Could cannabis be a therapy option for patients with autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Multiple Sclerosis? The chronic symptoms of autoimmune diseases can be hard to treat, leaving many diagnosed with them in pain. Autoimmune diseases can’t be cured by cannabis, but research suggests it could be a helpful therapy for some who suffer with the symptoms.
What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system goes rogue and attacks body systems it was meant to protect. Fatigue, joint and muscle pain or swelling, recurring fever, swollen glands, and digestive issues are a few of the symptoms that plague autoimmune disease sufferers.
More than 100 autoimmune diseases exist that can affect tissues and organs in the body, causing a constellation of symptoms that make treatment tricky. Some common examples of autoimmune diseases are: rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Many of these conditions are considered chronic and incurable.
Autoimmune diseases combined affect about 3 percent of the US population. Approximately 10 million people live with an autoimmune disease; three-quarters of those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease are women. Some autoimmune diseases are also genetic, and therefore more common in certain ethnic groups.
Individual autoimmune diseases have their own unique symptoms. Type 1 diabetes causes extreme thirst, weight loss, and fatigue. IBD causes belly pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may cycle through periods of flare-up and remission.
How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?
Current traditional treatments for autoimmune diseases can include a cocktail of pharmaceutical medications for symptom management. Medications prescribed often include anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and narcotics to treat flare ups, pain, and inflammation. Some regimens incorporate immunosuppressant drugs to calm the overactive immune system.
Side effects of these medications can be a barrier to relief for some patients. Narcotic pain medications can lead to addiction and even make pain worse over time. Even taking a daily anti-inflammatory medicine such as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) can lead to digestive problems including stomach upset, heartburn, and ulcers. Kidney injury, easy bruising, or bleeding are common as well. Less common side effects, including severe allergic reactions and liver injury, can be serious.
Autoimmune disease symptoms change over time. They can become milder with age or they could flare up, making the disease worse. Reducing stress and improving relaxation is often an important step in treating autoimmune disorders holistically. Natural treatments for reducing stress include meditation, yoga, massage, and exercise.
Diet is another suspected risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease. Eating high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is thought to be linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. Inflammation can be caused by several different factors, including hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, stress, and more.
In small doses, our bodies can handle inflammation. But when the inflammation gets out of control (“runaway inflammation”), the body’s tissues can be caught in the crossfire, resulting in autoimmune disease.
Cannabis for Autoimmune Diseases
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been confirmed to play an important role in the regulation of many biological processes, including brain functions and immune response. Early evidence supports that cannabinoids may help ease the autoimmune cascade by suppressing certain parts of the immune system. Properties within the cannabis plant can help decrease inflammation, reduce nausea, act as a neuroprotectant, modulate mood and pain, as well as serve as an immunosuppressant with less side effects found among traditional treatment regimens.
Medical marijuana has the potential to decrease systemic inflammation in those with autoimmune conditions. The clinical endocannabinoid deficiency has been mentioned as the potential root cause of many chronic conditions, including chronic pain, migraines, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and mental disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Cannabis may help the ECS fix deficiencies by interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the affected parts of the body. Since cannabinoid receptors are present in the immune system, cannabis may have a positive effect on its functioning.
In addition to a diet that produces modulatory effects in the immune system, cannabis therapy may help curb the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Patients who chose a natural approach to treating their autoimmune disease cite that their choice was less expensive, safer, and possibly more effective for treating the symptoms and addressing the root cause than pharmaceutical medications.
Check out our stories on specific autoimmune diseases and cannabis:
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