Inflammation is an enormous topic when it comes to cannabis. It is the reason cannabis gets so much medical attention, and it’s arguably the strongest leg cannabis has to stand on in the medical world. What we’re learning is that cannabis potentially has a place in clinical medicine in terms of suppressing pathogenic immune responses.
This is huge for a lot of reasons. The first is that a lot of serious medical conditions are the result of pathogenic immune responses (any auto-immune condition). The second is that inflammation is a primary factor in most of the chronic health conditions that the western world faces. Chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. Chronic brain inflammation is associated with Alzheimer’s. Crohn’s disease is characterised by chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
Some of the most debilitating, chronic, and treatment resistant conditions pivot around dysfunction of the immune response. At the same time, the inflammatory response is hugely complex and is also fundamental to human health (without an immune response, pathogens would take over quickly). So therapies that target the immune system are often handled carefully as long term use can also impact the long term function of the immune system.
We know the topic of cannabis and inflammation is a hot one. People want to know more about it, how it does what it does and where it might be useful. We’ve decided that it’s best to tackle this issue over a range of articles. In this article, we’re introducing the idea of cannabis as a therapy for inflammation by looking at the connections between what we already use cannabis for and conditions that are highly linked with inflammation.
The role of inflammation in diseases you would never expect
We usually associate inflammation with physical injury or autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease or Hashimoto’s. We don’t often think of inflammation as having a part to play in depression, epilepsy or Alzheimer’s. But modern research shows us that it does have a role to play.
For example, in epilepsy, some experimental studies have shown that a seizure can induce brain inflammation. Furthermore, repeated or frequent seizures can lead to chronic brain inflammation. Researchers are discovering that certain inflammatory mediators may be involved in the epileptogenic process.
Epilepsy isn’t the only disease with an unexpected relationship with inflammation. Alzheimer’s is another disease for which inflammation is a central mechanism. Researchers are beginning to think that inflammation might be the precursor for amyloid β plaques and neurofibrillary tangle, which were originally thought as the initial factors in Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. However, prolonged, chronic brain inflammation is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s and other dementia symptoms.
Recent scientific data is even beginning to demonstrate a cross-talk between the inflammatory response and neurocircuits in the brain that lead to depression. Replicated alleles of depression have proinflammatory protective effects. The hypothesis is still in its infancy, and is a little bit left of centre, but essentially states that millenia of “training” the human to survive in highly pathogenic conditions has led to immunity itself becoming pathogenic in sanitary countries such as western countries. Depression is being associated with this kind of pathogenic immunity.
Drawing connections between cannabis and inflammatory diseases
It’s really important to realise that the scientific community doesn’t fully understand the mechanisms of action used by cannabis to reduce inflammation. Cannabis is a whole plant with many different compounds, all of which potentially act in a different way. This is in contrast to pharmaceutical drugs which typically have a very targeted location, cell, or receptor in the body. A pharmaceutical drug typically has one active constituent, whereas whole plant medicine has many active constituents.
Why is this important?
It’s simple. We might be observing that cannabis is effective in patients with epilepsy without fully understanding why. The same can be true for Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, and anxiety.
On the outset, epilepsy and depression don’t seem to be very connected. But if inflammation underpinned those two diseases, then they would definitely have something in common. It would then also offer an explanation as to why cannabis seems to be effective at treating two completely different, unrelated conditions.
Some of the most common, scientifically accepted reasons to use cannabis include:
What we’ve just begun to demonstrate is at the source of most of these conditions, there is a pathogenic inflammatory process going on. We already mentioned the inflammatory processes involved in epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and depression. Is it possible that cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties are what make it effective in so many different conditions?
The problem with drugs that affect the immune system
There are a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs in the pharmaceutical world that are used for all matter of health problems. We have drugs to suppress immune responses in those who have had transplants, we have drugs for suppressing immune responses in those with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, and we even have local corticosteroids for use when a person has an external injury.
Corticosteroids are arguably one of the best medical discoveries. Corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory drugs) mimic the action of the body’s own hormone, cortisol. This hormone has a variety of biological functions including regulating metabolism, blood sugar levels, and also plays a role in reducing inflammation.
However, the problem with any drug that affects the immune system is that it is associated with loss of “immune tone” over an extended period of time. One of the side effects of long-term corticosteroid use is increased likelihood of microbial infections as the host struggles to fight them using its own defence mechanism.
This is kind of a problem, seeing as most of the conditions we mentioned are associated with chronic inflammation. This is where herbal medicine such as cannabis might be worth the conversation and definitely worth the research.
Ongoing research and medical discovery
The body of research regarding cannabis is growing every single day. But inflammation is arguably the biggest topic in the medical world, so covering it in one article just isn’t enough. In this article we introduced some of the connections between what cannabis is typically used for and the inflammatory factors that underpin those diseases.
We’re continuing to deliver content to you about cannabis and inflammation in the coming weeks so that you can get a better understanding of how and why cannabis is used to treat inflammation. Stay tuned for more research and information about cannabis and its role in inflammatory diseases.
Have you used cannabis successfully to treat inflammation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.