Inflammation is a subject that is greatly misunderstood by most people, coincidentally, so is cannabis. Have you ever posed to ask yourself if inflammation is a good or a bad thing? This requires you to think hard and deep, and you should have a deep understanding of what it is to be able to grasp the dilemma here. And moving on to cannabis; loved and hated in equal measure. Now put the two together, how does cannabis help to ease inflammation?
We have previously discussed how you can eliminate pain and inflammation with CBD water, but in this article, you will be learning everything there is to learn about cannabis and inflammation and how the two are interconnected.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism that your body institutes when under attack from invaders such as bacteria and viruses. In this way, inflammation is a good thing as it helps to wage war against the body’s “enemies.”
However, sometimes inflammation can be a bad thing. This happens when the body’s immune system triggers inflammation when the body is not under attack from any invaders (bacteria and viruses et al). In this case, the body launches an attack against healthy tissues in the body– this is called an autoimmune attack. This is the underlying pathology of all autoimmune conditions.
There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived and goes away within hours or days. On the other hand, chronic inflammation may last for months or years, in short, it persists long after the first trigger is gone. Chronic inflammation may cause the following conditions:
- Heart disease
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
Most people know how to tell if an area is inflamed. Signs to look out for include:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Flu like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, poor appetite, headaches, and lethargy
What Causes Inflammation?
When inflammation occurs, the white blood cells (defense cells) release chemicals into your blood and tissues to protect your body from invaders. These chemicals may leak into nearby tissues and trigger increased blood flow to the area that has been injured or has an infection. The area responds by becoming swollen, red, itchy, and displaying other physical signs of inflammation. The pain that results from this is called inflammatory pain. When inflammation is chronic this inflammatory process may cause damage to joints, joint lining, cartilage, and tissues.
How is Inflammation Diagnosed?
Acute inflammation is easy to diagnose as you can spot a pattern of symptoms that have been outlined above. X-rays and blood tests can also be carried out to check for the following biomarkers:
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
Can Inflammation Affect Internal Organs?
Chronic inflammation can affect internal organs and cause significant damage that may be irreversible. Inflammation of the heart will cause myocarditis while that of the kidneys will cause nephritis. Some inflammatory diseases may not cause pain and hence can be hard to diagnose.
How is Inflammation Treated?
Treatment of inflammation is targeted at stopping the underlying cause of inflammation and reversing the damage caused by the inflammation. This may also involve preventing the spread of the inflammation or the damage caused. Treatment varies based on different factors such as the organ affected, the extent of damage, and overall health status.
Common medications to relieve inflammation include:
- Non- steroidal drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and aspirin
- Corticosteroids such as dexamethasone
- Antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Biologic drugs
These drugs are commonly used to treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. In severe cases of inflammation, chemotherapy drugs may be used even though they cause severe side effects.
Side Effects Caused By Drugs Used To Treat Inflammation
Drugs used to treat inflammation are known to cause several side effects that range from mild to severe. NSAIDS for example may trigger spontaneous bleeding. Other side effects include heartburn, stomach ulcers, tinnitus, high blood pressure, liver and kidney problems among others. Long-term use of steroids causes dependence among other severe side effects. It is for such reasons that the quest for better remedies for inflammation is always a top priority for patients and clinicians.
Can cannabis help with inflammation?
This is the crux of the matter and we shall address it extensively in the following sections.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Inflammation
To get a better grasp of the human endocannabinoid system, it’s important to first understand a concept known as homeostasis. The Goldilocks story has been used to break this down in layman’s language. This classical story demonstrates that the in-between zone is usually the sweet spot where everything is just perfect. There is no too hard or too soft, too hot or too cold in this area. Homeostasis is the zone between the two extremes that the body’s physiological processes fluctuate between. For example, body temperature should not be too hot nor too cold. The same applies to blood sugar and other parameters. The ECS bears the responsibility of ensuring that the body remains in a state of homeostasis at all times. In short, it helps to maintain the “Goldilocks zone.”
The ECS is made up of three major components:
- Cannabinoid receptors
- Metabolic enzymes
Cannabinoid receptors are located on the outside of cells and transmit information about fluctuating conditions to the inside of the cell to trigger the appropriate cellular response. The primary cannabinoid receptors are the CB1 and the CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are mainly located in the central nervous system while the CB2 receptors are mostly located in the primary, including the immune cells. However, both receptors can still be found in all the parts of the body. This will come in handy later when we discuss how phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids in cannabis) help to ease inflammation.
Endocannabinoids are endogenous molecules that bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. They are produced naturally by cells within the body. The body has two primary endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids are synthesized on demand, meaning that they are never found freely circulating in the body. They are produced when needed and once they have completed their role they are broken down by metabolic enzymes and removed from the circulation. These two enzymes are FAAH which breaks down anandamide and MAGL which breaks down 2-AG. These enzymes do not break down phytocannabinoids derived from cannabis such as THC and CBD.
Chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases occur when the immune system is activated inappropriately. In other words, the body is in disarray and there is no homeostasis.
Chronic inflammation will cause fibrosis, organ damage, and loss of organ function if it persists. Targeting the CB2 receptors can limit inflammation and reduce adverse effects such as fibrosis. During inflammation, the activated immune cells can express CB2 receptors on their surface. The same cells may produce signaling molecules called endocannabinoids that will transmit signals to resolve the inflammation. The CB2 receptors act as an antenna to return the activated immune system and involve tissues back to homeostasis.
In a nutshell, this is how the endocannabinoid system comes into play to ease inflammation.
Studies have shown that endocannabinoids modulate the immune system by either suppressing or increasing the immune response. Twerking the ECS may help to treat inflammatory diseases.
How Do Phytocannabinoids Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
The cannabis plant has over 500 bioactive compounds, made up of phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Out of these, at least 113 are phytocannabinoids. THC and CBD are the most popular phytocannabinoids and the most studied.
THC binds to the CB1 receptor while CBD is a weak agonist at the CB2 receptor. The two phytocannabinoids mimic the action of the body's endogenous cannabinoids. Unlike the endocannabinoids, these two are not broken down by metabolic enzymes.
As much as CBD and THC activate the same cannabinoid receptors as endocannabinoids, they also interact with several other receptors and consequently produce distinct effects.
Studies have shown that CBD affects the overall levels of endocannabinoids in the brain, this is referred to as the “endocannabinoid tone.” It inhibits the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. Consequently, it increases anandamide levels that are in circulation.
Both CBD and THC have been shown to ease inflammation through different mechanisms.
A review that was published in Pharmacological Research in February 2011 found that CBD and THC act on immune cells to trigger anti-inflammatory responses. Other studies have shown that THC and CBD can relieve inflammation. A 2019 study looked at the ECS of patients with colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and found that these patients had an altered ECS. This suggests that phytocannabinoids can be used to offer relief from inflammation-based symptoms.
Apart from the phytocannabinoids, some studies have shown that terpenes can also help to address inflammation. For example, betacaryophyllene, peppery scented terpene, has been shown to have strong anti- inflammatory properties. This is the only terpene that has been shown to interact directly with the endocannabinoid receptors. It also facilitates the uptake of other terpenes.
This means that consuming a full-spectrum cannabis extract will provide a stronger anti-inflammatory benefit as compared to consuming an isolate of CBD or THC alone. This is because a full-spectrum extract containing a combination of phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids will offer full entourage benefits.
What Symptoms of Inflammation Can Cannabis Treat?
Cannabis may help to relieve the following symptoms and complications of inflammatory diseases:
- Poor appetite
- Poor sleep
Top 5 Cannabis Strains For Tackling Inflammation
CBD ACDC Strain
This is a high CBD strain, CBD ACDC Feminized that is a popular option for those wishing to tackle inflammation without getting intoxicated. It is a sativa dominant strain which causes mental stimulation as it relieves pain and other symptoms of inflammation. It has a CBD content of 18% and a THC content that hardly goes beyond 1%, this makes a ratio of 20:1. This strain will also relieve chronic pain, depressive symptoms, and seizures effectively.
CBD Harlequin Strain
This is a sativa dominant strain with an interesting origin; CBD Harlequin is a cross between a Nepali indica and a Swiss sativa. The CBD to THC ratio is 5:2 with CBD being the higher of the two. It is known to cause deep mental relaxation and an overwhelming sense of calm. The CBD counteracts the negative effects of THC hence the anti-inflammatory benefits can be fully enjoyed. It is especially good for tackling joint soreness and swelling. It can also tackle headaches, anxiety, and depression.
Cannatonic Feminized is another high CBD strain that is good for addressing severe inflammation. Most cultivars will have a CBD content of about 16% and THC at 6%. This strain is a cross between G13 and MK Ultra. It is an uplifting strain that is well tolerated by most users. Apart from inflammation it can also be used to address seizures and epilepsy.
Girl Scout Cookies Strain
Girl Scout Cookies Feminized is an excellent choice for tackling inflammation. It is a cross between OG Kush and Durban Poison and it is an indica dominant strain. This strain will give a powerful body stone that will numb all pain and aches. The THC content is exceptionally high, standing at about 28% while the CBD is a mere 0.2%. If you are a new user you are advised to steer clear of this strain. Experienced users may also need to dose on this strain with moderation. Other than dealing with inflammation this strain is also bound to give users a boost in energy levels.
How To Use Cannabis For Inflammation
Cannabis for inflammation can be consumed as tinctures, capsules, gummies, concentrates, edibles, or even topicals. It is important to consult with your healthcare provider before you start to use any cannabis product to tackle inflammation.