Evolving attitudes have paved the way for more innovative research into the potential applications of medical cannabis. While science has long known that medical cannabis can be used to alleviate spasticity and help in pain management, it’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve begun to explore how it can be used to treat and reduce the severity of symptoms associated with inflammatory diseases.
If you live with an inflammatory disease and have found traditional pharmacological solutions to be ineffective, it’s possible that medical cannabis could help treat your symptoms. Read on to find out how.
What Causes Inflammatory Diseases?
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system. When the body recognizes the presence of damaged cells, infections or pathogens, it releases white blood cells and other associated substances that work to protect the affected area of the body. This process is known as acute inflammation and it plays a vital role in the body’s immune system.
However, it’s important to note that the process is not without its flaws. Sometimes the inflammation may last for far longer than is necessary; at other times, the body may trigger an inflammatory response even when there is nothing wrong. If inflammation persists for an extended period of time, it may eventually lead to a number of serious diseases and conditions, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- Some types of cancer
Inflammatory diseases are, unfortunately, very common. About 15 percent of Canadians over the age of 12 are affected by arthritis alone, according to figures collated by Statistics Canada.
How are Symptoms of Inflammatory Diseases Currently Treated?
Given the prevalence of inflammatory diseases, it’s little surprise that physicians and patients alike are constantly seeking new treatment methods for the symptoms. As it stands, current symptom treatment options generally fall into one of four categories:
- Exercise: Simple stretching and strengthening exercises can improve mobility and reduce pain.
- Anti-inflammatory medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin and ibuprofen) can be used to provide short term pain relief. However, long term use of these drugs can elevate the risk of developing a stomach ulcer or having a stroke or heart attack.
- Corticosteroids: Steroid hormones can suppress the immune system’s response and reduce inflammation.
- Rest: Minimizing strain on the injured or infected body part prevents further inflammation.
Cannabis: A Viable Option for Treating Symptoms of Inflammatory Diseases?
A growing number of studies are showing that cannabis may be a viable option for anyone looking for an alternative way to treat symptoms of their inflammatory disease. This is largely due to the fact that both THC and CBD (two of the most medically important compounds found in cannabis) are able to reduce the body’s inflammatory response through their interactions with the endocannabinoid system which, according to a review published in Pharmacological Research, can help regulate the immune system.
What causes this phenomenon? According to a review by the University of South Carolina, it all comes down to how cannabinoids affect the cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2. Researchers noted that “Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory response and subsequently attenuate disease symptoms. This property of cannabinoids is mediated through multiple pathways such as induction of apoptosis in activated immune cells, suppression of cytokines and chemokines at inflammatory sites and upregulation of FoxP3+ regulatory T cells.”
What does this mean in real world terms? Simply put, medical cannabis may be effective at treating a variety of symptoms of inflammatory diseases. For example, research has demonstrated that CBD can alleviate joint inflammation and reduce swelling, while THC has been found to combat atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries and is linked to heart attacks and strokes. Additional investigations, such as this study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, have found that medical cannabis can be used to decrease the intensity of pain associated with arthritis and improve sleep while subjecting patients to few notable side effects.