80 to 90% of organ transplants are successful. But, what about the other 10 to 20%? There’s no doubt that an getting an organ transplant from a healthy donor can be lifesaving. Yet, in an unfortunate few, the body begins to attack its new part. Preventing the immune system from responding has been a challenge since the procedure was introduced in the 1960s. Surprisingly, there may be a new solution. Research suggests that a little THC improves organ transplant success.
Why do some organ transplants fail?
Your organs are uniquely adapted to your body. Your organ tissue tells a detailed story of your life experiences. The toxins, bacteria, and viruses that you’ve been exposed to all leave their mark in your cell tissue. The remnants of these compounds are called antigens. When your immune system notices that antigens are hanging around, it readies for battle.
Now, let’s say that one of your organs is failing. No two people are exposed to exactly the same antigens. So, when you find an organ donor, you are inevitably bringing new antigens into your body. Your immune system might recognize that the new organ is “foreign” and attack the new body part. This is transplant rejection.
Prior to the transplant, doctors try to find organs that best match the antigens already present in your body. While this is successful most of the time, a fairly large chunk of people cannot withstand the transplant.
THC and organ transplant success
It’s been known for quite some time that THC is immunosuppressant. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant. The cannabinoid calms a hyperactive immune system. This property is one of the reasons that scientists have turned to the chemical in transplant research.
The key immune system warriors are T-cells. T-cells seek out antigens and eliminate them. Back in 2013, researchers from the Temple University School of Medicine found that pre-treating graft cells with THC de-activates T-cells.
The group put the cannabinoid to the test in mouse immune cells cultured outside of the body. They then applied THC and watched what happened. Cells treated with THC showed decreased immune response. Specifically, the treated cells showed less Mixed Lymphocyte Reaction (MLR). MLR is a reaction similar to those produced by rejected skin graphs in humans.
In their abstract, the team writes:
Δ9-THC significantly suppressed the MLR in a dose dependent fashion. These data support the potential of this class of compounds as useful therapies to prolong graft survival in transplant patients.
Basically, the famous psychoactive caused the immune cells to chill out. This finding adds yet another medical benefit to the herb’s long list. THC’s potent anti-inflammatory properties have already gained credibility among those with autoimmune diseases like Lupus. Conditions like eczema and psoriasis also benefit from the immune-regulating powers of THC.
Perhaps in the near future, transplant patients will reap these herbal gifts as well. Until then, we can only keep pushing for legalization and safe access for medical patients worldwide.
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