With the recent health crisis, many people are asking about ways to strengthen and support their immune system. Given that cannabis was utilized as far back as ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations for medicinal purposes, it is a valid question – does cannabis help or hinder the immune system? The answer is not as black and white as people may want it to be.

Even after its extensive use for centuries, there is little recent scientific study into cannabis as a medical option. While scientists are increasingly interested in how cannabis interacts with human biology, studies regarding cannabis and immunity are still rare. Thus our understanding of how it affects the immune system is limited in scope.

Research proves that the endocannabinoids in our bodies and the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant do modulate our immune system. While some studies indicate that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can act as immunosuppressants, others show that they are useful to boost the immune system. How can medical cannabis play these seemingly disparate roles? It bears more looking into further.

How Does the Immune System Work?

We are surrounded by bacteria, viruses, and diseases every day. This is nothing new, and the fact that most of us walk around healthy is a tribute to the working of our immune systems. In fact, without the work the immune system performs, we wouldn’t have much of a chance of survival.

The immune system is comprised of a sophisticated network of cells, tissues, and organs that are continually protecting us. The principal agents in this system are the leukocytes, which track down harmful agents and invaders in the body. There are two types of leukocytes:

  • Lymphocytes destroy antigens and assist the body in identifying and remembering what attacked it.
  • Phagocytes absorb and neutralize foreign intruders.

Your body must maintain healthy cells in a perfect balance. Too many dead cells cause autoimmune disorders, but too few can encourage cancer growth.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

The body’s endocannabinoid system is very complex.  There are numerous receptors and ligands (the molecules that bind to the receptors).  Two of the receptors (CB1 and CB2), and two endogenous ligands known as endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) are the best characterized thus far.  The enzymes which help synthesize and metabolize these components are also part of the endocannabinoid system.

  • CB1 receptors are abundant in the nervous system, including the brain, lungs, vascular system, muscles, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive organs, immune system, liver, pancreas, and bone marrow.
  • CB2 receptors are found in cells of the immune system. Any effects of cannabis on the immune system are processed primarily through these receptors, located in the spleen, bones, skin, liver, bone marrow, and pancreas.
  • The situation becomes more complicated as cannabinoids can also activate other receptors, like TRPV1, PPARa, PPARg, and GPR55 – also essential in the functioning of the immune system.

Cannabinoids and the Immune System

The immune system can be divided into two subsystems.

  • Innate immunity is present at birth and includes monocytes and macrophages to attack and absorb foreign agents, while cytokines and chemokines neutralize agents of infections. While at work, these systems can produce inflammation – and it is widely accepted that CBD reduces inflammation.
  • Adaptive immunity features regulated T-cells, B-cells, and antibodies. When you have an infection, allergic response, or have been vaccinated; these specific antibodies are activated to recognize and attack out of control cells. In the adaptive immune system, the function of cannabinoids is not clear. More studies are needed in this area.

Cannabis Effect on the Immune System – Good or Bad?

Unfortunately, there is not one blanket answer. Depending on the illness being addressed, the results of cannabis use differ.

When the immune system is repressed, the body suffers. But stimulating the immune system too much causes inflammation and a host of many other problems. To determine if medical cannabis can help you with your specific condition, you need the expert advice of a medical professional. Dr. Daniel P. Stein is the Sarasota area’s foremost authority on utilizing medical marijuana to treat a wide variety of neurological diseases. If you would like to explore this treatment option further, call the offices of  Neurology of Cannabis today.