For millennia, the cannabis plant has been praised for its medicinal properties. Cannabinoids can alleviate chronic pain, help mend bones, and stabilize blood sugar levels, to name a few therapeutic applications.
But what about the effect of cannabis on the immune system? Does marijuana help or hinder our ability to fight inflammation and ward off disease? A handful of studies provide insight into the complex interplay between cannabis and the body’s natural defense system.
THC – anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant
Much of the research on cannabis use and the immune system has focused on THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that gets you ‘high.’ THC has a proven anti-inflammatory effect, making it an excellent treatment for autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, where chronic inflammation is rampant. In this context, tetrahydrocannabinol is acting as an immunosuppressant, which is perfectly fine for people with overactive inflammatory responses, but not ideal for healthy individuals, since inflammation is the body’s first line of defense in controlling pathogens.
But a recent body of research suggests that cannabinoids, of which there are hundreds, can have a modulating effect on the immune system: in some cases, bringing the body back into equilibrium.
Study shows cannabis linked to increased white blood cells
A study on cannabis and the immune system, published in the Journal of Cannabis, found a modest increase in white blood cells (WBCs) in participants who used cannabis on a regular basis. White blood cells, called leukocytes, are charged with protecting the body against pathogens and infectious disease.
Their findings were based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 2005 and 2016. The researchers suspect that cannabinoids trigger the manufacture of blood cells within bone marrow, giving the positive correlation between substantial cannabis use and elevated white blood cell counts.
This research, although preliminary, may be promising for individuals with HIV/AIDS. Earlier studies have shown that HIV patients who regularly used cannabis displayed a higher CD4 immune cell count compared to control groups.
HIV and cannabis
Animal studies on the protective effects of cannabis on the immune system have also been reported. In 2011, scientists from Louisiana State University found that THC helped macaques with the simian version of HIV live longer lives. The research team concluded that chronic THC use might affect HIV disease progression because cannabinoid receptors are expressed on immune system cells.
The medical community generally agrees that smoking cannabis is more taxing on the immune system than other delivery methods, such as tinctures and edibles. At present, there are limited studies on the impacts of marijuana smoke and the potentially adverse effects on the immune system of HIV patients.
Cannabis testing laboratory
Both scientific and anecdotal evidence indicate that cannabinoids can suppress and bolster immune functions. Further research is necessary to understand how different forms of cannabis can impact the body’s own defense system.
Although CBD and cannabis products have gained tremendous popularity in recent years, quality control measures are not in place, meaning consumers risk exposure to contaminants, and potentially incorrect potency levels.
Modern Canna is a leading cannabis testing lab in Florida, providing comprehensive analytics for some of the nation’s biggest hemp and cannabis manufacturers. To learn more about our services, please contact our Central Florida office.