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Cannabinoids and the Immune System: Immuno-Cannabinoid Effects

This article is sponsored by PlusCBD Oil, a product line from CV Sciences (formerly CannaVest). CV Sciences is one of the leading suppliers and manufacturers of agricultural hemp-derived CBD bulk and finished products.

As discussed in previous articles such as Cannabidiol 101: A Peek into Cannabinoid Chemistry and What Makes Cannabis Medicine?, the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a remarkably complex signaling network that has widespread effects within the body. In fact, many studies have been published examining the effects of various components of the ECS on appetite, metabolic health, blood sugar regulation, obesity, pain sensation, oxidative stress, thermoregulation, eye health, mood, memory, and much more.

However, one particularly interesting therapeutic application of the ECS is its effect on the immune system, or what some scientists refer to as “immuno-cannabinoid” modulation. Simply stated, the ECS can help regulate or vary the properties, tone, and overall function of the immune system.

Although the immunomodulatory effects of the ECS have not been fully elucidated, here’s what we do know. First, at optimal concentrations, certain cannabinoids can reduce inflammatory responses in patients with autoimmune diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus, encephalomyelitis, Parkinson’s). Cannabidiol is particularly potent in this regard.

Second, cannabinoids have been shown to play a role in modulating neurogenesis and neurodegeneration. For example, evidence from numerous studies demonstrates beneficial effects of cannabinoids on animal models of stroke, head injury, cerebral ischemia, as well as beta-amyloid induced tau protein phosphorylation (tauopathy). It has been established that the immune system plays a critical role in many of these neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory conditions.

Cannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters

It is important to recognize that these immunomodulatory effects are the result of a coordinated cascade of responses from the so-called “innate immune system” as well as the “adaptive immune system.” The immune system is a huge network of various immune cell types that express many different receptors (think of them as locks), and release and respond to many cytokines/hormones (think of these as keys that help open those locks).

Cell-mediated immunity is one of the key components of the adaptive immune system that responds by utilizing specialized T-cells and natural killer (NK) cells to seek out and neutralize pathogens, viral infected cells, and tumor cells that are recognized as foreign. Humoral immunity complements the cell-mediated system by using B-cells and developing antibodies to neutralize antigens or pathogens that are recognized as foreign.

If there is an imbalance between cell mediated and humoral immunity, it results in disease and dysfunction. For example, multiple sclerosis is an example of an autoimmune disease, in which the cell-mediated immune system is hyper-activated against the individual’s own brain and nervous system—as if it were foreign. Interestingly, the ECS and cannabinoids have been shown to play a key role in “balancing” the various arms and components of the immune system.

Chart showcasing how the immune system is balanced

Few would argue that heavy, chronic use of unregulated marijuana can have deleterious effects on several aspects of health. However, scientists studying the effects of the ECS on the immune system, neuroinflammation, inflammatory arthritis joint health, and even systemic inflammation have uncovered remarkable benefits from naturally occurring and endogenously produced cannabinoids.

Various phytocannabinoids from cannabis, even within agricultural hemp, are showing enormous potential for optimizing and restoring balance to the immune system. Ultimately, understanding the intricate plasticity of cannabinoid compounds, cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes that synthesize, hydrolyze, and metabolize them, and the complex cross-talk that exists with other organ systems in the body, will undoubtedly rewrite medical textbooks worldwide.


Fernandez-Ruiz J, et al. (2013). Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: Important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid? Br J Clin Pharmacol. 75(2): 323-333.

Tanasescu R and CS Constantinescu. (2010). Cannabinoids and the immune system: An overview. Immunobiology. 215: 588-597.

Klein TW, et al. (2003). The cannabinoid system and immune modulation. 74: 486-496.

Downer EJ. (2011). Cannabinoids and innate immunity: Taking a toll on neuroinflammation. The Scientific World Journal. 11: 855-865.

Croxford JL, Yamamura T. (2005). Cannabinoids and the immune system: potential for the treatment of inflammatory diseases? J Neuroimmunol. Sep;166(1-2):3-18.

Massi P, Vaccani A, Parolaro D. (2006). Cannabinoids, immune system and cytokine network. Curr Pharm Des. 12(24):3135-46.

  • Charlie

    I think it’s important to point out here that in a healthy person this type of immuno-regulating effect is likely a negative thing. While this has important implications for treatment of certain chronic and acute illnesses, in a healthy person taking a medication that “applies the breaks” to aspects of your immune response can be very negative, especially in those with serious illness (cancer) or are over the age of 50. I love that we are now studying the positive and negative impacts of the different compounds in marijuana, but people should never believe that it is a miracle panacea. Every compound and indication needs to be evaluated for safety and efficacy and then when used medicinally should be done under the care of a qualified healthcare provider.

    • Vajra Haha

      I worked with a doctor for many years and we gave thc carbonized oil to 15 people who had advanced stages of cancer. All but one of them got better. Most within 2 months of getting to a pea sized dose a couple of hours before sleeping. A couple of them took 3 months to clear out all the cancer. I have seen it work with my own eyes. The rick Simpson oil. You can YouTube how to make it and there are several videos on what to do and how to do it correctly. I personally do not know of any cancer relief from cbd oil. All Cannabis oils are not the same. It must be carbolized or heated during the process. An inexpensive rice cooker gives the perfect heat. If my loved ones get cancer I’m giving them the oil. But my family already knows because we have seen it work on our neighbors and friends.

  • Elvis

    So with immunotherapy for brain cancer i should NOT take cannabis oil? I am trying to find the answer to that question.

    • Alex

      Cannabis suppresses the immune system, including those elements of the immune system that attack cancer. On the other hand, it seems neural cells do have CBD receptors so cannabis may induce apoptosis (cell death) in brain cancer cells. It is unclear from the little reading I have done whether there is an overall positive or negative effect on brain cancer. If you’re doing immunotherapy, my guess would be to avoid cannabis.

      Really the best thing you can do is speak with your oncologist about it.

      • Elvis

        that’s exactly what i was thinking. Thanks!

        • Randall Smith

          From what ive read THC stimulates the growth of immuno-suppressive cells. No mention of CBD causing that. It is possible that CBD would be great for treating cancer or cancer symptoms. On the other hand I would stay away from THC had I cancer.

      • Charlie

        Exactly, cancer is extremely complex and varied, and we are still evaluating the many compounds involved in cannabinoids. There is no simple answer, especially as the change in classification of marijuana has allowed us to study cannabinoids in a rigorous way only recently, but definitely work with your oncologist and tell them everything you are doing and taking. Pharmaco-kinetics/dynamics are important to you right now, but your oncologist can help you with that.

    • Jeffrey Perkins

      Look up RSO aka Rick Simpson Oil

    • James Peters


    • Vajra Haha

      Yes , the right kind. The rick Simpson oil. My mothers good friend had an inoperable brain cancer and the tumor made her blind in one eye already. She started the oil and her vision was back in 2 weeks and the brain cancer was gone in 10 or 11 weeks. She did no Chemotherapie. When she told the dr.s how she got rid of it they did not believe her and mocked her. Check out the Rick Simpson story and listen to some of the Doctors who go with him every year in Canada to share ever more evidence. Big pharm is gonna fight this every way they can. You can grow your own, extract it with food grade alcohol and then cook off the alcohol with a rice cooker. It means they lose billions in revenue.