Cannabis & Immune System

immune system and cannabis

Updated Date: January 17th 2023

Are you looking to learn about cannabis and the immune system?

If you are, then you’re in the right place.

The cannabis plant is known for its many medicinal properties, including the ability to modulate and support immune system functioning. 

This function makes cannabis an attractive option for those who wish to boost their immune function or treat conditions that result from a compromised immune response, such as autoimmune diseases. 

However, cannabis can also adversely affect the immune system if it is misused or in large doses. 

This article will explore how cannabis affects the immune system, both positively and negatively, and some potential benefits and risks associated with immunosuppression from cannabis use.

Immune System, Cannabinoids & The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

endocannabinoid system

The cannabis plant contains various active compounds known as cannabinoids, which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) to modulate multiple physiological processes. 

The ECS comprises cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and biochemical messengers called endocannabinoids that help regulate immune function. 

In particular, one of the primary ways cannabis affects the immune system is by interacting with cannabinoid receptors on immune cells and "telling" these cells to either mobilize or suppress the immune response.

How Does Cannabis Affect the Immune System?

There are several different mechanisms through which cannabis can affect the functioning of the immune system. 

According to research studies, cannabis has increased the production of specific immune cells, such as natural killer cells and T-helper cells, while also decreasing other immune responses, such as inflammation and antibody production. 

In addition, cannabis has been shown to exert immunosuppressive effects in some cases by activating CB2 receptors on various immune cells.

Can Cannabis Affect The Immune System Negatively?

While cannabis can have beneficial effects on the immune system in many cases, there are also many potential risks associated with cannabis use that can negatively impact the functioning of this crucial bodily system. 

For example, using cannabis in high doses or for extended periods may eventually lead to immunosuppression, which increases vulnerability to infections and autoimmune diseases. 

Additionally, cannabis may trigger hypersensitivity or immune reactions in some individuals, resulting in allergic responses such as rashes and hives.

The Benefits & Negatives Of Immunosuppression From Cannabis

Despite the risks associated with cannabis-induced immunosuppression, many potential benefits can be gained from using cannabis for this purpose. 

For example, cannabis has been shown to effectively treat certain autoimmune diseases by suppressing immune activity in the affected tissues and reducing inflammation. 

We’ve already made an article on how CBD can benefit inflammation in our “does CBD help with inflammation” guide.

Additionally, cannabis is often used to reduce side effects associated with various cancer treatments and other medications that suppress immunity. 

Ultimately, the effects of cannabis on the immune system are highly dependent on dosage, duration of use, individual factors, and many other variables. 

As such, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using cannabis for therapeutic purposes to weigh the risks and benefits and determine if cannabis is the right choice for you.

Can Cannabis Trigger Autoimmune Diseases?

Although cannabis-induced immunosuppression can be beneficial in some cases, there is also the potential for cannabis to trigger autoimmune diseases in individuals who are genetically predisposed to these conditions. 

Research studies have found that cannabis use increases the risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

However, more research is needed to understand the relationship between cannabis and immune function fully and whether cannabis can cause or contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases in some individuals. 

Ultimately, it is essential to carefully consider all aspects of cannabis use when making decisions about your health and well-being.

Written by Jenny Martin, CBD Journalist

Medically Reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD