Marijuana, receptors and immunomodulation

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1995;373:103-13. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1951-5_15.


THC, the major psychoactive component of marijuana, has been shown both in humans and experimental animals to have immunomodulatory properties. For example, marijuana smokers may show impaired immunological functions, including deficiency of blood leukocyte blastogenesis to mitogens. Detailed studies with mice have shown that animals given THC can show marked immunomodulation, including suppression of antibody formation, deficient cytokine production, etc. However, recent studies have also shown that lymphoid cells evince enhanced production or release or IL1, but suppression of IL2 and interferon production. Such lymphoid cells treated in vitro with THC also show suppressed blastogenesis to antigens and mitogens, suppressed NK activity, etc. In contrast, it has recently been shown that THC can enhance production or release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This includes release of these cytokines from macrophages, including augmented release of IL1, TNF alpha, and IL6 activity. Susceptibility of mice to infection with opportunistic organisms such as L. pneumophila has been found and this increased susceptibility can be modulated by THC. A toxic shock-like death to Legionella has been induced by THC treatment given one day before and one day after infection. Receptors to THC have been detected in the brain as well as in peripheral tissues, including lymphoid cells. Thus, immunomodulation induced by THC may be related to receptor effects as well as unrelated to such receptors. It is clear that THC and other cannabinoids are excellent tools for studying the mechanisms of immune modulation, especially altered susceptibility to microbial infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Abuse / immunology
  • Marijuana Abuse / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / drug effects*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug
  • Dronabinol