The secret to a healthy life varies according to who ask. Some swear by exercise, some by diet and some by sleep. However, in recent years the gradual acceptance of cannabis culture also invited in the cannabis enthusiasts. These experienced users now swear by weed; anecdotal cases of potheads living into their 90’s abound. But just how accurate is this? The answer seems complicated, since science now highlights cannabis’s clear effects on the body’s immune system.
The physiological effects of cannabis have not been well examined given its historically maligned societal role. Scientists only recently began observing the mechanism of actions, side effects and impact of log-term cannabis usage. This explains why up until now the exact effects cannabis exerts on our immunity remained unclear. Now, recent research may propose an interesting caveat to physicians prescribing medicinal marijuana.
The body’s immune system consists of intricate and coordinated species of cells
The term ‘immunity’ refers to the body’s success at deterring or eliminating an otherwise harmful pathogen. Pathogens, or disease-causing entities, include various strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi, proteins and protoctista. When these enter the body, via open wound, food or the respiratory system, or to the blood circulation, immune responses occur. Immune responses are the sum processes of recognizing foreign particles, destroying them and creating antibodies for future responses. This means that the leucocytes, eosinophils, B and T Cells all coordinate the response together.
However, in some people the immune system proves too active for their own good. The immune system may produce antibodies against its own tissue, mistaking it for an intruder. This often results in damage to the body’s own tissues. Conditions like this include serious ones like myasthenia gravis, rheumatoid arthritis and IBS. Diseases with these kinds of excessive immunity bear the label of ‘autoimmune disorders’. Meanwhile, in diseases like AIDS, diabetes mellitus and leukemia, the immunity is so weakened they are ‘immunocompromised’. Such patients face greater risks of infection than healthy ones.
Cannabis works on the body by interacting with the natural endocannabinoid system
Like every substance entering the body, cannabis has its interactions with the biochemistry. Cannabis, better referred to here as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the two key constituents, does too. Studies highlight numerous positive health effects of both CBD and THC. The two, being cannabinoids, operate by binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. These receptors, present on the cell membranes, trigger impulses to travel up neurons. This results in the signature ‘high’ of cannabis.
In addition, the neurons send impulses to the endocannabinoid system. This system, although complex, essentially boils down to controlling memory, mood and sleep. Also, it covers the immune system. Stimulating the system results in slowed down impulses and reduced signalling. Therefore, the immune response, from inflammation to pathogen-attacking, weakens.
Physicians must take precautions when prescribing medicinal cannabis, as the immune system may suffer
In healthy individuals with functioning immunity, cannabis definitely shouldn’t be a cause of concern. However, in immunocompromised patients, who already face threats of infection, cannabis may increase risks. Therefore, most agree it should be contraindicated in such cases. However, in cases of autoimmune disorders, or excessive immune responses, cannabis seems perfect. Not only does it reduce pain and inflammation, but it also eases breathing rates and seizures.
For more on cannabis and health, stay tuned. Till then, keep your healthcare providers in the loop about your cannabis intake. It may just yet become a commonplace drug!