With the pandemic of coronavirus sweeping across the globe, there is one question on everyone's mind. "How can I keep from getting sick?" We all want to stay healthy and beat this virus, in this time of contagion, and that means keeping our immune systems healthy and able to fight off invading germs and other infections.
Crucial advice for keeping your immune system healthy includes keeping up with a healthy diet, ingesting plenty of vitamins like vitamin c and zinc, and getting plenty of exercise and sleep. But what else can we do to protect our immune health?
In my own life, cannabis and mindfulness are two tools that I regularly use to maintain my general level of health and well being. And I’ve been using practices like cannabis meditation and ganja yoga to relax and stay sane in these challenging times. But could cannabis and mindfulness be helpful tools for our immune system in this crisis, as well?
Read on to learn the science behind how cannabis and mindfulness impact the immune system and see if they might help you.
Cannabis’ Impact on Immune Health
There are a lot of claims out there about cannabis' effect on immune health - from fighting inflammation to boosting immune health, and so much in between, but what does the science tell us about cannabis' impact on the immune system?
Well, cannabis definitely has an impact. Cannabis can interact with our bodies' endocannabinoid system, which is tasked with regulating our immune system and keeping it in balance. Importantly, one of the endocannabinoid system's primary functions for immune health is preventing the immune system from causing overwhelming inflammatory responses. So when cannabis is used, it usually causes a reduction in inflammatory activity in the body. While many out there say that marijuana 'boosts' the immune system, it's actually considered an immunosuppressant, which reduces the body's inflammatory immune response.
For people with autoimmune conditions, where overactive immune responses begin to actually damage the body, like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes, cannabis is a huge lifesaver - with the ability to bring the immune system back into a healthy balance. So it's no wonder it has an excellent reputation for immune health.
Still, it's not necessarily something that helps prevent infection from pathogens like coronavirus. Researches warn that in some cases, immunosuppressive effects could actually prevent helpful immune responses against infection. In animal studies, these immunosuppressive effects led to worse infections for mice with influenza. Still, human studies have yet to confirm that these immune lowering effects actually make humans more susceptible to disease.
And in other cases, cannabis can actually improve the prognosis. When infections get bad, they sometimes cause sepsis. This extreme inflammatory response actually attacks the patient's own body and can lead to death. In cases of sepsis, cannabis' immunosuppressive effects can be beneficial. In animal studies on mice with malaria, for example, cannabis’ anti-inflammatory effects led to a lower mortality rate.
These results primarily refer to cannabis with higher levels of THC, cannabis’s most plentiful chemical. CBD, another popular compound in hemp and marijuana, doesn't seem to have as significant an impact as THC when it comes to suppressing the immune system. Still, it does have some inflammation-reducing effects. And some of cannabis' terpenes, such as α-Pinene, D-limonene, linalool, β-caryophyllene also have anti-inflammatory effects.
All in all, cannabis may be helpful or harmful to immune health, depending on the situation. Marijuana may be a useful tool to lower inflammation if you have an autoimmune condition or an overactive inflammatory response to infection. That said, if you already have a healthy immune system, it may lower your immune function and make you more susceptible to disease. Those concerned about THC's immune lowering effects may want to stick to CBD and terpenes, which show less immune lowering activity.
Mindfulness for Immune Health
Mindfulness also shows the potential to aid your immune system in these challenging times. Studies show that patients engaged in mindfulness meditation see measurable changes in their immune health. There are reports of improvements in important immune system factors like antibody responses, inflammation,and immune-cell aging.
In many cases, these responses seem to be related to the reduction in stress that we see with meditation and mindfulness practices. Stress can negatively impact the immune system, and mindfulness tends to reduce these stress levels, reducing biological markers of stress like cortisol. This means that when you stop for some mindful self-care like meditation, yoga, or a mindful awareness exercises, you are not only giving your mind a much-needed break and helping to bring your stress levels down - you are also strengthening your immune system and keeping it ready to fight against any infections.
So, adding some mindfulness into your day may be one of the best things you can do for yourself in these strange and intense times. It offers you the opportunity to relax, tune into your experience, and strengthen your immune system.
You can even combine your mindfulness with your cannabis. Many people find that cannabis can help bring a relaxed sense of mindfulness, and may help improve your mindfulness experience. Need a few tips to get you started? Check out our guide on incorporating more mindfulness and compassion into your day.