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The Role of Cannabis, Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System in Disorders of your Immune System – such as Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases

The Role of Cannabis, Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System in Disorders of your Immune System – such as Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases

A dysfunctional, impaired immune system is a contributing factor to all chronic inflammatory diseases. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation in your body is by improving the functioning of your immune system. The endocannabinoid system has myriad effects on how your immune system functions. There are two main parts of your immune system, the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system also known as the non-specific immune system is an ancient defensive mechanism and is found in animals, plantsfungiinsects, and even in primitive multicellular organisms. Your innate immune system is the first and immediate line of defense against attacks on your body. This primitive system works by causing an inflammatory response, essentially “burning up” the offending agent.  The cells of your innate system recognize and attack invaders to provide a short-term defense against infection. However, your innate immune  system does not provide you with long-lasting immunity.

On the other hand, your adaptive immune system is responsible for providing your body with long-lasting immunity. Your adaptive system produces antibodies that act almost like “guided missiles” whose job is to remember previous pathogens and respond rapidly in a focused manner to maintain defenses. Both your innate and adaptive systems should (when properly functioning) defend your body against infectious disease and help to coordinate rebuilding and repairing (or eliminating) damaged cells and tissues. Unfortunately, many people suffer from immune system dysregulation, where their innate and adaptive systems are either over or under responding to internal and external stimulation. For example, “autoimmune” diseases occur when your innate immune system over responds to internal and external stimuli causing this primitive system to try to “burn up” the offending agent to such a degree that your own cells, tissues and organs become damaged. Cancer can occur when your adaptive system fails to eliminate damaged (or abnormal) cells, allowing them to proliferate and grow in your body. Essentially all disease states are rooted to a certain degree in an inappropriate inflammatory response secondary to immune system dysregulation.

Recent research reveals that your endocannabinoid system (ECS) is crucial in helping to control your immune system. “ECS is generally considered to be a homeostatic “gate-keeper” of the immune system, preventing the onset of pathological, overwhelming proinflammatory responses.”  

How does Medical Marijuana help Cancer Patients?

Previous research and experience has shown that cannabis can help reduce the symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments.  This very safe medicine can help nausea, vomiting, improve appetite, reduce pain, decrease anxiety, help sleep and improve mood. Moreover, a cancer patient would need to take several pharmaceutical drugs to treat all of these symptoms associated with cancer, cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy Pharmaceutical medications like zofran or compazine (to treat nausea and vomiting), narcotics (to treat pain), megastrol (to improve appetite), sedatives (to treat anxiety), hypnotics (to help sleep) and antidepressants (to  improve mood) each have their own long list of “side effects” and possible drug interactions and adverse reactions.

 

The NJ MMP allows for the use of cannabis to treat these conditions associated with cancer and cancer treatments. Using cannabis instead of several different medications can be more efficient, economical and reduce side effects. However, because cannabis helps control your endocannabinoid system (ECS) the benefits of cannabis treatment for the cancer patient may potentially go beyond just reducing annoying symptoms. There is ample evidence in the scientific and medical literature showing that cannabis may actually have cancer – fighting effects.

In vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (in living organisms) studies have shown that:

  • Cannabis may have anti-proliferative effects on cancer
  • Cannabis may shrink the size of tumors
  • Cannabis may reduce the frequency of metastasis
  • Cannabis has been demonstrated to have numerous metabolic effects that may facilitate its utility as an anti-cancer treatment including:
  • Malignant cells have increased receptors for both CB1 and CB2 compared to normal cells allowing cannabis to “target” malignant cells
  • Increase production of “the executioner enzyme” (caspase - also found in hot peppers) which leads to apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells without any adverse effects on normal cells
  • Decrease migration of cancer cells (hence reducing chances of metastasis)
  • Modulating the “rheostatic control” hence increasing the production of ceramide – which causes apoptosis in damaged cells, without affecting normal cells
  • Modulates the immune system to decrease inflammation

How does Medical Marijuana help Multiple Sclerosis Patients?

Previous research and clinical experience reveals that Cannabis can reduce the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and the side effects of medicines used to treat multiple sclerosis.  This very safe medicine can help nausea, vomiting, improve appetite, reduce spastic muscle pain, decrease anxiety, help sleep and improve mood. A multiple sclerosis patient would need to take several pharmaceutical drugs to treat all of these symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, and the side effects of medicines used to treat multiple sclerosis. Pharmaceutical medications like zofran or compazine (to treat nausea and vomiting), narcotics (to treat pain), megastrol (to improve appetite), sedatives (to treat anxiety), hypnotics (to help sleep), muscle relaxers to treat muscle spasms and antidepressants (to improve mood) each have their own long list of “side effects” and possible drug interactions and adverse reactions.

The NJ MMP allows for the use of cannabis to treat these conditions associated with multiple sclerosis. Using cannabis instead of several different medications can be more efficient, economical and reduce side effects. However, because cannabis helps control your endocannabinoid system (ECS) the benefits of cannabis treatment for the multiple sclerosis patient goes beyond just symptomatic relief.

There is ample evidence in the scientific and medical literature showing that cannabis may actually have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, immune modulating and neuroregenerative properties that could ameliorate the processes that contribute to multiple sclerosis.

In vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (in living organisms) studies have shown that cannabis has been demonstrated to have numerous metabolic effects that may facilitate its utility as a treatment for multiple sclerosis:

  • Cannabis has neuroprotective effects through its ability to reduce inflammation– inflammation of nerve tissue is a major cause of multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where your body’s own immune cells cause an inflammatory response in the myelin sheath. This myelin sheath serves to protect the underlying nerves from damage and also aids in the transmission of nerve impulses.
  • Cannabinoids may also induce neuroprotective effects in oligodendrocytes and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). These are the cells that produce your myelin sheath and they have been shown to have CB2 receptors
  • Studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can enhance remyelination by promoting oligodendrocyte maturation 
  • Cannabidiol was shown to protect oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) from cytokine(inflammatory chemical)-mediated cell death(apoptosis) by reducing endoplasmic reticulum (ER)stress 
  • Studies show that WIN55,212-2 (a synthetic cannabinoids) stimulates oligodendrocyte progenitor cell proliferation
  • There is a large amount of experimental evidence for cannabinoids helping to reduce neuroexcitotoxicity by modulating neurotransmitter release and synaptic functioning.
  • In vitro testing of cannabinoids demonstrate anti-oxidant properties, hence reducing free radical damage and improving cellular energy by preserving  mitochondrial function
  • Cannabidiol treatment led to improvements in mice with MS-like disease through its ability to suppress T-cell and microglial activity, two key immune cells implicated in MS.
  • Mice bred to be deficient in CB2-receptors were more likely to develop nerve inflammation and neurodegeneration under experimental conditions mimicking multiple sclerosis.

How does Medical Marijuana help Crohn’s Disease Patients?

Cannabis has been shown to reduce the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease and the side effects of medicines used to treat Crohn’s disease.  This very safe medicine can help nausea, vomiting, improve appetite, reduce intestinal spasms, decrease anxiety, help sleep and improve mood. A Crohn’s disease patient would need to take several pharmaceutical drugs to treat all of these symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, and the side effects of medicines used to treat Crohn’s disease.  Pharmaceutical medications like zofran or compazine (to treat nausea and vomiting), narcotics (to treat pain), megastrol (to improve appetite), sedatives (to treat anxiety), hypnotics (to help sleep), antispasmodic drugs (to reduce intestinal spasms) and antidepressants (to improve mood) each have their own long list of “side effects” and possible drug interactions and adverse reactions.

The NJ MMP allows for the use of cannabis to treat these conditions associated with Crohn’s disease. Using cannabis instead of several different medications can be more efficient, economical and reduce side effects. However, because cannabis helps control your endocannabinoid system (ECS) the benefits of cannabis treatment for the Crohn’s Disease patient goes beyond just symptomatic relief.

There is ample evidence in the scientific and medical literature showing that cannabis may actually have anti-inflammatory, immune modulating and gastrointestinal properties that could ameliorate the processes that contribute to Crohn’s disease.

In vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (in living organisms) and clinical studies have shown that cannabis has been demonstrated to have numerous nervous system, immune modulating and metabolic effects that may facilitate its utility as a treatment for Crohn’s disease:

  • Observational study data in patients with Crohn's disease suggest that cannabis helps alleviate disease symptom severity and reduces the requirements for other medications and/or the need for surgery
  • A  placebo-controlled trial showed that cannabis produces significant clinical benefits in patients with Crohn's disease - they were able to demonstrate that an 8-week treatment with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-rich cannabis caused a decrease in the Crohn's disease activity index in 90% of patients without producing significant side effects
  • In experiments simulating intestinal inflammation cannabinoids had an effect on immune cells via their CB2 receptors. The cannabinoids promoted T cell apoptosis (cell death) and decreased proliferation of T cells – reducing the inflammatory response
  • Activation of CB2 receptors in experimental intestinal inflammation resulted in less migration of neutrophils, T cells and macrophages to the inflamed colon
  • CB receptors have been identified in the nervous system of the gut (enteric nervous system – ENS) which is responsible for controlling gut motility and secretion.
  • CB1 receptors present in the ENS reduce excessive stimulation of the bowel wall.
  • Activation of CB receptors by cannabinoids may reduce excess motility associated with gut inflammation which may reduce diarrhea in inflammatory bowel disease.

 

Have You Read The Medical Marijuana Series by Dr. Michael Rothman?

In the corresponding blogs of this series, we discuss the role of cannabis, cannabinoids, and the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety disorders, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s Disease.

A full list of references can be found here.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of medical marijuana or if you’d like to enroll in the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program, schedule a consultation by calling (732) 268-7663 or request an appointment online.  

The information in this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. Results are not guaranteed and may vary for each individual.