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Health & Medicine Autoimmune Diseases Could be Treated With Medical Marijuana

Autoimmune Diseases Could be Treated With Medical Marijuana

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First Posted: Jun 03, 2014 10:59 AM EDT
More findings of the medical benefits of marijuana could result in a universal legalization of the drug.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina conducted a study that analyzed the effects of THC in marijuana on patients with autoimmune diseases because the drug has previously shown to have an immunomodulatory activity. (Photo : Flickr)

Researchers at the University of South Carolina conducted a study that analyzed the effects of THC in marijuana on patients with autoimmune diseases because the drug has previously shown to have an immunomodulatory activity.

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Immunomodulatory means something is capable of modifying or regulating one or more immune functions, or can provide an immunologic adjustment, regulation, or potentiation. In this study's case, the researchers found that the application of marijuana has the ability to suppress an immune response to treat autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, lupus, colitis, multiple sclerosis, and others.

Tetrehydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that is responsible for the drug's psychological effects. It binds to cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells. These cannabinoid receptors are located in certain areas of that brain that are associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception. Through conducting tests on mice, the researchers found that THC gene regulation could result in epigenetic changes.

This finding means that marijuana could cause alterations to the function of genes controlled by DNA. When an individual suffers from an autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot tell the difference between healthy body tissue and antigens, so normal body tissues are destroyed as a result. Administering marijuana in the experimental mice revealed that the drug has the capacity to affect DNA expression through epigenetic pathways outside of the DNA.

"Our results showed that THC treatment leads to the association of active histone modification signals to Th2 cytokine genes and suppressive modification signals to Th1 cytokine genes, indicating that such a mechanism may play a critical role in THC-mediated switch from Th1 to Th2," reads the study's abstract. "At the global level, a significant portion of histone methylation and acetylation regions were altered by THC."

The epigenomes, "histones," lead to the suppression of inflammation. The THC in marijuana can help manipulate these epigenomes to suppress inflammation in the body, being that inflammation worsens one's autoimmune condition.

The study, "Histone modifications are associated with Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol-mediated alterations in antigen-specific T cell responses," was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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