by Stephen Luntz, IFL Science
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can suppress rodents’ immune systems, according to a study at the University of South Carolina. If replicated in humans this could improve the prospects of using medical marijuana against autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, type1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Despite the ceaseless ads promising that something will “boost your immune system” as an unquestioned goal, the strength of the immune response is a careful balancing act. Too weak and you are prey to a host of diseases. However, the immune system can also turn on the body itself, leading to a string of serious and sometimes fatal conditions. Finding ways to dial back the response in these cases, without opening up the floodgates to every infectious disease is one of the great challenges of modern medicine.
In the Journal of Biological Chemistry a team led by Dr Mitzi Nagarkatti reveal studies on 609 microRNAs in mice given THC. Of these, 13 showed substantial alteration. MicroRNAs regulate the expression of genes, and those affected in this case change the activation of genes associated with the immune system.
“THC mediates its activity through cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2)” the authors say. “While CB1 is highly expressed in the brain, and to a lower extent in peripheral tissues, CB2 is predominant in immune cells. Therefore, besides it psychoactive effects, THC can suppress inflammation through activation of cannabinoid receptors on immune cells, using multiple pathways.”
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