Since DNA on its own is such a massive structure, it needs to be managed. It is kept compact by structures known as histones. These histones act as anchors for the DNA to wrap around, sort of like coils, and they keep it stored efficiently. In addition to compacting DNA, histones can uncoil certain chunks of DNA in order for it to be read and translated into useful proteins. The uncoiling of DNA is essential for certain responses in organisms, including disease response.
In a recent study by Yang et al. (2014) from the University of South Carolina Columbia, the effect of THC on histone behavior was observed. The team looked at how THC altered the overall defense of mice against bacterial infection. They measured the number of defensive cells being made, the types of cells made and, how the DNA was read based on the behavior of histones.
The study came to a number of conclusions. Firstly, mice that were given THC produced significantly less defensive cells, because THC appears to alter how the histones allow for DNA to be read. These findings show that THC could be used as a tool to lower the immune response in patients. Additionally, past studies, such as Nagarkatti et al. 2009, have shown that THC acts as an anti-inflammatory, and can therefore further reduce immune system reactions.
Autoimmune diseases and disorders arise when the body enacts an immune reaction incorrectly and attacks itself. A few examples of this include rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The normal response by doctors to these diseases is to lower the body’s immune response. THC’s effect on the production of defensive cells, coupled with its anti-inflammatory properties could make it an effective medical option against autoimmune diseases.
The study by Yang et al. (2014) points to the opportunities in medicine that marijuana presents, but also new side effects to the use of recreational Cannabis. As scientists continue to dig, our understanding of how Cannabis works within the body grows. This benefits the medical community and its ability to appropriately treat diseases, as well as the recreational industry through how much consumers know about the effects Cannabis will have on them.
X. Yang, V. L. Hegde, R. Rao, J. Zhang, P. S. Nagarkatti, M. Nagarkatti. 2014. Histone modifications are associated with Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol-mediated alterations in antigen-specific T cell responses. Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Nagarkatti, P., R. Pandey, S. A. Rieder, V. L. Hegde, and M. Nagarkatti. 2009. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Medicinal Chemistry 1,1333-1349