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Will Taking Cannabis For Inflammation Prevent Chronic Disease?

Philip Ghezelbash
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The greatest weapon in the fight against inflammatory disease may be how cannabis boosts the endocannabinoid system.

Inflammation is the backbone of most chronic diseases. So, if we can reduce inflammation then we can reduce chronic disease. Researchers are constantly trying to find natural methods to reduce inflammation. Fortunately, research has shown that cannabis lowers inflammation and improves symptoms in a number of inflammatory-based diseases. But the question is, why? Let’s find out.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s defense system against infections, injuries, and toxins. This system works to heal the body, return it to a healthy state, and prevent viruses or bacteria that may attack vulnerable spots.

The body releases antibodies and proteins with increased blood flow to damaged cells. Inflammation describes this reactive process and tends to be short-lasting. In some cases, however, inflammation is long-term and thus chronic. Inflammation is a natural and healthy process in the body. However, prolonged inflammation means something isn’t right.

Just a few of the diseases caused by chronic inflammation are heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and a plethora of other degenerative diseases.

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The Link Between Inflammation And Chronic Disease

In 2007, Associate Professor of Medicine Samia Mora of Harvard and her colleagues published a study looking at exercise and its health benefits. Researchers already knew that exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as certain medications. But the question was, why? The researchers analyzed the biomarkers of over 27,000 women who participated in the long term study.

Researchers came to the conclusion that reduced inflammation is the primary reason why exercise was so beneficial for decreasing the risk of disease. They concluded that one-third of the benefits that exercise provided came back to its ability to cut back inflammatory response. 

Inflammation is an essential process in the body that we need in small doses. However, chronic inflammation, which causes the immune system to attack the body’s own cells, causes a chain-reaction of inflammation and a host of other problems.

According to Paul Ridker, who studied the origins of atherosclerosis, one explanation as to why inflammation becomes chronic has its roots in evolutionary history. Prior to developing antibiotics, humans had very active immune systems to fight off disease that would kill most of the population before the age of five. This hyperactive immune response is still present, and researchers, such as Ridker, argue that this adversely affects aging.

Clearly our lifestyles in the modern world – especially with regards to our diet and lack of exercise – increase our chances of chronic inflammation through weight gain and a developing insulin resistance. However, in the past, gaining weight was crucial to survive when food was scarce. This would also mean that increased inflammation was a given.

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Can Cannabis Help Decrease Inflammation?

As cannabis legislation is loosening, both medically and recreationally, more research is underway on the compounds within cannabis, such as CBD. Researchers are examining how cannabinoids may decrease inflammation. Research has shown that the CB2 receptor is tightly interlinked with inflammation. So, using CBD can help to improve inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

How Does Cannabis Reduce Inflammation?

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different compounds. But only three of these compounds are responsible for cannabis’s infamous psychoactive effects. The compounds, cannabinoids, affect the endocannabinoid system, specifically two receptors in the body, the CB1 and CB2 receptor. 

Several inflammation-based disorders see a natural deficiency in the stimulation of CB2. In other words, the use of cannabis can help equalize this deficiency and decrease inflammation. When the CB2 receptor is activated, cells release fewer pro-inflammatory signal substances, otherwise known as cytokines. This reduces inflammation.

Researchers have identified that a specific terpene called beta-caryophyllene, which comprises between 12-35 percent of cannabis’s essential oil (depending on the strain), activates the CB2 receptor. What’s important to understand here is that beta-caryophyllene enables the CB2 receptor exclusively, meaning that it doesn’t attach to the CB1 receptor, which is responsible for the medicating psychoactive effects of cannabis that is abundant in THC. So, medical cannabis can decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines without inducing psychoactive effects.

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What’s interesting is that beta-caryophyllene is found in cannabis as well as other plants that we frequently consume. For instance, cinnamon, pepper, and oregano all contain beta-caryophyllene. It’s a non-toxic compound that has been used as a food additive for years. This is why it took so long for researchers to identify it as a compound in cannabis that reduces inflammation. It chemically varies quite distinctly from other cannabinoids.

Inflammation is a critical process in the body, but chronic inflammation behind many of the world’s most deadly diseases. Finding ways to reduce inflammation, ideally naturally, is an essential area of research. As cannabis is further researched, it’s increasingly apparent that it has certain compounds that target the CB2 receptor to decrease inflammation. This is of huge benefit to our overall health and longevity.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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