The body of evidence in favor of medical marijuana’s effectiveness in managing numerous health conditions is mounting, and policy is beginning to acknowledge this, at least on the state level. The drug has been used for some time in patients with cancer and AIDS to manage pain and improve appetite. More recently, it has begun to move into the broader territory of chronic pain management.
Marijuana consists of a number of cannabidinols, chemicals that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body to produce an array of effects, including appetite stimulation, analgesia and a reduction of muscle spasms. Recently, researchers discovered that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, acts in a way that reduces inflammation in the body.
THC is the best-known cannabidinol in marijuana; it’s the one that produces the “high” sensation associated with the drug. A new rodent study found that the chemical acts on genes in a way to reduce inflammation, a finding that carries significant potential for the treatment of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions.
This is what occurs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis; the immune system persistently attacks the joints, causing inflammation, damage, chronic pain and potentially disability.
Researchers found that administering THC to mice led to changes in the cytokine genes. Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals in the body. Marijuana modified the genes in a way that suppressed inflammation.
This is good news for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, the standard therapy for this condition is the administration of antirheumatic drugs which suppress either the whole or part of the immune system. While these drugs can be effective at slowing joint damage, they leave users susceptible to infections and illnesses; they also come with risks of liver and bone marrow toxicity as well as kidney problems. Medical marijuana’s impact on the immune system may be gentler and safer than antirheumatic drugs.
That said, it should be noted that, for people without autoimmune conditions, the frequent use of marijuana could be problematic due to its immunomodulatory capacity. As said above, inflammation is a healthy part of a properly-functioning immune system. Those who use marijuana regularly without an inflammatory condition may be compromising their immune systems’ natural processes.
See more on the study into THC’s effects on inflammation at www.eurekalert.org.