We’ve known for quite some time that cannabis can help alleviate inflammation. Now, as cannabis legislation is easing around the world, scientists jump at their chance to learn more about the precise relation between cannabis and inflammation. Inflammation is a natural bodily response to disease or injury. But inflammatory reactions can spiral out of control, turning into chronic inflammations and related conditions. Studies indicate that cannabis offers interesting options to help keep inflammation under control.
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What Causes Inflammation?
Painful as inflammations may be, they are a sign of important body processes at work. They are part of our natural defence against potential health threats. That means inflammations are meant to help protect the body. Whenever harmful bacteria, viruses, or other external threats enter the body, or after injuries, white blood cells and other defenders rush to the scene. They are tasked with destroying intruders, and to help repair any damage they cause.
Inflammation, therefore, is a sign indicating your body is busy restoring itself: it is vital for our survival. However, if an inflammatory reaction gets out of control, intervention by means of painkillers or other medication may be necessary. This is the case with auto-immune diseases such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, or Crohn’s. We can distinguish between two types of inflammation:
- Acute inflammation: these occur immediately following injuries or infections. Your body initiates an inflammatory response and the immune cells start to do their job. A few hours or days later, when you have fully recovered, the reaction stops by itself.
- Chronic inflammation: these inflammatory responses last longer; in some cases they can go on for months or even years. This can be due to lingering infections, or to the continued presence of immune cells originally activated to stop the initial infection. These immune cells keep on adding up until they may start to attack the body’s own healthy cells. The immune system does not get the ‘all clear’ signal that is meant to stop the inflammation response. This can cause tissue and organ damage if left unchecked.
These chronic inflammations are most likely to undermine your health if they go on for too long. Below, we’ll explore the potential of cannabis when it comes to inflammation.
The Potential Of Cannabis Against Inflammation
Cannabis is a rich source of active organic compounds. These include celebrity cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, CBG and CBN, as well as a host of terpenes and flavonoids. This unique combination of active ingredients explains why the plant has become such a popular natural alternative for treating a broad range of conditions. The potential of cannabis in case of inflammation has been demonstrated by multiple studies. The anti-inflammatory properties of weed are associated with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the characteristics of several cannabinoids found within the plant.
The endocannabinoid system is our body’s safeguard that ensures all physiological processes run in smooth unison, which helps maintain our internal balance or homeostasis. The body’s own endocannabinoids interact with receptors found all throughout the body. CB1 receptors are mainly located in the brain and peripheral nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are chiefly connected to the immune system, indicating that the ECS and cannabinoids are involved in regulating our immune system.
Research has demonstrated how administering the cannabis compound THC to mice caused apoptosis (targeted cell death) in T-cells and dendritic cells, which allowed it to suppress immune responses. In addition, several studies indicated that cannabis compounds inhibit production of cytokines and chemokines, which can further help suppress inflammation reactions.
We now know that two of the best-known plant cannabinoids, THC and CBD, both have immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory properties. These help our nerves and other crucial tissues repair themselves. By interacting with our ECS, they influence the body’s processing of pain stimuli and encourage self-repair.
How Effective Is Cannabis Against Inflammation?
The study mentioned above involved mice as its subjects, but we now have access to a solid evidence base demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis against inflammation in humans, too. One 2013 study involved 21 Crohn’s disease patients for whom regular medication (steroids and immunomodulators) had proven ineffective. Twice a day, they received either 115mg cannabis with THC or a placebo. Out of the eleven participants in the cannabis group, five showed full remission, compared to just one in ten from the placebo group. Moreover, ten of the eleven cannabis subjects indicated feeling significantly better after treatment. This applied to just four out of ten placebo control group subjects. Three of the cannabis group patients no longer needed any steroid drugs at all after receiving cannabis treatment for their chronic inflammation symptoms.
Other Cannabis Compounds Against Inflammation
Even though cannabis may be somewhat less effective against inflammation than regular opioids or steroids, it has far fewer side-effects than regular medication. THC is known to be 30 times as powerful as aspirin, and twice as effective as hydrocortisone. And in addition to THC, other cannabis compounds including CBD and CBG can also help suppress inflammation. Furthermore, various cannabis ingredients can mutually influence and boost each other’s behaviour through a phenomenon known as the entourage effect, which further adds to the positive potential against inflammation.
To our present knowledge, cannabis is a natural source of around 450 compounds altogether. The psychoactive cannabinoids activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors. These serve different purposes: CB1 receptors in the central nervous system affect perception, while CB2 receptors play an important part in keeping inflammation responses under control. Activation of these receptors reduces the release of inflammation-promoting signal chemicals (cytokines). The involvement of specific cannabinoid acids from cannabis (notably THCA and CBDA) in suppressing so-called cytokine storms is in fact even linked to prevention and potential future treatment of Covid-19 coronavirus infections.
Investigating The Role Of Terpenes
Quite recently, scientists at the Zurich Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences discovered that a cannabis terpene called beta-caryophyllene is able to selectively activate CB2 receptors. Beta-caryophyllene does not connect with CB1 receptors, ruling out any high or psychoactive effects. One of the research team members explained that they had long expected to find non-psychoactive cannabis compounds to be important to inflammation responses. So far, however, we didn’t know which ones to look for. This recent discovery shows how cannabis terpenes may be relevant for treating inflammation, too.
Inflammation, especially the chronic kind, can have a major negative impact on your quality of life. They cause pain and discomfort, but they can also impair your mobility, ruin your sleep, and cause chronic fatigue. Cannabis appears to offer multiple qualities that can help reduce inflammation as well as to alleviate these resulting symptoms. If you intend to try using cannabis against inflammation and you are already on medication, be sure to always consult your doctor first.
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