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The Link Between Cannabis And Autoimmune Diseases

Scientific evidence regarding the role of the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of autoimmune diseases is just emerging, but cannabis seems to be a viable treatment. 

Project CBD defines autoimmune diseases as “diseases in which your body’s defense system triggers an abnormal inflammatory response that causes damage to the body’s own tissues. Many conditions fall into this category, including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and celiac disease.

Symptoms may include fatigue, pain, swelling, fever, nausea, numbness, rashes, or hair loss.” These conditions are widespread with about 20% of the populations suffering from some sort of autoimmune disease, the majority of whom are female.

Researchers behind a 2010 study published in the journal Immunobiology point to the possibilities of cannabis as a viable treatment for autoimmune diseases: “Cannabinoids have been shown to act as potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agents and have been shown to mediate beneficial effects in a wide range of immune-mediated diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, septic shock, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergic asthma.” 

chronic fatigue syndrome
Photo by Benjamin Combs via Unsplash

According to neuroscientist Adie Rae, PhD, co-founder of Smart Cannabis, scientific evidence regarding the role of the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of autoimmune diseases is just emerging. “For some autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease, there’s very promising and preliminary work.”

Researchers have observed that patients who have Crohn’s disease and use cannabis are less likely to have severe side effects and hospitalizations than those who have Crohn’s disease but do not use cannabis. Clinical trials being conducted in Israel point to a significant reduction in Crohn’s disease symptoms in those who treated their symptoms with cannabis oil compared with those in the placebo group. 

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Rae adds that the clinical evidence is not as far along for other autoimmune diseases. Researchers have been able to observe that the endocannabinoid system of a patient with fibromyalgia does not function as well as a patient without this disease. While patients with fibromyalgia report improvements when using cannabis, this reporting remains largely anecdotal. 

Without proven scientific research, cannabis patients and their caregivers learn how to use the products and delivery methods that are the most supportive of that individual’s lifestyles and goals. For example, patients who are in chronic pain need help sleeping. So the best kind of products for them are often products that can be ingested orally and last for 6 to 8 hours. 

RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About Your Endocannabinoid System

This long duration allows them enough relief form pain that they can get to sleep and stay asleep. While those on disability can continue taking cannabis orally during the day, many patients need to go to work. So, during those times, when they need to be productive, they need to consume a cannabis product that has a lower THC potency and a shorter duration. 

Personalized Treatment: The Future Of Medical Cannabis
Photo by seksan Mongkhonkhamsao/Getty Images

Even when U.S. based researchers can observe a connection between cannabis and a particular autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia, they are unable to conduct clinical trials at this present juncture due to cannabis’ ongoing classification as a schedule 1 drug. Rae observes, “We need research from the cellular molecular mechanisms up to Phase III clinical trails in order to determine which cannabis at which doses, how many times per day, and in which patients will produce results.” 

Without this scientific data, researchers cannot ascertain with clinical accuracy the best types of cannabis or delivery methods for treating various autoimmune diseases. Rae opines, “This is why we need for the US barriers to research to be eliminated because those are exactly the kinds of questions the patients, doctors, the FDA, and the investigators themselves want the answers to.”

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