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How Effective is Cannabis in Treating Inflammation?

When you experience inflammation in any part of your body, it means that your body is doing any or all of these three things: attempting to heal itself after an injury, defending itself against invaders like viruses and bacteria, or repairing damaged tissue. In short, inflammation takes place when the body exerts effort to protect itself and remove harmful stimuli to begin the healing process.

Without this bodily response, the smallest of wounds would worsen and become infected, while infections could quickly become fatal. It might get a little painful and inconvenient, but once its task is done, the inflammation will eventually shrink and disappear on its own.

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With Inflammation.

How Does Inflammation Work

Apart from swelling, warmth in the affected area, and some redness, inflammations are oftentimes accompanied by pain. When we injure ourselves -- say, an accidental cut on your thumb while preparing dinner -- the arteries dilate and the blood flow increases in that area. This creates space for white blood cells and the necessary nutrients and hormones, allowing them to move in and heal the injury.

Among these hormones is prostaglandin, which helps create blood clots to mend the damaged tissue. Prostaglandin also triggers pain and, in more severe injuries, fever as part of the healing process. Inflammatory pain is also influenced by the swelling -- which is caused by the dilated arteries and increased blood flow -- that pushes against sensitive nerve endings, whether on the skin or inside the body. Depending on the kind of injury and the person’s own biochemical responses, inflammatory pain can be a constant, steady kind of ache, while some may describe the pain as pinching, stabbing, or throbbing.

Similar to pain, inflammation can also be classified into two types: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation happens when a person suffers from minor injuries (like a cut or sprain), has certain medical conditions (like a sore throat or bronchitis), or undergoes surgeries (like that for appendicitis or caesarian section delivery). Although there are some cases when acute inflammations persist to become chronic, acute inflammations are short-term and subside in a matter of days.

Inflammations that surround wounds, in particular, last only as long as the wound is still open. Once the wound starts to close and scab over, the inflammation also starts to die down. In worse cases, the wounds can become pus-filled if not treated immediately. Pus is simply the buildup of “dead” white blood cells that have ingested the foreign threats -- this is the body’s way of eliminating these unneeded cells.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation occurs in long-term diseases such as lupus, asthma, Crohn’s disease, and even allergies. Chronic inflammation may also be caused by environmental factors or poor health habits, like pollution, smoking, or inadequate dental care, for example.

Diseases Associated with Inflammation

Most autoimmune diseases are associated with chronic inflammation. An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system attacks otherwise healthy tissues, incorrectly perceiving them to be harmful pathogens or irritants.

There are more than a hundred kinds of autoimmune diseases, most of which affect major organs (e.g., kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin), glands (e.g., pancreas, thyroid, and reproductive organs), and tissues (e.g., blood, connective tissues like tendons and ligaments, and muscles). Nearly all of these autoimmune diseases have inflammation as one of the major symptoms, including rheumatoid arthritis, Celiac disease, psoriasis, Addison’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and pulmonary fibrosis.

NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are among the most common medications used to address the pain caused by inflammations. Popular NSAIDs include aspirin, celecoxib, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Prolonged use of NSAIDs should be closely monitored by health professionals due to the risk of developing ulcers and/or worsening of asthma symptoms, among other side effects.

Acetaminophen and corticosteroids are also popular anti-inflammatory drugs, the latter of which is commonly used in autoimmune-related inflammations. There are two kinds of corticosteroids -- (1) glucocorticoids, which are usually prescribed for arthritis, dermatitis, hepatitis, sarcoidosis, and inflammatory bowel disease; and (2) mineralocorticoids, which are used to treat cerebral salt wasting and to replace the hormone aldosterone in Addison’s disease patients.

There are also herbal supplements that are reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties, like devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), hyssop, ginger and turmeric, and cannabis. Similar to other herbal medications and supplements, using cannabis -- whether in the form of cannabis oil, infused edibles, or pills -- in replacement or in addition to current anti-inflammatory drugs should ideally be under the advice of a doctor.

Cannabis and Its Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Cannabis and pain, and therefore inflammation, have a long-standing relationship that began with the identification and isolation of THC and CBD in the 1960s. This connection flourished even further upon the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s, as researchers began to study how the system’s different parts react to individual cannabinoids and how these reactions, in turn, influence the body’s processes and responses.

Since then, cannabis has been studied and tested for different autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and colitis, with promising results. But how does cannabis work to prevent pain and address other symptoms of inflammation?

The presence of the two major cannabinoids THC and CBD -- which are psychoactive and non-psychoactive, respectively -- is the primary reason why cannabis is effective in reducing pain and treating other symptoms of inflammation. Within the body’s ECS are two kinds of receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors, located in the central nervous system, mostly handle the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CB2 receptors, located in most of the body’s tissues, are responsible for handling the body’s responses to pain, including suppressing inflammatory responses.

Due to the different receptors working on respective bodily responses, THC and CBD work uniquely from each other when treating inflammation. While both of these cannabinoids inhibit the production and release of inflammation-causing cytokines, THC works to control inflammation by dampening the immune system. Meanwhile, CBD aids in the body’s anti-inflammatory efforts by suppressing the activity of amidohydrolase (a kind of fatty acid), which results in higher levels of anandamide, the body’s naturally occurring anti-inflammatory endocannabinoid. This lessens the sensation of pain, one of the most common symptoms of inflammation.

Depending on the disease that causes the inflammation, THC or CBD may be the ideal cannabinoid to deal with the symptoms. Two separate studies, conducted in 1999 and in 2008, have shown that THC is ideal for dealing with atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory disease that is a major contributor to heart attacks and strokes, and airway inflammations related to the flu. Meanwhile, several studies have shown CBD’s capability to reduce joint inflammation, such as those caused by rheumatoid arthritis, and curb the progression of similar diseases. A study from 2003 also looked into the potential of CBD to decrease inflammations in rats induced with an arthritis-mimicking condition. CBD has also shown potential in reducing the inflammation of the digestive tract related to Crohn’s disease, and even increase the chances for complete remission.

Meanwhile, a study that focused on CB2 receptors, albeit conducted with mice, found another endocannabinoid that helps combat inflammations: beta-caryophyllene, a dietary cannabinoid. Mice with swollen paws were given oral doses of beta-caryophyllene showed a 70% decrease in inflammation; the mice without CB2 receptors showed little to no improvement at all. A 2012 study has also unearthed a non-psychotropic cannabinoid called cannabichromene, which has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties as well.

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Cannabis Strains for Reducing Inflammatory Pain

Cannabis oil, pills, and liquid extracts are among the most potent ways to receive the anti-inflammatory effects of the herb, since they usually have more carefully monitored levels of THC and/or CBD. The cannabinoids are also more evenly distributed in the body since they will spread through the body via the bloodstream rather than the lungs. Those looking for more socially acceptable ways of consuming cannabis can also opt to use cannabis oil, which can be incorporated in several kinds of tasty dishes. The thing to take note about these kinds of cannabis preparations is that, while the results last longer, it can also take a while before they can be felt.

Some patients prefer to use topicals and/or transdermal patches since, while not as potent, these provide localized pain relief without the resulting high. There are also those who still prefer to smoke or vaporize marijuana despite the social stigma. Any of these methods will still yield marijuana’s anti-inflammatory properties, though the effects don’t last as long.

If you’re looking for strains of cannabis to deal with inflammation and its other symptoms, here are some that you can try.

  1. Cannatonic. This sativa-dominant strain is cultivated specifically for its high CBD content, sometimes even reaching up to 17%. It’s used to treat and prevent inflammation and pain, as well as seizures and epilepsy. A small “downside” is that Cannatonic is known to provide short-lived effects, so the patient might need to either medicate several times a day or consume more edibles to experience a slightly longer duration of its effects. While high in CBD, Cannatonic still contains some levels of THC, resulting in a short-lived, mellow high.
  2. ACDC. A sativa-dominant hybrid that originates from Cannatonic, ACDC is a popular strain due to its high-CBD-low-THC ratio (usually around 20:1), which means that it can quickly address inflammations and pain with hardly any psychoactive effects.
  3. Harlequin. This is a 75:25 sativa-dominant hybrid that relaxes without sedating. Harlequin is an ideal medication for those who have to work during the day, as its effects include alertness and high energy output. It’s also a popular strain for people who suffer pain throughout the entire body, such as patients with gout and arthritis. Those who love tropical, earthy flavors will also find that Harlequin’s mango-like taste quite appealing.
  4. Charlotte’s Web. This is yet another CBD-high strain, with only about 0.3% THC content. Charlotte’s Web is a popular treatment for inflammation as well as seizures and epilepsy -- in fact, its name is derived from an epileptic young girl named Charlotte, for whom this strain was first developed. With its high CBD content, this is also an ideal daytime medication since there is little to no psychoactive properties that may hamper productivity.
  5. Girl Scout Cookies. A popular hybrid strain, Girl Scout Cookies or GSC is known for its high THC content that’s perfect for combating the pain associated with inflammation. Its THC levels can reach as high as 28%, making it ideal for night time consumption as GSC can produce a powerful, full-body relief.
  6. NYC Diesel. NYC Diesel is another sativa-dominant hybrid that’s fantastic for dealing with inflammations. It has strong cerebral effects that lead to relaxation, making it an ideal pain-reliever without the drowsiness or lethargy. NYC Diesel is also popular for patients who are prone to paranoia, as this strain has anxiolytic effects.

While inflammation is an integral part of the body’s survival mechanisms and is oftentimes beneficial, it can also become problematic when certain parts of the body remain inflamed seemingly without reason. This is why inflammation, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, has become one of the biggest subjects of medical research.

Treating inflammation, on the other hand, is an altogether different subject. There are a lot of simple foods, for example, that have anti-inflammatory properties like olive oil, ginger, strawberries, and tomatoes, all of which don’t have any negative social stigma attached to them. The case for cannabis as a treatment for inflammation, therefore, lies on both scientific evidence and social acceptance. The key thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily have to have a disease to have an inflammation anywhere in your body. Whether or not you have an illness, the effects of cannabinoids remain the same -- including its anti-inflammatory properties.