Medical Marijuana and Inflammation
- Medical marijuana has been proven to provide powerful anti-inflammatory properties when used properly
- Inflammation is a major cause of pain and also contributes to life-threatening cardiac conditions.
- Compounds produced in marijuana called phytocannabinoids mimic the effects of endocannabinoids produced by the human body to reduce inflammation.
- Certain medical marijuana strains are better than others at fighting inflammation.
Americans are increasingly skipping the drug store and shopping at medical marijuana dispensaries nationwide in the search for a safe and natural way to treat inflammation. I fact, the human race has been using medical marijuana for inflammation for thousands of years. According to medical marijuana doctors its ability to reduce inflammation is one of marijuana’s most widely proven superpowers.
Few people realized that the U.S. government actually holds a patent on the anti-inflammatory properties of compounds found in cannabis. Moreover, several clinical and laboratory studies have produced solid evidence of marijuana’s amazing ability to fight inflammation. In many cases, cannabis is more effective than traditional medications.
But what is inflammation? And how does marijuana help reduce inflammation?
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the result of any bodily tissue being “inflamed” – figuratively speaking. External inflammation is characterized by redness and swelling and produces feelings of pain and burning. Internal inflammation can’t be seen by the naked eye, but it also results in pain. Example of internal inflammation include arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis.
Inflammation can also affect vital organs such as the heart. It can also cause fever, fatigue, rashes and a host of other symptoms. Prolonged, undetected inflammation may result in chronic, life-threatening medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Inflammation is a side effect of the human body’s natural response to injury or disease. For example, when the skin is injured or infected, the body’s inflammatory response causes blood to rush to the site of injury. This in turn causes swelling and pain and heat. The process is far more complicated than this, but that’s the gist of it.
Common treatments for inflammation
Several over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat acute and chronic inflammation.
Naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin counteract the enzymes responsible for inflammation. These medications bring relief in the early stages of inflammation, but are known to trigger unpleasant and damaging side-effects including ulcers, asthma symptoms, potential kidney and liver damage, and even potential stroke/heart attack.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) also offers anti-inflammatory capabilities but without the corrosive effects other those mentioned above. However, it can cause kidney and liver damage with prolonged use.
Corticosteroids also offer anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. But they come with numerous unwanted side effects such as irreversible damage to bone and nerves. This can, in turn, cause worse pain, after the effects have worn off.
Medical marijuana has none of these side effects and may offer a safe and effective natural alternative for some patients suffering with the effects of inflammation.
How does medical marijuana reduce inflammation?
The female flowers of the cannabis plant produce oily substances called resins. These resins contain at least two types of medicinal compounds.
- Terpenes are the aromatic oils that give marijuana strains their distinctive aromas. Terpenes come in a wide variety and make up a small percentage of the resin. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant.
- Cannabinoids are odorless and tasteless. There are also scores of different cannabinoids. As much as 25 to 30 percent of the weight of marijuana can be made up of cannabinoids.
Each individual strain of cannabis produces a unique fingerprint or formula or cannabinoids and terpenes. Both terpenes and cannabinoids offer medicinal benefits. And several terpenes and cannabinoids offer anti-inflammatory properties.
The two most common cannabinoids are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Several minor cannabinoids are also found in small amounts in most strains of cannabis including CBG, CBN, CBC, and others. In their raw forms, none of these cannabinoids are intoxicating. However, when THCA, the raw form of THC is smoked or cooked, it converts into D9 THC which is infamous for its mind-altering abilities. All of these cannabinoids offer some level of anti-inflammatory benefits.
But how do cannabinoids help to reduce inflammation? The answer is surprising.
The cannabinoids found in marijuana actually mimic compounds produced by our own bodies. Technically, the cannabinoids produced by our bodies are called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids. The cannabinoids produced in marijuana are phytocannabinoids. There is also a third class of pharmaceutically produced cannabinoids known as exogenous cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are the body’s signaling system. The human brain can’t connect to every cell in the human body, so it has a chemical signaling system called the human endocannabinoids system or ECS. The brain produces various cannabinoids in response to changes in bodily functions. These chemicals enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. Individual cells have receptors on their surface that interact with these cannabinoids. Each type of cannabinoid relays a different set of instructions.
The ECS is responsible for modulating a wide array of bodily functions in addition to the inflammatory response. These include pain response, moods, appetite, sleep cycles, circulation, metabolism, and much more.
When any tissue is injured or infected, it triggers the release of chemicals that alert the brain to the situation. The brain then produces cannabinoids responsible for initiating and extinguishing the inflammatory response.
As marvelous as the human body is, it’s not perfect. The inflammatory response can easily get out of balance causing excessive pain signals. This reaction helps us pay more attention and avoid further injury. Fortunately we have evolved intelligence that also keeps us aware and alert making pain response less of a factor. We can lower our pain response without hampering our body’s ability to heal or fight infection.
One of the ways we can tame the inflammatory process is by supplementing with several phytocannabinoids and terpenes found in medical marijuana.
Research on CBD’s effects on inflammation
Marijuana’s anti-inflammatory properties are one of its most accepted benefits among health professionals. This is due to the fact that unlike many other uses, much research has been done on medical marijuana’s effects on inflammation.
The Hadassah Medical School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem did a study and concluded that whole-plant cannabis extract provided significant relief of inflammation and pain.
Another study performed in 2008 determined cannabinoids activate endocannabinoid receptors located in the central nervous system that are responsible for regulating pro-inflammatory responses.
And in a report entitled, “Cannabinoids in clinical practice,“ researchers claimed that cannabinoids produced profound anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Links to these and other studies can be found at the end of this article.
How is medical marijuana used to reduce inflammation?
For millennia, humans have been using raw cannabis and the oils extracted from it for healing. And in recent years, we’ve developed more sophisticated delivery methods that combine purified cannabinoids and terpenes in precise formulas.
How inflammation is treated depends on the type. There are two general types of inflammation — chronic inflammation and acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is caused by sudden injury or infection. It comes on quickly but subsides as the injury heals.
Chronic inflammation is ongoing and can last for several weeks, months, or years. Chronic inflammation requires ongoing treatment to help keep it down. Whereas acute inflammation requires more immediate attention.
Occasional pains such as headaches and muscle pain might only need a short course of treatment with a fast onset time. Delivery methods that offer the fastest onset time and highest potency include smoking, vaping, dabbing, and inhalers.
All of these inhaled methods offer almost instant effects and high potency as the cannabinoids are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lungs. However, there are some patients who should avoid inhalation including anyone with a lung or heart condition.
Chronic pain often requires a systemic approach to treatment. That means maintaining constant cannabinoid and terpene levels in the circulatory system in an effort to keep inflammation to a minimum. While inhalation offers a sudden and potent influx of cannabinoids, it also causes large fluctuations in cannabinoid blood levels.
Oral delivery methods such as edibles, capsules, and transdermal methods such as cannabinoid-infused creams and patches have a longer onset time but produce more consistent cannabinoid levels in the bloodstream.
Best medical marijuana strains and formulas for inflammation
As we mentioned, each strain of marijuana produces different levels of cannabinoids and terpenes. Some strains produce mostly THC. Some produce only CBD. Most strains produce some ratio of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. The same goes for terpenes.
Most cannabinoids will produce anti-inflammatory effects in most patients. While CBD will help reduce inflammation, some amount of THC might produce more dramatic results by not only reducing inflammation but calming our response to pain.
Several terpenes also offer powerful anti-inflammatory responses. These include but are not limited to limonene, myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, and pinene. Each can be identified by its aroma. These terpenes smell citrusy, spicey, flowery, earthy, and piney, respectively. Strains with a combination of these aromas often provide anti-inflammatory properties.
Medical marijuana strains that contain these cannabinoids and terpenes include Harlequin, Charlotte’s Web, ACDC, Cannatonic, Kush, Blue Dream, and there are many others. Any knowledgeable budtender at your local medical marijuana dispensary should be able to point out a strain that offers the cannabinoids and terpenes that best suit your condition.
While some U.S. states have legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for adults 21 and older, others require the patient to apply for a medical marijuana card in order to shop at dispensaries where products containing THC can be purchased. In a minority of states, marijuana is completely illegal, however anyone can buy CBD online as long as it’s derived from hemp.
Patients suffering inflammatory conditions should not be self-medicating and are strongly advised to seek the advice of a knowledgable medical marijuana doctor.
VIDEO: Cannabis and Chronic Pain, stories from The Medical Cannabis Community
VIDEO: Marijuana and chronic pain
Sources and additional reading
- CBD for inflammation: What we know so far
- New Research Suggests Terpenes And CBD Work 2X’s Better For Covid-19 Inflammation Than Corticosteroid
- Protective effect of cannabidiol on hydrogen peroxide‑induced apoptosis, inflammation and oxidative stress in nucleus pulposus cells
- Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol
- Cannabinoids, inflammation, and fibrosis
- Cannabidiol attenuates cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity by decreasing oxidative/nitrosative stress, inflammation, and cell death
- Vanilloid TRPV1 receptor mediates the antihyperalgesic effect of the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol, in a rat model of acute inflammation
- Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress
- Cannabinoids in clinical practice