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Does Marijuana Actually Help Relieve Pain? A Quick Look at the Unique Anti-inflammatory Properties of Cannabis

In very simplistic terms, inflammation is your body’s natural reaction to foreign substances. When your body detects a foreign object there are many cells that play a role in the resulting inflammatory reaction. Any medicine we take termed as an “anti-inflammatory” will have some way of blocking or lessening this natural inflammatory response.

Which brings me to the main purpose of this writeup. Are the cannabinoids found in marijuana good anti-inflammatory agents? I’ve heard this question asked many times and with the increase in popularity of medical as well as recreational use marijuana, I’d only expect to hear it more. The short answer is, yes! The longer answer comes when we look at the actual mechanism behind the anti-inflammatory response.

The following are mechanisms in which cannabinoids help with inflammation:

  1. Promoting Immune Cell Death – Also known as apoptosis or programmed cell death, this is an essential regulatory mechanism for all cells. But why would killing our immune cells be a good thing you might be wondering? Well, if our immune systems are too active, they can start doing damage to our own bodies (i.e. autoimmune conditions). The ability for cannabinoids to promote immune cell death has been well studied in human and animal models.
  2. Suppression of Inflammatory Mediators – Commonly referred to as cytokines, these mediators control the start and end of the inflammatory process. Multiple studies report various suppressing effects on these signaling molecules by cannabinoids.
  3. Activate Regulatory T-Cells (TRegs) – Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a specialized subpopulation of immune cells that suppress our own immune systems and play a critical role in balancing our immune cells and prevent them from harming our own bodies. Hyperactive immunity = autoimmune conditions! 

Why is this so important? Chronic inflammation and hyperactive immune responses are the root cause of many disease states. Arthritis, colitis, liver injury, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and many more. The data for many of these studies still demonstrates varying results on the pro- versus anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids, but as we further understand the mechanism behind how cannabinoids work in our body’s the better we will be able to apply them to treatment regimens. 


Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009 Oct;1(7):1333-49. doi: 10.4155/fmc.09.93. PMID: 20191092; PMCID: PMC2828614.

Kondĕlková K, Vokurková D, Krejsek J, Borská L, Fiala Z, Ctirad A. Regulatory T cells (TREG) and their roles in immune system with respect to immunopathological disorders. Acta Medica (Hradec Kralove). 2010;53(2):73-7. doi: 10.14712/18059694.2016.63. PMID: 20672742.

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