You know that consuming marijuana results in the high that most smokers are in search of. You may not realize how marijuana affects other parts of your body, as well, including the immune system.
Research into the impact of marijuana on the immune system is still in the earlier stages, but scientists have started to discover a few things about its interactions with this key part of our body.
1. It Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
One important way in which marijuana affects your immune system is via its anti-inflammatory properties. They are why some people consume medical marijuana for things such as inflammation or glaucoma. They also play a role in your immune system.
That is because the inflammatory response of your body prevents further damage or infection. As such, it is possible that reducing inflammation means that cannabis could potentially allow for infections or other damage to your body. On the other hand, some people experience issues with too much inflammation, such as in the case of arthritis.
Because of the range of situations, the anti-inflammatory properties associated with marijuana can be a positive or a negative for your immune system, depending on your particular situation.
2. Marijuana and Apoptosis
Apoptosis is the medical term for when your immune system lets diseased cells know that it is time for them to die. Sometimes, the cell will ignore that message or process and just keep growing. This is what happens with cancer cells.
Although research is in the very early stages, it seems that marijuana may potentially boost specific varieties of apoptosis. It also seems that some cancer types may have a higher susceptibility to apoptosis caused by cannabinoids than others.
Do not interpret this to mean that smoking cannabis can cure cancer. There is absolutely no research so far to show that it does or even suggest such an effect. Instead, this connection between marijuana and apoptosis gives researchers another potential effect of marijuana to explore in greater detail.
3. It Can Boost or Weaken the Immune System
Oddly enough, there is contradictory research into how marijuana affects the overall health of the immune system. It seems that if you are a healthy person without any immune system issues, then your immune system’s overall health will probably decrease slightly if you consume marijuana.
On the other hand, if you experience a condition that results in a weaker immune system, such as HIV, the opposite is true. In this case, cannabis may actually improve the response of your immune system.
So far, early research into overall immune system strength and cannabis consumption is fairly mixed, and it seems to depend on your overall health and you as an individual. The only certainty about this aspect of marijuana’s effect on the immune system is that more research is necessary.
Going back to 2010, a study showed that marijuana consumption tends to suppress the immune system. That study indicated that this was due to the chemicals in cannabis that enhance the production of myeloid-derived suppressor cells. These cells depress your immune system and help keep it in check. Unfortunately, the study indicated that these suppressor cells have the potential to promote cancer growth while hindering cancer therapy. At the same time, the study suggested the possibility of using marijuana to treat conditions related to an overactive immune system, such as multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, lupus, and arthritis. However, this study looked at mice but not humans.
4. Marijuana and HIV or AIDS
Research shows that cannabis has a great deal of promise in reducing the symptoms of HIV and AIDS, but this is still very early research. As such, do not consider marijuana to be a cure or even a treatment for these conditions.
However, early research from several studies shows that patients with HIV or AIDS who consume marijuana have slightly better T-cell levels. This is important since T-cells fight the harmful pathogens that make their way into the body. The T-cell interaction with cannabis consumption is also referred to as white blood cell interactions, so keep that in mind if you look for further research into it.
However, the potential interactions with the immune system are not why most people who have HIV or AIDS and consume marijuana do so. Most will do so to forget about or overcome pain or to get the munchies and stimulate their appetite.
The Bottom Line: More Research Is Necessary
We are still in the very early stages of learning about the ways in which marijuana affects the immune system. Looking at the above points, it is clear that even the ideas scientists have about the connection between the two are inconclusive and require more research to confirm or deny.
For now, it seems possible that marijuana can either help or hurt the immune system, and it may depend on body chemistry or overall health. There may also be other factors at play that we are unaware of. Marijuana may also have other effects on the immune system that researchers have not even thought about studying yet.
More Human Research Needed
Additionally, much of the research that has already taken place on the medical effects of marijuana, including on the immune system, was conducted on animals, like mice. Therefore, even the research with results that supported a hypothesis requires additional research. After all, it is impossible to know how exactly marijuana affects the immune system until we have more studies on humans.
Immune Suppression Can Be Good or Bad
It is also important to note that regardless of the effects that marijuana has on the immune system, those effects can be positive or negative. Some conditions, such as arthritis or lupus, could benefit from suppressing the immune system slightly. Yet in the average healthy person, immune system suppression would not be favorable.
This means that no matter the effects of marijuana on the immune system, they could potentially be favorable for at least some people, provided they are consistent. Researchers still do not have that consistency, though. For now, you should view marijuana’s potential impact on your immune system as unknown.