Many people believe that using cannabis can weaken our immune system. Is there basis to that belief or is it just another marijuana-related myth? Let’s try to find some answers.
Cannabis’ anti-inflammatory qualities can suppress the immune system
There have been preclinical studies that found that cannabis has the ability to suppress our body’s immune function. Now we already know that cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, but while nobody wants to deal with inflammation, we should not forget that our body needs it in order to survive.
Inflammation is our body’s natural response to any kind of infection. It helps isolate the damaged or sick parts of our body and prevent the infection from spreading to other parts. Decreasing inflammation at a time when it is needed by our body could potentially worsen the injury or the infection.
Prakash Nagarkatti, a University of South Carolina microbiology and pathology professor, even said in a 2010 study that cannabis’ ability to suppress the body’s immune functions can make one more susceptible to infections, as well as more susceptible to some types of cancer.
Nagarkatti and his colleagues found that THC fires up the body’s production of myeloid-derived suppressor cells, which are immune system cells that suppress the immune system. Massive amounts of these cells also lead to cancer growth.
In such cases, cannabis might not be a good idea.
However, there are also times when our body’s inflammatory response goes haywire and inflammation goes beyond normal. This is the case when one suffers from an autoimmune disease, where the immune system starts attacking the patient’s own body. This leads to chronic inflammation and could therefore have adverse effects to one’s health.
In fact, chronic inflammation can contribute to a number of modern diseases, including multiple sclerosis, depression, arthritis, asthma, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes, among others.
As such, the ability of cannabis to suppress the immune system and its powerful anti-inflammatory properties can help people suffering from health issues that are related to high levels of inflammation.
How cannabis can protect the immune system
Preclinical research also suggests that in some instances, cannabis can help strengthen our body’s immune function. Like when a patient has HIV/AIDS or cancer.
Unlike autoimmune disease, HIV/AIDS and cancer are associated with a decline or suppression of our immune function. However, even if this is the case, cannabis may still bring beneficial effects. It can strengthen the immune response of the body in these conditions.
In preclinical studies, it was found that marijuana compounds effectively trigger apoptosis, which is a term used for the self-destruction of cells.
Our immune system determines whether a diseased cell dies or lives. However, cancer cells no longer respond to apoptosis triggers, which tell them to self-destruct. This is the reason why cancer cells grow and spread to other unaffected parts of the body. Cannabis helps in that it triggers apoptosis in cancer cells.
Meanwhile, in HIV, the immune system is hijacked and suppressed by a virus. As a result, the body is unable to fight off infection and make patients more prone to infection, which, in turn, can result to premature death.
Preliminary research has found that cannabis may improve the immune function for HIV patients. A study conducted in 2015 found that patients who are HIV-positive and consumed cannabis possessed lower viral loads compared to those who do not use the substance.
What do all these mean?
All the preclinical studies show that cannabis is both good and bad for the immune system. It depends on whether you are suffering from immune system-related diseases or not. All we are sure of is that further research is needed – especially clinical ones – in order for us to fully understand the effects of cannabis to the immune system.