Cannabis is known to be a medicinal treatment for various ailments, from pain to nausea to insomnia. But while cannabis can mitigate the symptoms of a disease like AIDS, you don’t often hear about people smoking weed to cure the common cold. That begs the question, how does cannabis affect the immune system?
In some ways, cannabis suppresses the immune system. This happens when the plant acts as an anti-inflammatory, which helps the body respond to infection. In most basic scenarios, an anti-inflammatory is a positive thing for the body; however, inflammation also captures the invasive material and keeps it from spreading. If inflammation is reduced, the body can’t do this as well. In other cases, however, when the body’s immune system behaves out of control, it can be detrimental; the body can’t handle constant inflammation. Chronic inflammation is also related to a number of other diseases, from asthma to arthritis to diabetes.
So while an anti-inflammatory response to cannabis suppresses the immune system, in other cases, such as HIV or AIDS, the plant fortifies it. In one study, cannabis was found to be associated with lower viral loads in HIV patients who used medical marijuana, as compared to those who didn’t use it. The HIV patients who consumed cannabis also had higher CD4 counts than their non-consuming counterparts. CD4 is a T-cell that boosts immunity and kills the HIV virus on its own.
Among cancer patients, cannabis has been found to trigger apoptosis, a process by which cells kill themselves. Part of the problem with cancer cells is that they don’t respond to apoptosis triggers, which hence allows them to multiply. However, research has shown that cannabis can cause cancer cells to respond to apoptosis triggers.
The cannabis plant’s ability to help fight anxiety, depression, or insomnia can also be indirectly positive for the immune system. When a person is tired, can’t sleep, or mentally compromised, they often are more vulnerable to getting sick. If cannabis can help strengthen someone’s mental health, it can ultimately help with wellness overall. This points to the connection between mind and body, showing how the health and wellbeing of one can have a direct effect on the other. By alleviating stress of any kind, be it emotional or physical, cannabis can help fortify the immune system.