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Let’s answer a very common question that I get from patients for today’s Q&A. This one is from Marci of Diablo, CA. She writes….
Dear Dr. Patel-
I read somewhere that medical marijuana helps to reduce inflammation. What are your thoughts on this?
To answer this question, I’m going to start with a key player when it comes to inflammation, the immune system. When it’s functioning properly, your immune system protects your body against disease. It fights off viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other threats. Unfortunately, it also happens to cause inflammation in the process. You win some, you lose some.
At the same time, it’s able to distinguish these threats from your body’s own healthy cells. For some folks though, the immune system goes kooky and isn’t able to tell the difference. So, it starts to attack the healthy cells. And that my friends is what’s known as autoimmune disease.
Your immune system responds to chemicals called endocannabinoids, which your body makes naturally. Here’s the interesting bit – similar chemicals also happen to be made by the marijuana plant. Yes, indeed. They go by the name phytocannabinoids.
Both endo- and phyto- cannabinoids help to reduce inflammation in your body in a couple different ways. They reduce the expression of genes and the production of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation. They also block pathways in and suppress the activity of cells in the immune system that cause inflammation.
There’s yet to be research done on humans. Although, there was an experiment done on one of our relatives that we love dearly – the rhesus monkey. In this experiment, monkeys were infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) to imitate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in humans.
They were then given alcohol and/or THC. The monkeys that were given THC had fewer viruses overall, fewer viruses that were making baby viruses, and much less inflammation. The ones given alcohol…well, let’s just say they didn’t do so well.
This goes to show that with more research, cannabinoids may one day become the key medications that reduce inflammation in diseases such as autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune diabetes. The possibilities are endless.
- J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2015; 10(2): 193–203.