Does Marijuana Help with Inflammation?

marijuana flower in a medicine bottle on a wood table with buds next to it, can be helpful for people wondering is marijuana good for inflammation

It’s no secret that marijuana has some pretty amazing health benefits. For years, pioneers of the medical marijuana industry have shared stories of getting relief from diseases by puffing on their favorite strain of cannabis. Now, modern science is finding that cannabis could have some serious potential as a natural treatment for inflammatory diseases like Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.

Why Is Marijuana Good for Inflammation?

man grabbing his stomach with his hands, showing stomach inflammation

Lately, the word “inflammation” has become a bit of a buzzword in popular culture – similar to “detox” and “superfood.” Most sources would have you believe that inflammation is a bad thing, but that's not always the case. Inflammation is actually the immune system’s natural response to disease and injury. For example, healthy levels of inflammation might show up in a sprained ankle and be measured by heat, swelling, and pain. The body sends immune activity to the injured area and helps it heal. The problem with chronic inflammation is that the body begins to attack itself – mistakenly damaging healthy tissue and setting the stage for serious conditions.

There are a few reasons why marijuana and inflammation go together. To understand how marijuana reduces inflammation, you need to know how it reacts with your brain chemistry. The reason why you're able to experience physical and mental altered states when consuming cannabis is because your brain has cannabis receptors. Without those receptors, you wouldn’t feel a thing after consuming cannabis. All forms of cannabis activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, but there are also receptors all over your body along your spine, reproductive organs, and internal organs. These receptors make up your endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are found inside immune system cells, as well as other cells that control the body’s homeostasis. This suggests that cannabis can have an effect on your immune system, and there are some very interesting studies that have come out discussing the relationship between the two.

Scientific Studies on Marijuana and Inflammation

researcher in his lab doing studies on marijuana and inflammation

While you can find a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who have found relief from inflammatory diseases by using cannabis, most scientific studies on the topic have been done on mice and rats. And while the subjects were not human, the findings did lead scientists to believe that there could be some real benefits to treating inflammatory diseases with cannabis.

One example is a 2009 study by Future Med Chem. In the study, researchers used both synthetic and natural cannabis molecules and looked at how they interacted with immune system function. In the report, the researchers claimed: “Cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents and they exert their effects through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells (Tregs).” In layman’s terms, that means cannabis can shrink or kill off excess immune cells and stop them from producing proteins like cytokines that make immune diseases worse.

In the same study, researchers also looked at the specific effects of cannabis on mice with colitis. They found that when a mouse was given experimental colitis, the CB1 receptors in the gut got bigger and displayed protective features. This allowed the CB1 receptors to control the gut and reduce inflammation. Again, this shows that it might be possible to treat colitis symptoms with cannabis.

Another cannabis study on gut inflammation, published in 2016 by Waseem Ahmed, MD and Seymour Katz, MD, showed that cannabis is a viable therapeutic option for people with inflammatory bowel disease. In the study, the researchers explain why THC is “the most pharmacologically active” ingredient in cannabis, and explain how it can help patients with inflammatory bowel disease. The study acknowledges that there have been anecdotal reports of cannabis aiding people with gut inflammation for hundreds of years, and demonstrates how cannabis interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the gut.

According to the study, cannabis can effectively do a lot of things:

  • Decrease intestinal motility
  • Decrease gut secretion
  • Inhibit cytokine and chemokine production (cytokine and chemokine make immune diseases worse)
  • Induce apoptosis (killing or shrinking cells as needed)
  • Improve wound healing
  • Decrease intestinal permeability (keeping everything where it should be)
  • Decrease nausea and vomiting
  • Improve appetite
  • Improve pain control

The Effects Of Traditional Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

stethoscope and marijuana leaf on a blue background

If you experience pain or decreased quality of life due to an inflammatory disease, the benefits of using cannabis can be life changing. Currently, the standard treatments for inflammatory diseases like arthritis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease are pretty basic and not always effective. In general, traditional doctors might suggest resting, using steroid hormones, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, exercising, and eating a restricted diet.

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these options. However, it's a well-known fact that there can be some bad side effects from taking ibuprofen and corticosteroids for long periods of time. If you've been prescribed opiates for your inflammatory disease, you might seriously consider trying cannabis instead. According to an article from Green State, prescription opiate use has quadrupled since 1999 and the death toll from overdoses is just as high. Opiates are not a good option for long-term chronic pain and can lead to very serious and expensive addiction problems.

Given the evidence that cannabis can help reduce inflammation, it could be wise to give it a try. It's also worth mentioning that even though the high from cannabis can be very intense, there is no lethal overdose limit. And, in states where medical cannabis is legal, deaths from opiate overdoses are down 25%.

The process for obtaining cannabis will be a little different depending on what state you live in. For example, medical marijuana patients in Maryland or Arizona will have to apply for a medical marijuana card and get a recommendation from their doctors. Thankfully, people in California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, and many other states where recreational marijuana is legal will be able to walk right in to their local dispensary to purchase a cure for what ails them.

How To Use Medical Marijuana For Inflammation 

medical marijuana green cross sign outside of building
Editorial credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
When you're looking for medical marijuana for inflammation, don't be afraid to ask your local budtender for help. Budtenders have a deep knowledge of the products offered in the dispensary and can help set you up with a treatment option that matches your needs and budget. If it's your first time using cannabis, be sure to let the salesperson know so they can recommend a proper dosage for you.

In general, there are a few things you want to look for in a cannabis product when using it for inflammation: THC, CBD, CBC, and terpenes like myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene, bisabolol, limonene, and linalool. These specific cannabinoids and terpenoids are what actually provide relief from chronic inflammation 

Leafbuyer spoke with medical marijuana personnel at Elevate Takoma in Maryland to get an idea about what ailments marijuana can help with. One employee told us about her struggle with inflammation in her knees and hips from a sports injury. The inflammation causes discomfort and is a daily distraction. She says she finally found relief from her hip and knee pain when she started applying infused balms to the bottoms of her feet.  

The team at Elevate Takoma is full of helpful tips and eager to help patients find relief. Elevate is a family-owned dispensary with a commitment to patient care. They focus on customer service and educating patients so that they can make informed decisions about their healthcare. If you live in the Takoma Park area of Maryland and need assistance signing up for a medical marijuana card, you can even contact the staff at Elevate for help.  

Elevate Takoma is a proud partner of Leafbuyer.