Building the case for the most widely used illicit drug in developed countries, researchers from the University of South Carolina have discovered marijuana's potential to treat autoimmune diseases in which chronic inflammation plays a pivotal role. These include arthritis, lupus, colitis and multiple sclerosis.
Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the findings say marijuana's potential key role in fighting these diseases lies in its capacity to suppress certain immune functions, notably inflammation.
Drawing on recent research that suggests certain environmental molecules exterior to DNA can alter its functioning, the study examined whether marijuana's main active constituent, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could affect DNA through "epigenetic" pathways.
The group of molecules with the capacity to alter DNA and the functioning of genes it controls is collectively referred to as the epigenome. It includes a group of molecules called histones, which are responsible for inflammation, both beneficial and harmful.
The research team, led by Mitzi Nagarkatti, Prakash Nagarkatti and Xiaoming Yang, found that THC can, indeed, affect DNA expression through epigenetic pathways by altering histones.
"The current study demonstrates for the first time that THC may modulate immune response through epigenetic regulation involving histone modifications," says the abstract.
As recreational and medical use of marijuana become more acceptable in developed countries, more research is being
conducted and more potential health applications are being uncovered.
Marijuana already has a variety of medical uses including treatment of chronic pain, nausea, vomiting and the wasting syndrome experienced by some AIDS patients.
Also on HuffPost