Cannabis and Your Immunity

Research now confirms what many have experienced for a long time: cannabis can alter how our immune system functions. Written by Anna Barberena.

Cannabinoids, terpenes and other substances in the cannabis plant offer a host of benefits when it comes to potentially treating and managing certain health conditions. As we come to know more about the plant, it seems we find more and more therapeutic applications for it. Not only do we find more uses for it, but we discover how deeply integrated the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to our overall health.

Some experts in the medical community view cannabis as an effective supplement to Western medicine. Cannabis is often used to decrease unwanted side effects from medications or certain therapies 1. Incredibly, it can also be used to enhance or alter the outcome of certain therapies. Research now confirms what many have experienced for a long time: cannabis can alter how our immune system functions 2. More research is needed to shed light on the relationship between our ECS, the immune system, and cannabis. For now, the question remains: what is the connection between cannabis and our immune system?

The Immune System

The immune system is one of the body's most complex systems. It is made of specialized cells and chemicals that perform a variety of functions in order to protect the body against pathogens and disease 3. The immune system essentially keeps a record of every pathogen it has come into contact with and defeated so that it can quickly recognize and destroy the microbe if it enters the body again 3. Not only does the immune system actively defend the health of our bodies, it also regulates the delicate internal functions that keep us healthy.

The Immune System

The Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a signaling system in the body that keeps us in balance by responding to stress, injury and illness at a cellular level. It has three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes 4. The ECS regulates a variety of essential functions in the human body such as mood, memory, sleep, appetite, digestion, metabolism, pain perception, immune function, and inflammation 4. The main goal of the ECS is to keep us in a state of balanced health or homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the idea that the conditions within our bodies need to be just right in order for us to function optimally. Our body temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and so many other conditions all need to be kept within a certain range to keep us healthy 4. The ECS is one of these crucial systems that helps the body maintain homeostasis at a cellular level.

The Endocannabinoid System

How Does Cannabis Affect the Immune System?

Using cannabis can affect our immune function in complex ways, often suppressing aspects of the immune system while stimulating others. This is why cannabis is considered to be “immunomodulatory.” It is a substance that can stimulate or suppress the immune system 3.

Research suggests that cannabis, specifically THC and CBD, act as immunosuppressants which can alter immune function and decrease our body’s ability to resist pathogens 3. However, researchers are suggesting that cannabis tends to suppress our immune function when the immune system is overreactive to begin with 5. It appears that cannabis has the ability to regulate and correct the immune system, bringing back a state of equilibrium 5.

How Does Cannabis Affect the Immune System?

In order to better understand how cannabis can alter our immune function, researchers are looking at a few key mechanisms to understand how cannabis: alters the function of different types of immune cells, interacts with other molecules that influence the immune response, triggers cell death in unhealthy cells, and regulates different aspects of the immune system 4.

Foods that Can Boost Your Endocannabinoid System

Diet, stress and lifestyle choices significantly affect the ability of our endocannabinoid system to function optimally. When your endocannabinoid system is out of balance your body’s ability to keep itself in balance is significantly limited. If the body cannot keep itself in balance it can lead to a number of issues such as: depression, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, chronic stress, and sleep disorders 7. It is possible to address the imbalance by adding the right amount of supplemental cannabinoids from cannabis 5. There are even foods that can also help the ECS function optimally and potentially enhance the effectiveness of cannabis.

Foods that Can Boost Your Endocannabinoid System

According to Dr. Dustin Sulak of healer.com these foods can stimulate the endocannabinoid system:

Essential fatty acids

  • Fish, especially cold-water fatty fish such as cod, mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines.
  • Hemp seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts
  • Seaweed and algae
  • Edamame and kidney beans

Chocolate

  • Cocoa contains compounds that are very similar to endocannabinoids
  • These compounds are highest in dark chocolate or raw cacao
  • Look for chocolate that is at least 70% dark chocolate or try throwing cocoa nibs into your smoothie or cereal.

Herbs

  • Turmeric
  • Echinacea
  • Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene found in black pepper, hops, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, lemon balm and cannabis
  • Activates the CB2 receptor which can decrease pain and inflammation

Citations

  1. Sulak, Dustin. “Cannabis Dosing: Less Is (Usually) More.” Healer, 26 Aug. 2020, https://healer.com/cannabis-dosing-less-is-usually-more/.
  2. Cabral G.A., Ferreira G.A., Jamerson M.J. (2015) Endocannabinoids and the Immune System in Health and Disease. In: Pertwee R. (eds) Endocannabinoids. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, vol 231. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20825-1_6
  3. Oláh, Attila, et al. “Targeting Cannabinoid Signaling in the Immune System: ‘High’-Ly Exciting Questions, Possibilities, and Challenges.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2017.01487/full.
  4. Pandey, Rupal et al. “Endocannabinoids and immune regulation.” Pharmacological research vol. 60,2 (2009): 85-92. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2009.03.019
  5. Biles, Mary. “Cannabis & the Immune System: A Complex Balancing Act.” Project CBD, Project CBD, 2 May 2019, https://www.projectcbd.org/wellness/cannabis-immune-system-complex-balancing-act.
  6. Mack, Elizabeth. “Therapeutic Potentials: Cannabis for Holistic Health.” Holistic Caring Network, Holistic Caring, 2021, https://holistic-caring.mn.co/posts/hc-health-coach-certificate-program-unit-6-therapeutic-potentials-cannabis-for-holistic-health.
  7. Bagar, Tanja. “The Endocannabinoid System and Stress Response.” Fundación CANNA: Scientific Studies and Cannabis Testing, Fundación CANNA, 2021, https://www.fundacion-canna.es/en/endocannabinoid-system-and-stress-response-implication-fatigue-and-burn-out.

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