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.
Autoimmune disorders are characterized by excess inflammation. In a properly-functioning immune system, inflammation occurs when a threat or tissue damage is present in the body; it blocks off the area and facilitates tissue healing. However, when the immune system isn’t functioning properly, it fails to regulate inflammation; this may be because it is misidentifying healthy bodily tissues as threats. This leads to chronic inflammation which, rather than facilitating healing, actually damages tissues.
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.
Further research into medical marijuana carries the potential for greater access to a safer medicinal treatment than what is currently available for patients with autoimmune disorders. Rheumatoid arthritis treatment may include medical marijuana in the near future as research emerges and policy moves toward alignment with it.