If you have Hashimoto’s disease, you probably understand just how challenging it can be. With symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, muscle pain, depression and memory loss, Hashimoto’s can be a frightening and painful condition.
But cannabis may provide some relief. Let’s explore cannabis’s potential for easing the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease and how the plant may help—or hurt—your management of the condition.
What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition in which an overactive immune system sends antibodies to attack and damage the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system and produces hormones that coordinate many of our body’s key functions. So, Hashimoto’s disease can lead to serious inflammation and an underactive thyroid, which means there’s less of these important hormones. This results in sub-optimal body functions.
Hashimoto’s, which affects more women than it does men, can bring on an array of negative symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pale, dry skin
- Hair loss
- Enlargement of the tongue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Memory lapses
3 Ways Marijuana May Help Ease Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s disease is clearly a painful condition with a wide range of symptoms. But could cannabis help? The research on this is limited—and somewhat conflicting. But there’s some evidence to suggest that cannabis, particularly marijuana rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could be a big help for those suffering from this disease.
Here are three ways that cannabis may be able to help those with Hashimoto’s:
1. THC Is an Immunosuppressant
Because Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition in which an overactive immune system attacks the body, one way to address it is by suppressing the immune system. And THC shows promise for doing just that.
Studies have shown that THC suppresses TH-1 cells. These cells are involved in the production of cytokines and the immune responses that damage tissues like the thyroid. By inhibiting TH-1 cells, THC may slow or stop the damage an overactive immune system can do.
2. THC Is an Anti-inflammatory Agent
One of the big symptoms of Hashimoto’s is inflammation, and both THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are potent anti-inflammatory compounds. That said, these two cannabinoids may not be equal when it comes to treating inflammation in Hashimoto’s disease.
Suppression of TH-1 cells with the consumption of THC can not only help calm an overactive immune system, but it can also help control Hashimoto’s-related inflammation. By suppressing these cells, THC dampens cytokine production, which not only slows the immune system down, but is also key in the process of inflammation.
Of course, not all Hashimoto’s sufferers benefit from the suppression of TH-1 cells. While doctors once thought Hashimoto’s disease was exclusively a TH-1-related condition, it’s been shown more recently that Hashimoto’s can also occur from overactive TH-2 cells.
TH-2 cells are another kind of T-cell that protect against toxins and bacteria. If you suffer from this version of the condition, THC may be much less helpful, since it has been shown to actually stimulate TH-2 cells. This could trigger a worsening of the situation for TH-2-dominant cases of Hashimoto’s disease.
The research on CBD for inflammation is a little less clear. While widely acknowledged as an inflammation reducer in general, research on CBD has been inconsistent when it comes to increasing or decreasing TH-1 and TH-2 activity.
If you have TH-1-dominant Hashimoto’s disease, you may want to think twice before taking CBD.
3. THC Is a Pain Reliever
Cannabis can also help relieve pain related to Hashimoto’s disease. Studies say that up to 97% of cannabis consumers take marijuana for pain.
While both THC and CBD can help reduce pain, THC is likely a better choice for those with Hashimoto’s disease, since CBD has the potential to worsen the condition in other ways.
Consuming Cannabis for Hashimoto’s Disease
If you’re interested in taking cannabis for Hashimoto’s disease, be sure to check with your doctor before you give it a try. You should definitely find out whether you have TH-1- or TH-2-dominant Hashimoto’s disease, because the research suggests THC may be more helpful for those with TH-1 dominant Hashimoto’s. Meanwhile, it may actually be harmful for folks with TH-2 dominant Hashimoto’s.
If you have the TH-1-dominant variety, THC could be a great option for you. You can try out inhaled or edible methods on a regular basis to see if it reduces your inflammation and other symptoms.
Either way, you may want to hold off on consuming CBD, since the results around its efficacy are still unclear. And for some of those with Hashimoto’s disease, CBD may have the potential to worsen the condition.
We’ll have to wait on the research to find out more, but what we have so far suggests that high-THC cannabis could be a big help for some folks dealing with this difficult disease.
Photo credit: taramara78/Shutterstock.com
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. And if you have questions about cannabis, ask them and our community will answer.
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It turns out THC can help with one type of Hashimoto’s disease, but make another kind worse. Meanwhile, CBD may adversely affect those with the disease.
The Most Important Thing You May Not Know about Hypothyroidism
Last updated on August 12, 2019
This article is part of a special report on Thyroid Disorders. To see a comprehensive eBook on thyroid health, click here.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of these people are unaware of their condition. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. The number of people suffering from thyroid disorders continues to rise each year. (1)
Hypothyroidism is one of the most common thyroid disorders. It’s estimated that nearly 5 percent of Americans age 12 and up have hypothyroidism. (2) It is characterized by mental slowing, depression, dementia, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, cold intolerance, hoarse voice, irregular menstruation, infertility, muscle stiffness and pain, and a wide range of other not-so-fun symptoms.
Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone. These hormones are responsible for the most basic aspects of body function, impacting all major systems of the body.
You can think of the thyroid as the central gear in a sophisticated engine. If that gear breaks, the entire engine goes down with it.
That’s why people with hypothyroidism experience everything from weight gain and depression to infertility, bone fractures and hair loss.
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One of the biggest challenges facing those with hypothyroidism is that the standard of care for thyroid disorders in both conventional and alternative medicine is hopelessly inadequate.
The dream of patients with thyroid disorders and the practitioners who treat them is to find that single substance that will magically reverse the course of the disease. For doctors, this is either synthetic or bio-identical thyroid hormone. For the alternative types, this is iodine.
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases neither approach is effective. Patients may get relief for a short period of time, but inevitably symptoms return or the disease progresses.
So what’s the problem? Why have replacement hormones and supplemental iodine been such dismal failures?
Because Hypothyroidism Is Caused by an Autoimmune Disease
Studies show that 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism are producing antibodies to thyroid tissue. (3) This causes the immune system to attack and destroy the thyroid, which over time causes a decline in thyroid hormone levels.
This autoimmune form of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disorder in the United States. (4) While not all people with Hashimoto’s have hypothyroid symptoms, thyroid antibodies have been found to be a marker for future thyroid disease.
Most doctors know hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease. But most patients don’t. The reason doctors don’t tell their patients is simple: it doesn’t affect their treatment plan.
But in the case of Hashimoto’s, the consequences—i.e. side effects and complications—of using immunosuppressive drugs are believed to outweigh the potential benefits. (Thanks to conventional medicine for a relative moment of sanity here.)
So the standard of care for a Hashimoto’s patient is to simply wait until the immune system has destroyed enough thyroid tissue to classify them as hypothyroid, and then give them thyroid hormone replacement. If they start to exhibit other symptoms commonly associated with their condition, like depression or insulin resistance, they’ll get additional drugs for those problems.
The obvious shortcoming of this approach is that it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the problem, which is the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. And if the underlying cause isn’t addressed, the treatment isn’t going to work very well—or for very long.
If you’re in a leaky rowboat, bailing water will only get you so far. If you want to stop the boat from sinking, you’ve got to plug the leaks.
Extending this metaphor to Hashimoto’s disease, thyroid hormones are like bailing water. They may be a necessary part of the treatment. But unless the immune dysregulation is addressed (plugging the leaks), whoever is in that boat will be fighting a losing battle to keep it from sinking.
Hashimoto’s often manifests as a “polyendocrine autoimmune pattern.” This means that in addition to having antibodies to thyroid tissue, it’s not uncommon for Hashimoto’s patients to have antibodies to other tissues or enzymes as well. The most common are transglutaminase (Celiac disease), the cerebellum (neurological disorders), intrinsic factor (pernicious anemia), glutamic acid decarboxylase (anxiety/panic attacks and late onset type 1 diabetes).
For more on how to balance the immune system and treat Hashimoto’s, check out this article.
Research Spotlight: Health Coaching and Thyroid Health
With the Support of Health Coaches, Diet and Other Lifestyle Changes Reduce Hashimoto’s Symptoms
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States, and sufferers score lower on quality of life measures compared to healthy controls. Additional symptoms can include chronic fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and irritability, making work and social life difficult. A study published in Cureus, a medical journal known for raising funds via crowdsourcing, indicates that through collaborative healthcare, including health coach support, patients with Hashimoto’s can successfully change lifestyle behaviors to result in improved quality of life and lower symptom burden.
The main objectives and findings of the article were the following:
- In this pilot study, researchers sought to determine whether the support of health coaches and other professionals could help women with Hashimoto’s successfully change diet and other lifestyle behaviors, leading to improved thyroid function, metabolic profile, and quality of life.
- Seventeen normal and overweight women, aged 20 to 45, with Hashimoto’s participated in a 10-week online health coaching program that focused on implementing the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet along with other lifestyle modifications, including sleep hygiene, stress management, and increased movement. Participants were also part of an online support community with each other and met with nutritional nurse practitioners and physicians periodically.
- During the duration of the 10-week program, patients were strictly adherent to the AIP diet about 95 to 100 percent of the time. Although no significant changes in thyroid function were measured after the program, six of the 13 women who were initially on thyroid medication were able to lower their doses. Symptom burden, BMI, weight, and inflammation all significantly decreased. Furthermore, patients reported improvement in all eight subscales of the quality of life survey, including physical, mental, social, and emotional health.
Key Findings and Significance
These findings stress the role of health coaches as change agents. The AIP, Paleo diet, and other similar diets are often discounted for being too “restrictive” and impossible to practically follow. However, participants in this study were 95 percent compliant with the dietary template and lost weight without tracking calories or macronutrients. And the diet resulted in significant health improvements! There is no doubt that the health coaches and online support group played key roles in the participants’ success. The program used in this study is called the “SAD to AIP in SIX”: Standard American Diet to Autoimmune Protocol in SIX weeks.
Although no measures of thyroid function significantly improved after the 10-week program, patients reported significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life, and many were able to lower their medication doses. When patients have support outside the 15-minute doctor’s appointment every six months, they are more able to change behaviors and lifestyles to benefit their health.
Reference:Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Health coaches support people who are trying to make big changes—like adopting a new diet or incorporating yoga into their exercise routine. How do they do it? By developing and honing skills like facilitating change and learning to listen. Find out more about becoming a health coach with the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.
The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is an Approved Health and Wellness Coach Training & Education Program by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC).
Want to learn the single most important factor – that almost nobody is aware of – in treating hypothyroidism? Continue reading to find out.