Immunity has become a buzz word in the face of the covid -19 pandemic and worldwide, people are searching for answers to boost their ability to fight off disease.
Cannabis has long been celebrated for its benefits in the management of many medical conditions, and while there is certainly good reason to believe in the powers of medical cannabis, can it or does it improve immunity?
Much of what we read on social media or stories we hear via word of mouth, are what we refer to as “anecdotal” evidence. Anecdotal means something is based on personal account rather than facts or research and while these accounts must be included in the evidence for the use of cannabis, we do need to look at what credible science is showing us.
While research into the effects of cannabis is extensive, in immunity, studies are sadly lacking. Those that have been done are primarily “in vitro” meaning “takes place outside a living organism” or they have been done on mice models. Studies that include human subjects have limitations – small numbers of participants and studies that run for a short length of time.
To further muddy the waters, the human immune system is complex and extensive.
OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
The immune system is an intricate and sophisticated network of specialized cells, chemicals, and organs including the skin, white blood cells, lymphatic tissue, spleen, liver, and the gut.
Not only is the immune system responsible for warding off pathogens and infections, but it is also responsible for destroying malfunctioning cells in a process known as apoptosis.
The immune system white blood cells memorize every microbe previously defeated in the body which enables a quick reaction and elimination of previously experienced pathogens.
EVIDENCE IN STUDIES
A review of studies published in Feb 2020, concluded that the data overwhelmingly demonstrate that CBD suppresses the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect. It was also demonstrated that CBD may induce apoptosis (destruction of malfunctioning cells).
Other studies suggest that both THC and CBD, due to their interactions with cannabinoid receptors, appear to have unique effects on the immune system and on most types of immune cells. Both cannabinoids subdue immune response and THC was further found to alter cells responsible for antimicrobial activity.
These studies concur with earlier studies involving healthy individuals in which it was found that regular cannabis use subdued immune function.
The downregulation of an individual’s immune system appeared to be dose dependent. Regular cannabis users were inclined to have fewer or impaired white blood cells and decreased amounts of natural killer cells which help limit the spread of tumours.
So, what does all this mean?
Well, it is a mixed bag.
The upside of the studies suggests that with CBD having potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory qualities, it could be exactly what individuals with existing autoimmune disease need.
Although THC has also been shown to suppress the immune system, it does so only in extremely high doses. At low dose it offers the benefits of pain relief and anti-inflammatory treatment.
Do Rheumatoid Arthritis, psoriasis, Crohns Disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis sound familiar to you?
These are just a few of over one hundred confirmed autoimmune diseases.
Although each disease comprises vastly varying symptoms, the root cause of them is all the same. Our own immune system.
When an immune system or inflammatory response is exaggerated or over activated, the immune system produces antibodies in response to the unknown trigger that attacks the body’ s own healthy tissue and organs.
Scientists believe that in some autoimmune disease, like psoriatic arthritis, injury is to blame.
Unfortunately, autoimmune disease is a chronic (meaning long term) condition which leaves many people feeling powerless and desperate to find relief for debilitating symptoms.
With no cure for autoimmune disease, the conditions are treated symptomatically, with Western pharmaceuticals. Corticosteroids are usually prescribed to suppress the immune system, generally with many crippling and unwanted side effects. Conversely, few, if any side effects have been reported with cannabis therapy.
While there is much research on numerous cell types in both animal and human models, more research is needed before a solid understanding of how cannabis both positively and negatively affects the immune system. There are still several cell types for which little data exist.
COVID-19 seems to have spurred the research community to channel their focus into the role of cannabis in human immunity.
There are still many unknowns, but robust studies have shown us that CBD can play a significant role in easing the symptoms of autoimmune disease.
But while a down regulated immune system may be fabulous for those suffering autoimmune disease, it may not be such a good thing for healthy individuals.
Scientists have expressed concern that the suppression of the immune system can lead to increased susceptibility to pathogens, an increased duration of infection or a reduced ability to recognise and destroy malfunctioning cells.