Autoimmune diseases are some of the least understood and most difficult medical conditions to treat. There are up to 80 different types of autoimmune diseases that affect up to 50 million Americans according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA.) While each illness is unique, the common thread connecting all of these diseases is that they cause the immune system to attack healthy cells as if they were foreign. Since the root cause of these diseases can often be veiled in mystery, most treatments only address the symptoms instead of the cause.
A growing body of medical research suggests that studying the endocannabinoid system and how it is activated by the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) may lead to the development of promising therapies.
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Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are:
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases – a group of diseases that cause the inflammation of the colon and small intestine
- Type 1 Diabetes – a condition that destroys cells that produce insulin in the pancreas
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – a condition that causes severe inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus – a condition that affects joints, kidneys, brain, skin, and other organs
- Psoriasis – a skin condition that produces thick, silver-white patches of flaky skin along with irritation and redness
- Celiac Sprue Disease – an autoimmune reaction to gluten (found in barley, wheat, and rye) that damages the lining of the small intestine
- Pernicious Anemia – a condition that leads to decreased red blood cells because of an inability to absorb vitamin B-12
- Vitiligo – a condition that produces white patches on the skin as the result of loss of pigment
- Scleroderma – a disease of the connective tissue causes changes in internal organs, blood vessels, skin, and muscles
- Hashimoto’s disease – a disease that causes the thyroid gland to become inflamed
- Addison’s Disease – a disease that causes insufficient adrenal hormone production
- Graves’ Disease – a disease that results in an overactive thyroid gland
- Reactive Arthritis – a condition that may cause sores on the skin and mucus membranes and that causes inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra
- Sjögren’s Syndrome – a disease that causes dry mouth and dry eyes by destroying the glands that produce saliva and tears. It can also affect the lungs and kidneys.
What you might notice about all of these diseases is that they disrupt the bodies’ ability to achieve homeostasis or a healthy balance.
How the Endocannabinoid System Could Treat Autoimmune Disease…
Let’s talk about the amazing potential of the endocannabinoid system because of its ability to help the body achieve homeostasis. The endocannabinoid system is made up of cannabinoid receptors that are embedded throughout the entire human body in immune cells, organs, connective tissue and glands. The reason why this system is gaining so much medical attention and is believed to have a wide application for the development of effective therapies is because these receptors send signals to nearly every system and cellular structure in our bodies to promote homeostasis.
Dr. Dustin Sulak—an American physician who uses cannabinoid rich cannabis based treatments in his integrative medical clinics in Maine and Massachusetts—offers an example in his article Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System that is particularly relevant for those suffering from autoimmune diseases:
“At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances. Three different mechanisms of action on three different cell types for a single purpose: minimize the pain and damage caused by the injury.”
Dr. Sulak’s example illustrates the endocannabinoid system’s ability to use cannabinoids, like CBD, to send signals to different areas in the body that result in the reduction of inflammation caused by an overactive immune response. This same therapeutic property has been the focus of many scientific studies related to autoimmune diseases. These studies suggest that CBD based therapies could be developed to effectively treat and manage a wide range of autoimmune diseases from rheumatoid arthritis and types 1 diabetes to multiple sclerosis (MS) and inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis and Crohn’s disease.
While the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet substantiated the benefits of CBD, integrated medical practices across the United States like Dr. Sulak’s are utilizing this medical research to benefit their patients. More research on the endocannabinoid system and its use of CBD to achieve homeostasis could lead to the development of effective therapies for a wide range of autoimmune disorders.