How is the endocannabinoid system involved in respiratory health?
Nearly every mammal cell expresses cannabinoid receptors of some sort. Receptors are how our bodies respond to chemical messengers in order to communicate with one another.
CB1 cannabinoid receptors are found overwhelmingly in the brain and central nervous system. In fact, they are more numerous than all of the other receptors in our brains combined. CB2 receptors are found in immune system cells and the digestive system, but also are expressed in the rest of our body to some extent as well. Both kinds of cannabinoid receptors and a handful of other kinds of receptors comprise the endocannabinoid system.
In the lungs, cannabinoid receptors are found in structural cells and immune cells lining the surface of our airway. The specific function of cannabinoid receptors in the lungs is not completely understood, but we do know that endocannabinoids are degraded into immune system signals known as prostaglandins, which have several functions in the immune cells of the lungs.
The alveoli (singular: alveolus) are small pockets in the lungs which fill with air when we take a breath. Their lining is somewhat porous, and it’s the first line of defense between our body and anything we inhale.
Alveolar macrophages (AMs) are immune cells which reside in the alveoli and wait until a pathogen appears. When toxins or pathogens infiltrate the alveoli, the AMs attack it. Even if the foreign invader enters the bloodstream, these cells have obtained the necessary antigens to initiate an immune response to that pathogen.
Endocannabinoids are broken down by these respiratory immune cells and turned into prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormones used by our immune system to invoke an inflammatory response when necessary. They have the effect of increasing signal production, but decreasing the effect of the signal, to maintain balance.
Without the endocannabinoid system, the immune cells which defend our lungs aren’t regulated to the appropriate healthy sensitivity, and this can lead to autoimmune diseases and even asthma.
What are some benefits of CBD for respiratory health?
CBD for lung disease is becoming a more widely-considered option by many. As more and more knowledge is uncovered, doctors are opening up to the therapeutic potential of this plant for their patients. Because the endocannabinoid system plays such a key role in lung health, CBD for lungs improves respiratory health by promoting the normal function of the endocannabinoid system.
The immuno-suppressant and anti-inflammatory effects of phytocannabinoids, most notably CBD and THC, result in decreased inflammation in the lungs; but whether or not it decreases overall activation of the immune system is not clear. Some studies point to CBD’s ability to regulate genetic expression as causing the immune system to go into “repair mode” rather than “attack mode”, which can prevent autoimmune problems.
CBD for lung disease
Research on the effects of cannabinoids in the lungs overwhelmingly focuses on the potential negatives caused by recreational smoking; the therapeutic effects are often overlooked or not considered at all, and CBD for respiratory health remains a growing area of specialized research.
CBD and its effects on the endocannabinoid system are still incredibly sophisticated and a complete framework for defining the endocannabinoid system itself is still being ironed out by the research community. Nonetheless, CBD consistently appears to promote the “norm” of any tissue with which it interacts. There have been no significant adverse reactions ever reported due to CBD use, and to the contrary there are countless conditions which appear to be treated by CBD when no other medications work.
CBD for the lungs is an effective therapeutic agent because it causes the endocannabinoid system to restore homeostasis and proper activity levels to any cells or tissues that were affected by endocannabinoid deficiency of some kind. In fact, the benefits of CBD for the lungs and for so many other conditions has spurred research into shared characteristics of all of the conditions helped by CBD in order to gain a better understanding of how our body regulates itself.
Smoking cannabis is often considered a harsh method of delivery, but that’s not necessarily the whole story. Ironically, in the early 1900s, smoked cannabis was used to treat asthma.
While smoke can surely irritate lung tissue, cannabinoids are highly therapeutic in nature and lung cancer patients who also use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis have a better prognosis than their non-smoking or tobacco-smoking counterparts. Due to opposing effects at cannabinoid receptors (THC activates, CBD inhibits), CBD is therapeutic for the lungs while THC can suppress immune system viability in a harmful way.
Unlike tobacco smoke, which is highly radioactive, cannabis contains no radioactive substances. While it technically deposits more tar than tobacco smoke, this is related to the sticky cannabinoids which make up a large portion of the weight of the raw plant. This tar may actually transmit some of the therapeutic effect of cannabinoids in respiratory tissue and the airway.