This is not an article meant to praise the virtues of recreational drugs or to encourage their use. This article is meant to tell you about some of the latest medical research on the plant cannabis. Yes, it’s been used illegally, but that doesn’t mean that there is not a legitimate role for it in the world of healthcare.
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants native to central Asia. In spite of its bad reputation, this plant has also been grown for useful (and harmless) hemp. This is a natural fiber used for products such as clothes, paper, rope, and cement. Plus various parts of the plant are made into food. Hemp contains essential fatty acids, linoleic acid, alphalinoleic acid, and protein. This means that it could be pretty nutritious.
But the health-boosting part of cannabis that was examined this time around was “tetrahydrocannabinol” (THC). Yes, this is the stuff that produces the drug’s high. But it has other lawful potential uses. It’s already being used in some places to treat severe pain (e.g. cancer pain), to stimulate appetite in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, and in AIDS patients. Now, German researchers have discovered a possible role for THC in treating or preventing skin allergies.
In this latest study, researchers bio-engineered some mice so that they didn’t have the receptor for “endocannabinoids.” These are your own body’s equivalent to THC. A receptor is the part in cells that allows them to get together and react with other substances, such as the endocannabinoids. The researchers found that these mice experienced a nasty allergic reaction to the metal tags placed on their ears. It seemed that the lack of endocannabinoids left the rodents open to skin allergies.
So the scientists did more tests. They took a group of normal mice and put a chemical on their ears. This chemical is known to trigger severe skin irritation. In these regular mice, the endocannabinoids were stimulated into action. The levels of this substance skyrocketed in the body within minutes of the chemical application. This suggests that the body releases endocannabinoids to combat the immune system’s overreaction. The researchers then treated the irritated areas on the mice’s ears with 30 micrograms of synthetically made THC. They found that the skin irritation went down by 50%.
Another test showed that when mouse skin cells were treated with THC, they released less of the chemical “cytokine.” This substance sends out signals that lead the immune cells to specific areas that have been invaded by outside irritants or bacteria. So, when less cytokine is present, the immune cells don’t arrive, which means that the chances of an allergic reaction decrease.
All of this means that there could one day be a THC-based drug to fight allergic skin reactions and possibly other autoimmune problems, like asthma or eczema. This is not a suggestion to use cannabis yourself to treat any condition. Its use is illegal in most areas and it comes with side effects. Wait for the medical researchers to come out with a safe and tested treatment.