Cannabis Compounds Could Help MS Symptoms, New Study Shows

Cannabis compounds could help MS symptoms, new study shows

Researchers in Israel have found that chemical constituents of the marijuana plant reduce the self-damaging actions of white blood cells in mice treated with a disease meant to mimic Multiple Sclerosis.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmocology, scientists from Tel Aviv University, found that the two most abundant cannabinoids in marijuana, THC and CBD, successfully treated an out-of-control cellular immune response thought to play a major part in autoimmune diseases.

“Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response, but in cases like MS it gets out of hand,” says Kozela. “Our study looks at how compounds isolated from marijuana can be used to regulate inflammation to protect the nervous system and its functions.”

In Multiple Sclerosis, critical components of the central nervous system are attacked by the body's immune system, or produced in scarce quantities to begin with. Just like electric cords have insulating material around them so energy will reliably travel from end to end, nerve fibers in our body are wrapped in a protective sheeth called myelin. In MS, these protective cord coatings are damaged, so the electrical impulses sent between nerve cells come across incompletely, like a bad phone connection. And when nerve cells can't hear each other quite right—when the instructions sent from the brain get garbled—the body becomes difficult to consciously control.

The Israeli research team, comprised of Drs. Ewa Kozela, Ana Juknat, Neta Rimmerman and Zvi Vogel, took cells from affected mice and combined them with components that trigger this white blood cell "friendly fire." When they did so, the cells furiously produced a chemical called Interleukin 17 (IL-17), which is thought to play a role in MS symptoms. But when they pretreated the samples with THC or CBD, production of IL-17 decreased. 

And the higher the dose, the more effective the results. Researchers observed a 29% reduction in IL-17 secretion at the lowest CBD "dose level" of 0.1 micromolars, a 56% reduction at 1 micromolar, and an 87% reduction at 5 micromolars. Results from THC were similar, with a 5-micromolar treatment causing an 88% reduction in undesirable IL-17 secretion from affected white blood cells. In short, higher doses of THC or CBD almost completely curbed a damaging chemical reaction currently considered a significant contributor to MS symptoms.

Dr. Ewa Kozela tells STT that much more research is needed, but the results continue to provide evidence of marijuana's remarkably wide-ranging medical benefits. "Cannabinoids can change interactions between various immune cells and between the immune system and other tissues like brain and spinal cord," says Dr. Kozela. "All this knowledge helps to develop new cannabis-based medicines, safer and devoid of psychoactive, mind altering effects."