Significant advances in Science have enabled us to better understand our health, but getting to the root cause of a chronic disease still poses a challenge. Autoimmune conditions are an area of medicine that is frequently misunderstood. Around 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune conditions. Presently there are more than 80 registered autoimmune disorders, affecting various parts of the body. 

What are Autoimmune Disorders?

Autoimmunity is an “attack on self”, that causes abnormal over activation or under activation of the immune system. In the case of over activation, the immune system gets triggered and thinks that the body’s healthy tissues are invaders. In response, the B cells in our immune system produce antibodies to attack the perceived threat while the T cells take action as if the body’s own cells were foreign to bring the body back into homeostasis. In the case of under activation the immune system experiences difficulty in fighting off infections. 

Some of the more common autoimmune diseases include psoriasis, arthritis, crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. The location of the autoimmune attack varies based on the condition. For example if there is Autoimmunity in the joints rheumatoid arthritis may occur. If the attack occurs in the thyroid it may result in Hashimoto’s. For skin disorders like psoriasis the dermal layer is the target. Autoimmune disorders can also attack more than one part of the human body at the same time. Lupus is an example of an autoimmune disease that can manifest in the skin, digestive system, joints and the brain while Multiple sclerosis affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. 

While we know how autoimmune disorders occur, more research is needed on why they occur. Common consensus is those with Autoimmunity have a genetic predisposition to these types of conditions, where even a particular event like an Infection, leaky gut syndrome or a traumatic experience is enough to set off the autoimmune response. Autoimmunity can remain latent in the body for many years, resulting in ailments that have not been properly ponpointed. In fact, autoimmune diseases are frequently misdiagnosed as their symptoms can mimic other ailments. 

Conventional medicine ideology believes that once the immune system is triggered there can be no way to control it and revert back to the body’s normal state. However many alternative medical professionals believe that the autoimmune condition can be reversed through alternative therapies and lifestyle and dietary changes. In typical treatment protocols however patients are not given information about dietary and lifestyle changes and are simply told to rely on pharmaceutical medications to get better. 

Conventional Treatment for Autoimmune Disorders. 

Conventional treatment currently relies on Prescription medications that “turn off” the immune system all together. Immunosuppressive drugs are synthetically created antibodies that attack the autoimmune antibodies in effect turning off the immune system. Immunosuppressive drugs can create many potential side effects. 

These medications may make someone more susceptible to infections and could also lead to the development of cancer. Steroids are often prescribed for Autoimmunity to lower inflammation and suppress the immune system. They are meant to be taken short term as its a temporary solution which does not address the root of the problem. Not to mention long term use of steroids can result in decreased blood supply to various parts of the body and increased accumulation of fatty deposits in the face or other areas. In general immunosuppressive drugs are incredibly expensive and not always effective. 

The aim should be to modulate the immune system and bring it back to balance not turn it off completely. This calls for a more holistic approach in dealing with autoimmune disorders which includes getting rid of stressors and sensitivities, including environmental, food, chemical and others. Dietary and lifestyle changes have been reported to help reverse these conditions. Experimentation with Cannabis has provided relief for some individuals living with an autoimmune disease. For example, people living with psoriasis report that cannabinoid oil eases their pain and inflammation while a survey of fibromyalgia sufferers in Israel showed that Cannabis consumption significantly improves the quality of their sleep. Current cannabinoid therapies focus on reducing inflammation, modulating the immune system and bringing the body back into balance. 

Cannabis as a treatment for Autoimmune Disorders 

Cannabis is an immunomodulator, which means it can help to modulate the immune system. Cannabis acts as a regulating tool by bringing an over or under reacting immune system back into balance. Investigations have demonstrated that CB2 receptors regulate many complex pathways of the immune system. Preclinical studies show that triggering CB2 receptors can modulate immune system response, which can be beneficial for those suffering from autoimmune disorders. 

There have been a few studies focusing on the role of cannabinoids in autoimmune disease models. CBD has been found to modulate the immune system rather than suppress it. CBD also slows down T cell production and suppresses the immune system memory, which means that CBD has the potential of curing future autoimmune attacks. CBD has also been found to increase the expression of genes which deal with oxidative stress, which may reduce cell damage from autoimmune attacks. Few studies have also indicated that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has the potential to modulate the immune system by inhibiting the production of pro inflammatory cytokines and enhancing the formation of anti inflammatory cytokines which helps to reduce inflammation.

Cannabis terpenes which give Cannabis its flavour also merit further investigation in the role they play in the management of autoimmune diseases. The terpenebeta-caryophyllene found in certain marijuana strains and in black pepper is known to decrease inflammation through its ability to stimulate the CB2 receptor. Another terpene, Mycrene also has anti inflammatory properties. Based on initial clinical research cannabinoids may help bring the immune system back into homeostasis, protect against damage from autoimmune attacks, slow down overactive T cell production and prevent the immune system from being triggered. 

Some compelling findings from Research on Marijuana as a cure for Autoimmune Disorders 

  • Autoimmune Hepatitis 

Preclinical data from the University of South Carolina published in 2011, shows that CBD can suppress inflammation in mice with hepatitis thereby slowing down damage to the liver. 

  • Psoriasis

An in vitro investigation of human skin cells distributed in 2006 in the Journal of Dermatological Science found that THC, CBD, cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG) would all be able to hinder the multiplication of keratinocyte cells, contingent upon the concentration of the cannabinoids utilized. Keratinocytes are in charge of the painful inflammation and scaly buildup of skin cells experienced by psoriasis sufferers.

  • Fibromyalgia

Spanish scientists conducted surveys of 56 patients, 28 of whom consumed Cannabis routinely. The discoveries distributed in 2011 demonstrated that Cannabis consumers experienced essentially decreased pain and stiffness two hours subsequent to consuming Cannabis. They additionally demonstrated increased sleepiness and improved feelings of well being. 

  • Crohn’s Disease 

Distributed in 2011, in the Israel Medical Association Journal, a clinical eight-week investigation of 30 patients unresponsive to standard Crohn’s illness treatment, found that 21 patients encountered a noteworthy decline in manifestations in the wake of taking THC-rich cannabis. The specialists had the capacity to exhibit that inside about two months, Crohn’s patients likewise experienced enhanced well-being with no serious side effects.

While there are no notable side effects of using Cannabis to treat certain autoimmune disorders, one must be mindful of the fact that cannabinoids can be biphasic, meaning that low and high doses can produce opposite effects. So work with your doctor to figure out the right medicating strategy for you. There’s no denying that the benefits of Cannabis for treating autoimmune disorders far outweigh the drawbacks if any. 

Authorship

Malcolm Pinto.