We need to talk … About inflammation


Inflammation seems to be on everyone’s mind.

During the past few years, interest in everything inflamed piqued, and for good reason. Inflammation our bodies’ natural response to pathogens or trauma. After an injury, inflammation can help with recovery by dilating the walls of capillaries to allowing increased white blood cells to the affected area. Visually, it can be seen as swelling, redness, and sensitivity to the touch. Acute inflammation is this temporary response, which will often fade away after the immune system signals that the issue has been remedied.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is sometimes hardly noticeable and has been a subject of interest — the kind of inflammation that doesn’t go away and can cause serious problems in the future. This has led people to wonder: What causes chronic inflammation? What are some of the risks? How can we manage it?

Scientists have long pondered whether inflammation is good or bad for us, and it seems to be a combination of both.

There is a natural, managed level of inflammation which aids in the healing process. But once the inflammation is prolonged or becomes chronic, even without any sort of immune response necessary, it has shown to be linked with a number of other diseases. There must be a balance. This realization has propelled researchers to understand and explore the mechanisms behind chronic inflammation.

After much speculation that chronic inflammation may be linked to a host of other conditions, the research really began to expand in the early 2000s. Among the studies include a 2004 discovery regarding the ras cancer gene and inflammatory responses in our bodies. Maria Abreu and her team at the Miami’s Miller School of Medicine began exploring the complex interaction between genetic predisposition and immune response. This finding has led to other researchers exploring the link between inflammation and tumorigenesis (the formation of cancerous tumors), such as Maija Kohonen-Corish at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, who uncovered that “chronic inflammation causes cancer through tissue destruction and scarring, and reshaping of the tissue architecture, as well as contributing to changes in gene expression that sustain tumorigenesis.”

Since then, inflammation has been studied in its connection to anything from asthma to multiple sclerosis to Alzheimers’ disease. As inflammation has increasingly to be shown to be associated with a whole range of disease, interest in ways to manage it has also been a priority.

Cannabis happens to be a natural anti-inflammatory, which is yet another reason we support its legalization across the country.

While wonderful for treating a host of other conditions, cannabis may also reduce inflammation. With the discovery of cannabis receptors in the brain (part of the endocannabinoid system), along with our bodies’ own endogenous cannabinoids, interest has grown regarding the potential benefits of this plant medicine. Cannabis receptors include CB1, which is primarily found in the brain along with the immune system, and CB2 which is found throughout our immune system. Because both types of receptors are found within the immune system, there has been much research regarding cannabinoids and our bodies’ immune responses.

Since the late 1990s, global researchers have been clarifying exactly how cannabinoids regulate our immune systems.

A 2009 compilation of this research concluded, “Exogenous cannabinoids have been shown to suppress T-cell-mediated immune responses by primarily inducing apoptosis and suppressing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Such observations indicate that targeting cannabinoid receptor–ligand interactions may constitute a novel window of opportunity to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. As CB2 receptors are primarily expressed on immune cells, targeting CB2 may result in selective immunomodulation without overt toxicity.”

To clarify, the findings basically revealed cannabinoids are able to suppress immune response by causing death among inflammatory agents. In the future, the review points out, focusing on CB2 receptors open the possibility for targeting small scale inflammation without causing harm.

Professor Prakash Nagarkatti, Vice President for research at the University of South Carolina has dedicated hours of research to the endocannabinoid system and immune response. Nagarkatti explained how modulating the endocannabinoid system may be beneficial for patients experiencing inflammatory conditions.

“Most of our research demonstrates that endocannabinoids are produced upon activation of immune cells and may help regulate the immune response by acting as anti-inflammatory agents. Thus, interventions that manipulate the metabolism or production of endocannabinoids may serve as a novel treatment modality against a wide range of inflammatory disease.”

The endocannabinoid system is a complex biological network that we are just now beginning to understand. Today, we are able to appreciate its existence and its ability to regulate many of our natural functions. With more research, we will be able to further explore how cannabis provides relief for a number of ailments. Cannabis may represent a medicine with wide, encompassing benefits. With more research, we will fully be able to recognize its ability to modulate our immune responses.

There are also a number of foods you can incorporate into your diet to help with inflammation. Curcumin, the active ingredient in the seasoning turmeric, has been shown to help with inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (plus, turmeric is delicious and a wonderful addition). There are other foods that contain a number of antioxidants and polyphenols, the protective components found in plants. These include from green leafy vegetables, nuts, and fatty fish.

— Words by Taylor Haynes

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