Autoimmune diseases on the rise
Something strange is happening to our immune systems. Over the last fifty years there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of autoimmune diseases, conditions in which the body’s immune system begins to attack itself. Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Diabetes Type 1, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus are just the more well-known of over one hundred autoimmune diseases, all of which are reaching record levels.
In the US alone approximately 24 million people have an autoimmune disease of some kind.
What causes autoimmune diseases?
Theories abound as to why these conditions are getting such a stranglehold on the developed world. Chronic inflammation is a possible cause. It would be wrong to say that inflammation per se is bad as it forms a crucial role in the body’s immune response to viruses and bacteria, and healing injuries. The problem occurs when this inflammatory response is called upon unnecessarily and its action is directed towards the body’s own tissues, as in the case of autoimmune disease. The result is the body literally destroying itself. So where does inflammation come from, and what do we do about it?
Chronic inflammation a contributing factor
So why does the inflammatory response get out of whack in the first place? It would seem for many autoimmune conditions a contributing factor is an overproduction of cytokines, which are small proteins released by cells affecting the inter-cell communication. The cytokines trigger inflammation and respond to infections. So the next question is why are too many cytokines produced? A major cause is something called oxidative stress. Today we are bombarded by chemicals, pollutants and free radicals. When the body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to counteract them, oxidative stress is caused, making the body more likely to develop age related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Cancer, and of course autoimmune diseases. So where do antioxidants come from? Food. Non-processed, organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Could cannabis provide an answer?
But what if there were a substance that were both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent? Well it just so happens that the cannabis plant does both.
Biochemist Dennis Hill, who himself used cannabis to treat his prostate cancer, describes how compounds within the cannabis plant called cannabinoids ‘have the ability to suppress the inflammatory cytokine response. It’s no surprise that plant cannabinoids can have an anti-inflammatory effect when we consider how they work in the body. The CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system and therefore correspond to functions such as memory, mood, sleep, appetite and pain sensation. Whereas the CB2 receptors can be found in the periphery, modulating the immune system and includes the inflammatory response.
As it happens, plant cannabinoids can work in a similar way to the body’s own endocannabinoids, with two in particular standing out as having particular therapeutic potential.
CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect without the high
THC, the compound in cannabis that gets you stoned, has been shown to be a powerful analgesic. But it is its non-psychoactive cousin Cannabidiol (CBD) that scientists believe could have particular benefit for inflammatory conditions due to its interaction with the CB2 receptors. This is because CBD stimulates the vanilloid pain receptors and inhibits the breakdown of the body’s own cannabinoid Anandamide by suppressing the Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). All of which elicits an anti-inflammatory effect.
But there’s a further string to Cannabidiol’s bow. Remember how the body’s out of whack inflammatory response can be caused by excessive oxidative stress? Well it turns out that CBD is also a powerful antioxidant, something discovered by scientists as far back as 1998 and even recognized by the American federal government who hold a patent saying as much. It should be pointed out that THC is also an antioxidant, but many people find its psychoactive effects difficult to manage, so CBD offers a more palatable, non-mind-altering alternative.
However, for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease, it’s all well and good quoting scientific studies that have never made it outside of the laboratory, when what you really want to know is if it works in real life. Increasingly, many autoimmune patients are taking the first option and finding great results.
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Has had Hashimoto's for 13 years. I am passionate, I live and breathe, helping you to overcome your struggles with weight, stress, and chronic health issues.