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Phytocannabinoids: Benefits for Lung Disease

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabinol (CBN) are all phytocannabinoids, meaning they are found in the cannabis and hemp plants, as opposed to endocannabinoids (found in our bodies) and synthetic cannabinoids (made in a lab). THC and CBD are the main chemicals found in cannabis, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. There are over 400 chemicals in the cannabis plant called terpenoids and phytocannabinoids, but these main four have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antifibrotic qualities.

Research scientists are just now digging into all the details of how these phytocannabinoids help our bodies fight inflammation and fibroids, and they’ve made some interesting discoveries about how it all works. Many of these chemicals work with our body’s own system for processing them, called the Endocannabinoid System or ECS, but cannabinoids also work in many different areas of the body and brain. Through this new research, scientists have discovered the mechanism by which cannabinoids fight inflammation and fibrosis.

Phytocannabinoids, Anti-inflammation, & Anti-fibrosis

To fully understand how cannabinoids can help relieve some disorders, let’s make sure we understand them. These new research studies focused on inflammation and fibrosis, so we’ll do the same.

What exactly is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural defense response. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute is the more common type of inflammation. Acute inflammation happens all the time, like when you stub your toe or accidentally cut yourself. When your body detects an incident, the first line of defense is sending white blood cells to the source of the problem. The white blood cells create the visible redness and swelling. When you get an infection, the body’s reaction is the same even though you can’t see the inflammation because it’s happening in your lungs, in your throat, or wherever. This immune response is necessary to keep the offending germs from traveling all over the body.

Chronic inflammation occurs when the body keeps trying to fight foreign substances in the body. These substances can be germs or toxins, such as the ones from cigarette smoke or excess fat cells. The body perceives these things as unusual and works to remove them. The problem is, toxins are a lot harder to isolate and remove, leading to a long-term battle between the body’s immune system and supposed foreign substances.

What is fibrosis?

The easiest way to think about fibrosis is to think about “scarring” after an injury. The fancy definition of fibrosis is: the development of connective tissue to repair the body after an injury. We hear about pulmonary fibrosis the most. Pulmonary fibrosis refers to conditions that cause lung damage, then fibrosis or scarring, and then a loss of lung elasticity. Pulmonary fibrosis can be a secondary condition in many other diseases, but it’s also the blanket term for lung tissue damage when the underlying cause can’t be found. The underlying condition that can cause pulmonary fibrosis can develop over several years, with most people developing the condition later in life. There are three types of pulmonary fibrosis:

  • Replacement fibrosis . Replacement fibrosis is when the lungs are damaged from an infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis.
  • Focal fibrosis . Focal fibrosis is a response to inhaled substances such as cigarette smoke.
  • Diffuse parenchymal lung disease . Diffuse parenchymal lung disease (DPLD) can manifest from inhalations as well, including dust and animal dander.

Cystic fibrosis is another well known type of fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes recurrent lung infections and eventually limits the sufferer’s ability to breathe. This disease is progressive and causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs, leading to trapped bacteria and infections. It also causes issues in the pancreas, as the extra mucus makes it difficult for the body to release digestive enzymes and the body has trouble absorbing nutrients from food.

Cannabinoids for Fibrosis & Inflammation

Previous studies have proven that medical marijuana and individual cannabinoids show promise for the treatment of cystic fibrosis and lung disease. Medical marijuana has already been proven to reduce inflammation, improve sleep, ease pain, and even reduce phlegm. The newest studies show that the anti-inflammatory properties of these chemicals actually help them fight fibrosis and lung disease.

In cystic fibrosis, cannabinoids can help in many different ways. Because it can be difficult for cystic fibrosis patients to retrieve necessary nutrients from food, malnutrition can play a major role in the progression of the disease. THC has the ability to increase appetite, which can counteract the malnutrition. Two other major issues with cystic fibrosis are diarrhea and nausea. Cannabinoids help on both sides, having antiemetic properties to counteract nausea and vomiting and also helping the pancreas absorb more nutrients.

Pulmonary fibrosis has synthetic drug options such as corticosteroids, cytoxan, and myfortic. However, these three synthetic drugs have a long list of side effects, including nausea, stomach upsets, loss of appetite, and diarrhea, making them an okay treatment but not an ideal treatment for this disease. Marijuana can offer potential benefits because it has immunosuppressant qualities, anti-inflammatory qualities, and bronchodilation (airway-opening) qualities. Cannabis can suppress the automatic immune response that triggers the body to send white blood cells to the perceived threat and cause inflammation. This can reduce the pulmonary inflammation and ultimately improve lung function. Cannabis’s bronchodilatory properties include activating CB1 receptors to prevent muscle contractions and open the lung’s airways.

Supplementing With Cannabinoids

Since we’re talking about lung disorders, ingesting cannabinoids by smoking medical marijuana is probably not the best idea. Luckily, there are many different ways to supplement your diet for health with cannabinoids, just like taking a fish oil pill in the morning. In states where medical and/or recreational cannabis is legal, patients with one of these conditions can purchase cannabinoid extracts in oil or tincture form, as well as infused edibles. In states where THC and cannabis plants are illegal, often CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids are legal in the form of hemp oil, CBD capsules, or even lozenges. Always check local regulations first, but don’t be afraid to take cannabinoids for an inflammation or fibrosis disorder.

New medical studies are being performed every day to discover the health benefits of the chemicals in cannabis, called phytocannabinoids. Well-known chemicals like THC and CBD have well-known benefits, but others like CBN and CBC can help too.

Study Evaluates CBD Effect on Lung Damage, Inflammation

CBD and its impacts on a protective peptide show that the cannabinoid may reduce lung inflammation and damage.

Findings from a recent study reported that cannabidiol (CBD) may improve lung structure and create a potent anti-inflammatory effect through the regulation of apelin, a natural peptide. 1

Although the findings are not yet conclusive, the researchers suggested that CBD could play a role in enabling improvements in lung function, healthier oxygen levels, and repair of structural damage to the lungs. Further study in human trials is needed to determine whether CBD could benefit individuals with viral lung infections.

The study, published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, demonstrated that apelin levels decrease with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); CBD appeared to aid in normalizing apelin levels in addition to improving lung function in laboratory models of ARDS. 1

Apelin is an endogenous peptide with protective effects in pulmonary tissue, made by heart, lung, and brain cells, as well as fat tissue and blood; it may have the potential to be a novel molecular target underlying the protective effects of endocannabinoid signaling, including regulation by CBD, as well as a possible biomarker for the early diagnosis of ARDS. 2

The study follows findings that showed the potential of CBD in treating ARDS, which was published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in early September. 1,2

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) primarily infects the lungs and often results in a cytokine storm, leading to diffuse alveolar damage, alveolar capillary leakage, severe hypoxemia, intense pulmonary oedema and pulmonary fibrosis, according to researchers. 2 CBD, a non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid with the ability to regulate immune responses, has shown to produce anti-viral benefits in previous studies, such as down-regulation of SARS-CoV-2 receptors in human epithelia and suppression of pro-inflammatory cytokine production. 2

Researchers utilized flow cytometry analyses of whole blood and found that CBD decreased T cells and increased neutrophils towards the normal level, as well as enhanced the expression of apelin in the blood following poly I:C treatment. 2

The researchers explained that the study does not conclusively determine whether the association is causative; however, the study introduces the idea that, “apelin may serve a powerful and sensitive role as a pharmacodynamic biomarker, providing a biological readout to monitor the efficacy of a therapeutic intervention.” 2

Study investigators explained that they have yet to determine if the association is causative, “but it is a very good indicator of the disease,” Babak Baban, DCG immunologist and associate dean for research at the Medical College of Georgia, said. 2

CBD and its impacts on a protective peptide show that the cannabinoid may reduce lung inflammation and damage.