The chemical constituents of the marijuana plant may confer protective benefits to the nervous system against the autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), suggest the findings of a new animal study.

MS is an inflammatory disease that damages the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. It can lead to problems in vision, muscle weakness and decline in thinking and memory. The natural process by which the lost myelin is rebuilt and replaced is blocked in people suffering from MS. When nerve cells can’t hear each other properly, the body becomes difficult to consciously control.

Israeli researchers found that the two substances found in marijuana – the cannabinoids known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) had the potential to treat inflammation, thought to play a part in MS. It was observed that THC and CBD prevented inflammation in the brain and spinal cord in mice treated with multiple sclerosis-like diseases.

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

Details of the animal study
The focus of the animal study was to determine whether the anti-inflammatory properties of THC and CBD could be used to treat the inflammation linked with MS.

Experts obtained cells from mice with MS disease and merged them with elements that activate white blood cell “friendly fire.” As a result, the cells secreted a chemical called Interleukin 17 (IL-17) which “is strongly associated with MS and very harmful to nerve cells and their insulating covers.”

When scientists injected the samples with THC or CBD, production of IL-17 decreased. It was observed that IL-17 secretion reduced by 29 percent with a CBD “dose level” of 0.1 micromolars, 56 percent with 1 micromolar, and an 87 percent with 5 micromolars. THC also bestowed similar results. A 5-micromolar treatment triggered an 88 percent reduction in IL-17 secretion from affected white blood cells. However, experts feel there is need for further research to substantiate the findings.

Dr. Ewa Kozela stated, “Cannabinoids can change interactions between various immune cells and between the immune system and other tissues like brain and spinal cord. All this knowledge helps to develop new cannabis-based medicines, safer and devoid of psychoactive, mind altering effects.”

The findings are reported in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

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