Cannabis and Autoimmune Diseases
The immune system of our body is not only one of the most important one, but also the most complex one. In order to protect our body from bacteria, viruses and other harmful foreign particles, it uses different sets of blood cells, such as neutrophils, leukocytes, lymphocytes and many others, to initiate numerous biological processes. It would not be wrong to say that the state of our body and our overall health depends upon the proper functioning of the immune system. As long as the system works properly, our body automatically fights off numerous pathogens, but its failure or any disruption in its functioning exposes our body to countless harmful things.
Autoimmune Diseases – A Brief Introduction
Sometimes, the immune system becomes overactive and starts to attack tissues, substances or organs of one’s own body. In simple words, the body starts attacking its own cells. This happens because the immune system mistakenly starts considering body cells or its parts as pathogens. As a result, it starts to attack that part of the body, and causes many health problems.
The health problems that are caused as a result of the overactive immune response are called ‘autoimmune diseases’.
Parts of the Body Affected by Autoimmune Diseases
The reaction of the immune system can either be limited to a particular organ or could target a specific type of tissue that is present in different parts of the body. The tissues and organs that are commonly affected by autoimmune response are:
⦁ Connective Tissues
⦁ Blood Vessels
⦁ Endocrine Glands, like pancreas and thyroid
⦁ Red Blood Cells
Causes of Autoimmune Diseases
The root cause of this disruption in functioning of the immune system is still unknown. The research studies that have so far been conducted could not reach a definitive conclusion, but scientists are of the view that a variety of factors may contribute in development of an autoimmune disease, such as certain viral and bacterial infections, usage of drugs for recreational purposes, environmental irritants and genetics.
Common Autoimmune Diseases
There are more than 100 different auto-immune diseases. Some common types of autoimmune diseases are:
⦁ Type I Diabetes
⦁ Multiple Sclerosis
⦁ Different types of Lupus, like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Discoid lupus, and Neo-natal lupus.
⦁ Rheumatoid Arthritis
⦁ Reactive Arthritis
⦁ Grayes Disease
⦁ Celiac Disease
⦁ Crohn’s Disease
Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases
While each autoimmune disease can produce a variety of different symptoms, there are some signs that are common to all autoimmune disorders. They are mainly the symptoms that patients experience during the early stage of the disease. They include:
⦁ Inflammation; one of the most common symptoms of autoimmune diseases
⦁ Muscle soreness
⦁ Low fever
⦁ Reduced concentration or trouble in concentrating
⦁ Skin rashes
⦁ Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
⦁ Hair loss
Some autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 Diabetes, can also cause weight loss.
Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases
Despite all the advancements medical science has made, scientists have not been able to find a cure for autoimmune diseases, yet. The only way to deal with an autoimmune disease is to decrease or limit the immune response and to reduce the severity of symptoms with the help of certain medications. This process is called ‘immuno-suppression’.
Due to the absence of cure, inefficacy of many first-line medications and numerous side-effects, a lot of people, who suffer from some type of autoimmune disease, look out for alternative options that can help treat or manage the disease. This search for a better alternative led researchers to study if cannabis can provide any help to people suffering from autoimmune diseases. For at least 25 years, scientists and healthcare professionals have been investigating and discussing the effects of cannabinoids on the immune system. Several experiments have also been conducted on animals for the same purpose. The studies have shown that cannabinoids can modulate the functions of NK cells, B and T lymphocytes and macrophages.
Furthermore, many research studies have confirmed the skin healing properties of cannabinoids. On the basis of these findings, many researchers and doctors have established that cannabinoids can also effectively treat autoimmune diseases that affect skin, for example psoriasis.
There are also a number of research studies that confirm the effectiveness of medical marijuana for treating chronic pain and inflammation; common symptoms of many autoimmune diseases.
A study conducted by the BloodCenter of Wisconsin at the Blood Research Institute reported:
“The cannabinoid system is now recognized as a regulator of both the nervous and immune systems…. The best-studied plant cannabinoid, THC, produced by Cannabis sativa and found in marijuana, has shown evidence of being immunosuppressive in both in vivo and in vitro.”
However, THC can possibly cause some side effects. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using medical marijuana.
While the effectiveness of medical marijuana for treating or reducing certain symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases has been found in many research studies and there is also evidence regarding the benefits the drug can provide in regulating the immune system, one should never use cannabis without expert opinion.
Just like self-medication is considered bad, and even harmful, when it comes to traditional medication, using medical marijuana is not recommended without consulting a healthcare expert.