In recent weeks scientists examining the positive therapeutic effects of cannabis have made a number of remarkable findings, including a potential solution for the rejection of transplanted organs.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine found that, when given to mice, THC – the active ingredient in pot – seems to aid in preventing the rejection of incompatible organs. This would be huge, because according to Stanford University’s School of Medicine, one-quarter of kidney transplant recipients, and about 40 percent of heart transplant recipients, experience organ rejection within the first year. That, coupled with the difficulty in even finding viable organs to transplant, means that anything that would lower rejection rates would immediately become a highly coveted medical discovery.
Scientists at the University of South Carolina qualified their findings with standard language: that more studies are needed to verify their results. Nevertheless, their initial findings provide at least some evidence that THC or some derivative of it could be useful in anti-rejection therapy, and especially in cases where organs and recipients are not a perfect match.
The research team recently published their findings in the September 2015 issue of The Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
This would be huge for organ donors and recipients alike
“We are excited to demonstrate for the first time that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in the prolongation of rejection of a foreign graft by suppressing immune response in the recipient,” said Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D., a researcher from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine who was involved in the study. “This opens up a new area of research that would lead to better approaches to prevent transplant rejection as well as to treat other inflammatory diseases.”
In conducting their study, Nagarkatti and colleagues utilized two groups of mice that were determined to be different genetically. Skin was transplanted from one group to the other, and all mice received incompatible skin grafts. However, one group was treated with a placebo, while the other was given THC. Researchers then observed that skin graft rejection in mice that had been given THC was delayed in comparison to the control group that was given the placebo.
“More and more research is identifying potential beneficial effects of substances contained in marijuana, but a major challenge has been identifying the molecular pathways involved,” noted John Wherry, Ph.D., deputy editor of The Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
He added that the studies seem to indicate more important roles for the body’s cannabinoid receptors, and may further adjust the way medical science thinks about therapeutic uses for substances found in marijuana.
While it isn’t known whether recent scientific discoveries regarding the positive therapeutic effects of cannabis – including as an aid to bone fracture healing – are having an effect on legalization efforts in the United States in particular, they certainly can’t hurt. That may help explain recent trends by some states to thwart federal bans on even recreational uses of marijuana. And new scientific findings could also be influencing legal decisions.
Congress should just legalize pot and get it over with
As the Los Angeles Times editorialized last week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the federal government cannot prosecute Americans who are growing pot for medicinal purposes, provided the growers are complying with state laws.
The ruling backs an earlier congressional mandate which prohibited the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 and 2015 from pursuing legal action against legitimate growers and users in states that now have medical marijuana statutes. The mandate makes it plain that anyone who is meticulously following state rules should not have to be concerned about federal prosecution.
The Times warned that the decision could merely be temporary. The court noted that Congress must make the drug legal on all levels at some point in the future – which some are advocating – or else growers and users, even if they are complying with state laws, could face federal recourse.
That kind of action could have a dampening effect on new therapeutic research.