In part 1 of this article, some of the general applications of cannabinoids both synthetic and natural were covered. The power in these mysterious substances, comes at least in part, from their anti-inflammatory effects. In this article, we’ll cover the chronic immune response, where it lurks, the definition of cellular inflammation, and active areas of research where cannabis plays a special role.
Many would argue, myself included, that nearly all disease of affluence are inflammatory. Chronic inflammation is the bane of civilization. This is the response that we are trying desperately to decrease or eliminate among those that suffer from its torpor. The biggest problem is that, with few exceptions, it doesn’t respond well to our pharmaceuticals either. As a result we have an enormous number of people suffering from chronic, degenerative diseases for which there is no cure. It has been shown that cannabis reduces pain and inflammation under these circumstances.
This is one of the main reason why and how medical marijuana came to be legalized in certain states of America.
So what exactly is it that cannabis helps?
Let’s start first with a general definition so that we can all speak the same language. Chronic inflammation is an unchecked biological reaction to tissue injury producing a smoldering, cascade of immuno-vascular responses in an attempt to heal, leading to a pathologic change in the cell population of the affected tissue. It is characterized by repeated healing and injury.
Arterial plaque (and much more) is a result of the above response. Simply living La Vida Industria is all it takes sometimes. It is real tissue injury. Here I’m referring to atherosclerosis because of its textbook presentation, but we could just as easily be describing other pandemics like metabolic syndrome, neurodegeneration like Alzheimer’s disease, or chronic pain. In total there are three main regions where inflammation prefers to occur: blood vessel, brain and as an excess of visceral fat.
Let me saturate you in acronyms for a moment as we devil into the details. One of the 30 or so maligned products of visceral fat cells (belly fat as it is sometimes called), TNF-alpha, is a known cytokine (immune cell messenger) that activates NF-kB. This odd sounding chemical messenger is at the core of chronic inflammation.
The definition of cellular inflammation is increased activity of the gene transcription factor known as Nuclear Factor-kappaB (NF-kB). This is the gene transcription factor found in every cell, and it activates the inflammatory response of the innate immune system.[ref]Barry Sears PhD. What is Cellular Inflammation? (http://www.zonediagnostics.com/cellular-inflammation/) 08/06/2013[/ref]
This immune response can be triggered by anything that stimulates the activity of NF-kB. It also paves the way for the third biggest killer in the western world – cancer.
The role of inflammation in evolution of certain types of cancer has been strongly suggested, linking the inflammatory response to 15–20% of all deaths from cancer worldwide….If genetic damage is the “match that lights the fire” of cancer, some types of inflammation may provide the “fuel that feeds the flames.”[ref]Lancet. 2001 Feb 17;357(9255):539-45.[/ref]
Cellular inflammation is the initiating cause of chronic disease because it disrupts hormonal signaling networks throughout the body.[ref]Barry Sears PhD. What is Cellular Inflammation? (http://www.zonediagnostics.com/cellular-inflammation/) 08/06/2013 p. 1[/ref]
TARGETING CELLULAR INFLAMMATION WITH CANNABIS
Unfortunately, for many with chronic, degenerative diseases in advanced stages we need bigger guns which we do not have. Patients with high levels of silent or overt inflammation (pain) are often left in the lurch. These are the patients I would see who have been through a dozen doctors, taking 20 or more medications, and are no better off.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had drugs that operated on the cellular level to help these patients? A drug or supplement that might suppress NF-kB?
Well, we already have some, but most are not commercially available yet. Can you say cannabinoids?
While there is a paucity of good anti-inflammatory prescription medications that a doctor can treat you with, current research demonstrates that several classes of cannabinoids can influence many of the inflammatory mechanisms mentioned above.
Let’s look at the classic model of inflammation once again: atherosclerosis.
CB1 BLOCKADE & CB2 STIMULATION DECREASE PLAQUE
It turns out that cannabinoids, acting via both CB1 and CB2 receptor modulation, have an important role in immune system regulation. Because inflammation plays a key role in atherogenesis, cannabinoids can potentially affect atherogenesis via modulation of the immune system[ref]Sandeep Singla MD. Cannabinoids and Atherosclerotic Coronary Heart Disease .Clinical Cardiology
Volume 35, Issue 6 pages 329–335, June 2012 (online: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/clc.21962/full) 11/23/2014[/ref]. CB1 & CB2 receptors have been identified on many immune cells and endothelial cells. Let’s see what the data shows:
Both CB1 and CB2 are G-protein coupled receptors that modulate second messengers and signalling components such as adenylate cyclase,…and members of the nuclear factor κ B (NF-κB) family. [ref]IBID[/ref]
In one study a synthetic cannabinoid agonist (stimulant) with CB2 selectivity was used. The decrease in extent of atherosclerosis was associated with a decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokine gene expression and attenuated oxidized low-density lipoprotein (ox-LDL)-induced NF-κB activation[ref]IBID[/ref].
In other words a synthetic CB2 stimulant (agonist) decreased plaque formation through a reduction in NF-kB.
What these studies suggest is that we may have a new, powerful, and potentially game-changing syllabus of cannabinoids that may actually “cure” heart disease, and by inference dozens of other chronic inflammatory diseases.
In part three more compelling evidence of the use of cannabis in suppressing inflammation will be provided.
You can read Part 1 of Dr. Christopher Rasmussen’s articles on Cannabis and Inflammation here.