Medicinal Cannabis and Your Immune System

Stephen Andrews
27 Dec 2023

The use of medicinal cannabis can help many people who struggle with different illnesses, especially cases where conventional medicines do not deliver the needed result. While there are numerous therapeutic benefits of weed, its consumption might still weaken your immune system.

The scientific research on how medicinal cannabis affects the immune system is relatively small in its scope. There is the need for more studies in this field, as it’s obviously a complex matter. 

One recent study published in the journal Viruses, suggests that cannabis can inhibit the workings of the immune system, which can actually benefit those who suffer from autoimmune diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory Disease, etc.

What all autoimmune diseases have in common is overreaction. It’s the excessive response of the immune system that creates the medical condition. If weed can suppress immune system overwork, that is indeed good news for the groups of patients with autoimmune disorders. As a matter of fact, there are already cannabis-based medicines approved for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis for example. 

On the other hand, if cannabis can reduce the function of the immune system, it means that it might make healthy people more vulnerable to disease, such as getting the flu. More affected in this case would be long-term heavy users, and those users whose immune system is already compromised. 

Generally speaking, smoking can have an immunosuppressant effect, which is why it’s important to compensate your lungs and body with sufficient intake of vitamin C, doing sports, or making other healthier lifestyle choices. 

How Does the Immune System Work Without Cannabis?

Your body has some great strategies on how to fight off foreign bodies. The immune system represents an intriguing design of cells, tissues and organs that work in a team to protect you from contracting an infection. This system is very quick to mobilize when an invader such as bacteria or a virus enters your body. 

The white blood cells are the ones that identify the threat and they signal other immune cells through chemical reactions to unleash a protective response that aims to destroy the foreign invader. 

The immune system is also capable of producing memory cells that can recognize the same foreign bodies if they return sometime again in the future. 

What Happens When You Consume (Medicinal) Cannabis?  

Cannabis engages with the immune system through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS has numerous functions in the body, including a role in regulating sleep, body temperature, memory, as well as its involvement in the immune system. 

THC and CBD are the main compounds found in cannabis, and they influence the work of your immune system by binding with endocannabinoid receptors, such as CB1 and CB2. Of the two, CB2 receptors have a greater role in relation to the immune system, and are the main getaway through which cannabis engages with your immune system.

When THC binds to CB2 receptors, it may suppress the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses or bacteria. But at the same time, THC may reduce inflammation and facilitate pain control. 

When CBD binds, one of its main reactions is to slow down cytokines production. Cytokines are the proteins that participate in the inflammatory response. As a result, CBD may help reduce the severity of conditions where the main problem is inflammation. 

But there are many unknowns anyway. For example, research hasn't confirmed if the anti-inflammatory effect of CBD actually strengthens the immune response. 

How Cannabis Can Help for Autoimmune Diseases?

An outbreak of an autoimmune disease means that there’s an anomaly in the working of the immune system. The cells that are supposed to protect you from foreign bodies begin to attack healthy cells and tissues, mistaking them for invaders. 

For example, in Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (called myelin) that coats the nerve fibers. This causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. The resulting symptoms could be numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, or tingling, fatigue, lack of coordination, inability to walk, etc. 

How can cannabis help with an autoimmune disease such as Multiple Sclerosis? Cannabis is known for its antioxidative properties and that makes it a beneficial agent for protecting the nerve. In MS patients, cannabis also eases pain and might help with muscle spasticity and tightness. 

The immunosuppressant effect of cannabis may also help other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Though, if taken with other medicines that are traditionally prescribed for any of these conditions, there could be side effects. Which is why it’s important to always discuss treatments with a doctor. 

There is still much to study about cannabis and learn how it counteracts inflammation in autoimmune diseases. Or, in general, how it modulates the immune system in order to maintain, improve or weaken its work. 

Also read on Soft Secrets:

Feeling High = Greater Symptom Relief

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and His Views on Cannabis

Physicians Lack Knowledge of Medical Marijuana

Stephen Andrews