Effects on the immune system

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2005:(168):385-423. doi: 10.1007/3-540-26573-2_13.


Marijuana and other exogenous cannabinoids alter immune function and decrease host resistance to microbial infections in experimental animal models and in vitro. Two modes of action by which delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids affect immune responses have been proposed. First, cannabinoids may signal through the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. Second, at sites of direct exposure to high concentrations of cannabinoids, such as the lung, membrane perturbation may be involved. In addition, endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids have been identified and have been proposed as native modulators of immune functions through cannabinoid receptors. Exogenously introduced cannabinoids may disturb this homoeostatic immune balance. A mode by which cannabinoids may affect immune responses and host resistance maybe by perturbing the balance of T helper (Th)1 pro-inflammatory versus Th2 anti-inflammatory cytokines. While marijuana and various cannabinoids have been documented to alter immune functions in vitro and in experimental animals, no controlled longitudinal epidemiological studies have yet definitively correlated immunosuppressive effects with increased incidence of infections or immune disorders in humans. However, cannabinoids by virtue of their immunomodulatory properties have the potential to serve as therapeutic agents for ablation of untoward immune responses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / immunology
  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Infections / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / analysis
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / analysis


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Cytokines
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2