Chapter 5 - Cannabis, Immune System, and Corona Virus (Vijaya Charita with Vikramm Mitra)
Welcome to one more intriguing episode of Vijay Charita with Vikramm Mitra, our cannabis pundit, who explains it all about this magical plant and its association with our culture. However, this episode deals more with the physiological aspects of the human body and how it is interwoven with this divine plant of cannabis.
Ever wondered how we experience the feeling of “being high” after consuming this plant? Or perhaps how we get the medicinal benefits while treating numerous ailments and illnesses? Well, this chapter is dedicated to the concept of how this body is made to use this plant and how various receptors throughout our body assist us in receiving its effects!
Me: “Hi Vikram! Hope you’re doing great. In today’s conversation, I wanted to understand how our body is built to utilize this plant, be it in the edible form or through the process of smoking! I wanted to know what is the mechanism behind this and how does the body function when we ingest this plant?"
Vikram: “There seems to be a very interesting idea about how the cannabis plant works when it enters the body! You see, before the 1980’s, there was not much research done to postulate its working after its consumption. But, with the discovery of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990’s, things got pretty enthralling and gripping! There is a biological system composed of endocannabinoids (endo means inside), which are lipid-based neurotransmitters that bind with cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system! This is known as the ECS or the Endocannabinoid system. In simple words, it is a molecular system in the body that is responsible for regulating and maintaining several processes, like the immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, etc.”
Me: “So, that means it is a very crucial part of our system, which assists in the working of many operations in our day to day life?”
Vikram: “It is much more than that! There has been a lot of research conducted in the recent past pertaining to the ECS and how it works. Astonishingly, the results have been mind-boggling! There are compounds found in a large number of plants called Cannabinoids, especially in Cannabis with the likes of THC, THCV, CBD, CBG, etc. There are about 144 cannabinoids associated with this plant that have innumerable uses. These compounds bind to specific inhibitory receptors in the body and brain, creating a certain response. The cannabinoids found in the plant are known as phytocannabinoids, and there are others that are found naturally in the body called endogenous cannabinoids. Before the 1980’s, it was surmised that cannabinoids and their effects were produced with the interaction of the cell membranes, however, it was only after the studies in the 1980’s that they found it was actually due to the interaction with the specific membrane-bound receptors, which were common in mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles. The first cannabinoid receptors were initially discovered in the 1980’s, and it helped to dig deeper into the matter. Now, we have enough evidence to show that there are CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain stem cells affiliated with the cardiovascular and respiratory system, reproductive system, human cerebellum, and the anterior of the human eyes along with the retina. Additionally, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is present in the digestive, respiratory, and excretory system as well!”
Me: “Wow! This is certainly very engrossing! Can you elaborate more on the function of the ECS? To add further, I’ve heard that it is also linked with the immune system too! Can you throw some light on this?
Vikram: “Yes! As a matter of fact, the immunomodulatory aspect of cannabis has helped us to know a lot more about its interaction with the human system and the functions connected to it. This plant is so unique that it both suppresses and modulates the immune system as and when the ECS commands to do so! Besides, there are small proteins released quickly by different cells into the blood as a part of a severe immune reaction. These small proteins are called Cytokines, which play a vital role in normal immune responses. Yet, these are very harmful if released in large amounts, leading to Cytokine Storm, which can occur as a result of an infection, autoimmune condition, or other disease. At the same time, studies have concluded stating that cannabis aids to manage the outcome of the cytokine storm. Not only this, but it is also found to be helpful in maintaining homeostasis (the ability or tendency to maintain internal stability in an organism to compensate for the environmental changes in the surroundings). Therefore, cannabis definitely supports in preserving the immune system to fight germs and diseases. Moreover, another essential role of the ECS is that it does not stop the immune system from working, rather it only regulates it as per the necessity of the body!”
Me: “This is quite bewildering! Actually, this also makes me think about the current covid19 situation that the world is going through. Is there anything that we can decipher about the correlation between Corona and Cannabis as well with the whole immune system facet?"
Vikram: “Absolutely! Although not much research is done on the same, there have been studies conducted that have proven cannabis to be an integral part of the covid19 situation. There is a company called Innocan Pharma (https://innocanpharma.com/) who has collaborated with the Tel Aviv University Professor Offen and his team, to develop a revolutionary cell therapy with CBD loaded exosomes to treat the coronavirus. They have agreed to fund the research of nearly $450,000. Furthermore, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the Dental College of Georgia suggested that CBD was found to be helpful in reducing the cytokine storm and the excessive lung inflammation due to covid19. They also established that CBD assists in increasing the natural level of Apelin (a peptide that is expressed in various organs like heart, liver, kidney, lung, brain, etc). They also found that the ability of CBD to increase the Apelin level (which decreases rapidly when affected by corona) and reduce inflammation as well as lung damage was quite high. (https://jagwire.augusta.edu/cbd-may-help-avert-lung-destruction-in-covid-19/). On top of this, studies have also found that the coronavirus entered the body through the Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2, more commonly known as the AC2 receptors, which are protein receptors that help the blood to relax and regulate vital functions. The structure of these receptors is such that it fits in with the spikes of the coronavirus just like a ship in the dock, making them mediate the SARS-CoV-2 throughout the body. This, in turn, makes the virus get in the host, reach the lungs and other parts of the body, and proliferate. However, when CBD was added and administered, they saw surprising results. They somehow observed that the binding process of the virus with the AC2 receptors was inhibited, thus preventing it to enter the body and multiply! Similar research has been conducted in the state of Alberta as well. As it happens to be, it is not the coronavirus that kills a person, but it’s the cytokine storm response that makes the immune system overreact and kill the organs. Captivatingly, cannabis helps in fighting this process!”
This conversation paves a way to finding a new potential of this plant for sure! The conversation with Vikramm opened my eyes to explore more about cannabis pertaining to the recent scenario that the world is undergoing. This can be a time to open doors to newer and better possibilities, and conduct more research as well. Despite the fact that not enough study is done on cannabis and corona, undoubtedly there is ample evidence to show that this divine plant aids to improve the immune system and tackle diseases efficiently. It is staggering to comprehend that a single plant can provide so many benefits, and yet not be given the necessary credit and respect that it deserves!