HIV/AIDS patients.
Despite research showing that medical marijuana consumption can suppress the immune system, there is also research that can prove the opposite.
In patients suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS, there is research that states that it can stimulate their immune systems. Though their recommendations state that more research is needed, the initial results look promising.
Cannabis on cancer patients
Cancer occurs if the cell division checkpoints and the self-destruct mechanism of our body cells go haywire and is defective. The immune system normally lets diseased cells know whether they should live or die. The programmed cell death of our cells is called apoptosis.
If apoptosis is hindered or goes out of control, cells can grow uncontrollably and can form masses known as tumors that can either be benign or malignant. If malignant, this is normally indicative of cancer.
According to research, medical marijuana consumption can trigger back and stimulate apoptosis in cancer cells ultimately leading to their death. This is shown to be a potential treatment for cancer.
Research concerning cannabis as a potential cancer treatment is still ongoing. Results are only reflective of lab experiments on a petri dish.
Cannabis and HIV/AIDS
AIDS occurs if HIV has already reached a specific titer in your blood thus compromising and virtually eliminating your entire immune function. When this happens you can get life-threatening infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, and a lot more.
This occurs since the virus directly infects your immune system rather than other body cells. What makes it so deadly is that it makes you susceptible to other infections from other pathogens.
Cannabis’s potential to stimulate immune function may prove to be beneficial to these patients.
A 2015 study pointed out that a group of HIV-positive individuals who consumed medical marijuana had lower viral loads and had a higher CD4 immune cell count in comparison to the control group.
Likewise, an earlier 2003 study also pointed out that individuals who consumed medical marijuana had elevated T-cell counts. T-cells are an integral part of the immune system as they destroy harmful pathogens.
Pros vs. Cons of Medical Marijuana Use
At this point in research, it is generally not advisable to give a resounding recommendation and statement as to whether medical marijuana consumption is “good” or “bad” for the immune system.
As with the conflicting results presented in this article, it could generally be one or the other. What is established is that cannabis could generally modify and modulate immune function. Its potential benefits or setbacks are generally circumstantial and even coincidental.
The immunosuppression derived from medical marijuana consumption is deeply seated in treating autoimmune disorders. Based on research that would be its most practical application. However, its effects may not be as pronounced on healthy individuals with a healthy immune system.
The immunostimulation present in cancer and HIV/AIDS patients due to medical marijuana consumption should also be noted. Much research still needs to be done to confirm its effects on individuals treated for those conditions.
Individuals currently treating themselves with medical marijuana for their autoimmune disorders should exercise great caution and should, therefore, be closely monitored by a licensed medical professional. It may well be that the relief that patients get from cannabis consumption is indeed beneficial, however, only time can tell what its actual effects on the human body are.
In the foreseeable future, we will be able to discover more about medical marijuana and its effects on the immune system. As for now, we can just wait.