Cannabis and autoimmunity…


The incidence of autoimmune diseases, of which there are over 100 types, has been on the rise for many years.

Our current understanding of the development of these illnesses points to a confluence of 3 factors: genetics, environment and gut dysbiosis [1] (basically, abnormalities in the overall composition of bacteria in the intestines.) This gut dysbiosis leads to abnormalities in the bodies usual immune response so that our own organs: brain, nervous system, GI tract, lungs, etc. are seen not as “self” but as “other”. This causes them to be attacked by various parts of our immune system with the typical results we see in the many autoimmune diseases. Some examples are Type 1 Diabetes (insulin producing cells in the pancreas being attacked), Lupus (joints, skin structures, lungs, etc. being attacked) or Multiple Sclerosis (the myelin sheath that covers nerves and affects nerve transmission being attacked) .

Research that has been carried out over the last 20-30 years has shown increasing evidence that the Endocannibinoid System (ECS, made up of both receptors and the chemicals that cause activation of the system) is intimately involved in modulating the immune response. There are two main arms of this response, known as cellular and humoral. Cellular refers to the various white cells that circulate in the blood or are situated in various tissues. Humoral refers to substances that circulate in the body,  such as antibodies, prostaglandins or cytokines which can increase or decrease the immune response in any given situation. Both cellular and humoral immune responses respond to the chemicals produced in the ECS (2-AG, anandamide, PEA) or substances from the cannabis plant, known as phyto (or plant) cannabinoids. 

It is clear, from the basic science work that is being done, and the large amount of clinical data being accumulated, that cannabis can be a very useful tool in the clinicians armamentarium for treating these diseases. The standard medications now in use for treatment of autoimmune diseases, while often effective, can have many serious side effects and interactions with other drugs. Phytocannabinoids, on the other hand, are largely free of side effects, or drug interactions and can have profoundly positive results in the treatment of autoimmune illnesses. There are many examples of patients discontinuing or lowering their standard medications and switching to cannabis with encouraging results. While any medication changes should always be done under the supervision of a physician, there is an increasing sense that, while medical cannabis does not cure autoimmune ailments, it seems, because of it’s intimate involvement with modulation of the immune system, that it can “reset” that system and bring significant relief to sufferers of these diseases.

1.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4143175/

Dr. Kenneth R. Weinberg, MD. © 2019