| Bodega Wellness
The key to protecting yourself (and fighting) viruses remains washing your hands regularly, but according to science regularly taking CBD just may help by boosting your immune system.
Cannabis sativa has been consumed for health and nutritional purposes for thousands of years. Many ancient civilizations – from the Chinese to the Greeks – included cannabis in their pharmacopoeia. Back then, no one questioned how or why cannabis relieved pain and calmed the spirits. It was a helpful ally – that’s all that mattered.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Scientists are trying to understand not only the molecular makeup of cannabis, but also how it interacts with the complex web of biological systems in our bodies. Yet, despite many exciting discoveries, we still know relatively little, especially when it comes to the interplay between cannabis and the immune system.
Some studies suggest that cannabinoids like THC and CBD are immunosuppressant, which can explain the relief experienced by medical cannabis users with autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation. Other studies have shown that regular cannabis use can increase white blood cell counts in immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV, suggesting an immune-boosting effect.
It gets even more complicated when we consider that the effects of cannabis are mediated primarily by the endocannabinoid system, which scientists believe interacts with all biological activity, including our immune system.
The bottom line is that much remains to be discovered about how cannabis affects our immune system. Here’s some of what we know so far.
OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM: AN OVERVIEW
We are constantly exposed to infectious diseases, bacteria, and viruses (antigens), all intent on running amok and wreaking havoc. Without any inbuilt defenses to keep these invaders at bay, we’d all last about five minutes on this planet. Thank goodness we have an immune system: the complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, running with military precision to keep us healthy.
A key player in the immune system’s arsenal are white blood cells or leukocytes, which seek out and destroy any unwanted visitors. Leukocytes can be divided into two groups: 1) lymphocytes (B cells and T cells) that destroy antigens and help the body to remember previous attackers; and 2) phagocytes that absorb and neutralize foreign intruders.
Many of us are familiar with T cells because of their relationship with the HIV virus, which wipes them out; this is what makes HIV patients vulnerable to normally harmless infections.
Our immune system also plays a key role in detecting malfunctioning cells inside our bodies, and, through the process of apoptosis or cell death, ensures that these cells do not continue to grow and become tumors.
Killing cells is a crucial element of a healthy functioning immune system, which maintains a delicate balance between growth and death. If, for example, there is too much cell death, autoimmune diseases can result, while too little can create the perfect environment for cancer.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Optimum immune function entails a complex balancing act that relies on constant communication between our immune cells, tissues, and organs. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s, scientists have found another key piece of the puzzle.
The endocannabinoid system comprises two main G protein-coupled receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous ligands known as endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), plus the proteins that transport our endocannabinoids and the enzymes that break them down in the body.
Endocannabinoids are produced on demand, traveling backward across chemical synapses and modulating cell activity. This partly explains why the ECS has been termed a homeostatic regulator – continually working to maintain a state of biological balance.
The ECS regulates a plethora of physiological processes, including immune function and inflammation. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on immune cells, although there are between 10-100 times more CB2 receptors than CB1. Endocannabinoids act upon immune cells directly through the CB2 receptor.
CB2 receptor activation creates an anti-inflammatory effect and is, therefore, a therapeutic target for autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative disease.1 However, any ECS immunosuppressant activity is thought to be transient and can be overridden when necessary in the presence of infection.2
Scientists know that plant cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) impact our health by interacting in different ways with the endocannabinoid system. Thus, it makes sense that consuming medical cannabis will also directly affect our immune system. But researchers are struggling to understand exactly how.
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