Marijuana, immunity and infection

J Neuroimmunol. 1998 Mar 15;83(1-2):102-15. doi: 10.1016/s0165-5728(97)00226-9.


The influence of marijuana cannabinoids on immune function has been examined extensively over the last 25 yr. Various experimental models have been used employing drug-abusing human subjects, experimental animals exposed to marijuana smoke or injected with cannabinoids, and in vitro models employing immune cell cultures treated with various cannabinoids. For the most part, these studies suggest that cannabinoids modulate the function of T and B lymphocytes as well as NK cells and macrophages. In addition to studies examining cannabinoid effects on immune cell function, other reports have documented that these substances modulate host resistance to various infectious agents. Viruses such as herpes simplex virus and murine retrovirus have been studied as well as bacterial agents such as members of the genera Staphylococcus, Listeria, Treponema, and Legionella. These studies suggest that cannabinoids modulate host resistance, especially the secondary immune response. Finally, a third major area of host immunity and cannabinoids is that involving drug effects on the cytokine network. Employing in vivo and in vitro models, it has been determined that cannabinoids modulate the production and function of acute phase and immune cytokines as well as modulate the activity of network cells such as macrophages and T helper cells, Th1 and Th2. These results are intriguing and demonstrate that under certain conditions, cannabinoids can be immunomodulatory and enhance the disease process. However, more studies are needed to determine both the health risk of marijuana abuse and the role of the cannabinoid receptor/ligand system in immune regulation and homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology*
  • Cannabis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / immunology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / microbiology