Cannabinoids’ Effects on the Immune System

The immune system’s job is to protect the body from bacterial and viral invaders with multifaceted interactions of a complex system of cells and organs. There are plenty of CB2 receptors on the various cells that are involved in such defense network, and because of this, cannabinoids are oftentimes thought to play a part in the immune response. However, the role of CB2 in immunity continues to be a mystery, especially since researchers have yet to discover a natural cannabinoid that has an effect on immune cells.

Cannabinoids appear to influence components of the immune system in varied and occasionally opposing ways in experiments conducted on animals and isolated cells. Cannabinoids increase and lessen particular responses to infection, although up to ten times more drugs would be needed to make these effects significant enough to modify the nervous system functions.

Intriguing findings arose in basic research on the immune system and cannabinoids that encourage further studies. Many reports center on the effects of THC on one of numerous species of white blood cells, the immune system’s workhorses. White blood cells serve different purposes but all work in the goal of defending the body in opposition to diseases. It was found that cannabinoids can cause immune suppression, yet in some cases the immune system must be suppressed in order to cure diseases. Cannabinoids also appear to reduce inflammation and tissue damage in rat brain models of head injury, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis.

Mack, Alison, Joy, Janet. “Front Matter.” Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.

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