THC could prevent organ transplants from being rejected

Organ transplants have saved thousands of lives, but getting them right isn’t easy. The problem is the body’s immune system, which is programmed to fight off intruders. Often, this includes outside organs. But new research out of Temple University suggests that THC – the main chemical in marijuana – may be able to help. 

The study, published online in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, found that THC could stop the immune reaction that causes transplanted organs to be rejected. While the study only involved cell culture models, the researchers observed a dose-dependent effect – higher doses of THC led to higher levels of immune suppression.

The study also included two synthetic cannabinoids – a group of chemicals in the cannabis plant – and found that they could work just as well. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that cannabinoids hold promise in improving the success rate of organ transplants:

Together, these data support the potential of this class of compounds as useful therapies to prolong graft survival in transplant patients”.

Although there are drugs that exist to counteract immune responses, the authors state that more effective treatments with less side-effects are desperately needed. Unfortunately, advancements in cannabis-based medicine seem to be driven by the development of synthetic compounds rather than pure scientific discovery. As the researchers note:

“Cannabinoids were reported to have effects on immune responses as early as the 1970s.”

But with organ transplants rapidly becoming more available, it seems hopeful that cannabis medicine may soon play a part in these live-saving interventions.
The study was funded by the Temple University Tobacco Settlement Fund and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published ahead of print on July 4, 2013.

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