Skip to main content

Influence of Marijuana Components (THC and CBD) on Human Mononuclear Cell Cytokine Secretion In vitro

  • Chapter
Drugs of Abuse, Immunity, and Immunodeficiency

Part of the book series: Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology ((AEMB,volume 288))


Cytokines are a class of polypeptides produced by cells of the immune system. They coordinate the immune response to an antigenic challenge and play key roles in immunomodulation and host defense (1,2), and exert also metabolic effects (3,4). Therefore, a change in cytokine secretion caused by drugs of abuse could have an impact on immunological systems and metabolism. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component of marijuana, has been shown to modulate virus and mitogen induced cytokine secretion in mice. Intraperitoneal administered THC (5-100 mg/kg) decreased the plasma concentration of alpha-/beta-interferon (IFN) significantly (5). Chronic in vivo exposure of mice to THC (50 mg/kg for 56 days) also reduced the secretion of alpha-/beta-IFN in cultured, mitogen-stimulated spleen cells (6). In vitro culture of murine spleen cells together with THC (2.5–10 M-g/ml) showed dose-dependent responses in the alpha-/beta-IFN secretion. Low concentrations had no effect on alpha-/beta-IFN secretion, while 5 to 10 yg/ml were significantly suppressive (6). However, all these immunomodulatory concentrations were high and well above the pharmacological range of 1-100 ng/ml of THC found in the plasma of human marijuana smokers (7). Friedman et al., also investigated the effect of THC on the secretion of different cytokines by cultured murine spleen cells using bioassays (8). Only concentrations above the pharmacological range were used (5–10 μg/ml). All suppressed in a dose-dependent manner the secretion of cytokines. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced secretion of IFN (alpha-/beta) in splenocytes, adherent and nonadherent cells was reduced to 85%, a reduction was also observed by chronic administration of THC to these cells.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

USD 16.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. S. B. Mizel, The interleukins, FASEB J. 3:2379 (1989).

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. F. R. Balkwill, and R. Burke, The cytokine network, Immun. Today 10:299 (1989).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. R. F. Grimble, Cytokines: Their relevance to nutrition, Europ. J. Clin. Nutr. 43:217 (1989).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. K. C. Klasing, Nutritional aspects of leukocytic cytokines, Amer. J. Clin. Nutr. 14 36 (1988).

    Google Scholar 

  5. G. A. Cabral, J. C. Lockmuller, and E. M. Mishkin, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol decreases alpha-beta interferon response to herpes simplex virus type 2 in the B6C3F1 mouse, Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 181:305 (1986).

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. D. K. Blanchard, C. Newton, T. W. Klein, W. E. Stewart II, and H. Friedman, In vitro and in vivo suppressive effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in interferon production by murine spleen cells, Int. J. Immunopharmac. 8:819 (1986).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. S. Agurell, M. Halldin, J. E. Lindgren, A. Ohlsson, M. Widman, H. Gillespie, and L. Hollister, Pharmacokinetics and metabolism of delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids with emphasis on man, Pharmacol. Reviews 38:21 (1986).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. H. Friedman, T. Klein, S. Specter, S. Pross, C. Newton, D. K. Blanchard, and R. Widen, Drugs of abuse and virus susceptibility, Adv. Biochem. Psycho-pharm. 44:125 (1988).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. A. E. Munson, and K. O. Fehr, in: “Adverse Health and Behavioral Consequences of Cannabis Use,” K. O. Fehr and H. Kalant, ed., Addiction Research Foundation, Toronto (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  10. M. D. Yahya, R. and R. Watson, Immunomodulation by morphine and marijuana, Life Sciences 41:2503 (1987).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. L. E. Hollister, Marijuana and immunity, J. Psychoactive Drugs 20:3 (1988).

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. S. C. Specter, T. W. Klein, C. Newton, M. Mondragon, R. Widen, and H. Friedman, Marijuana effects on immunity: Suppression of human natural killer cell activity by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, Int. J. Immunopharmac. 8:741 (1986).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. T. W. Klein, C. Newton, and H. Friedman, Inhibition of natural killer cell function by marijuana components, J. Toxicol. Environ. Health 20:321 (1987).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. S. Specter, M. Rivenbark, C. Newton, Y. Kawakami, and G. Lancz, Prevention and reversal of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol induced depression of natural killer cell activity by interleukin-2, Int. J. Immunopharmac. 11:63 (1989).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. C. E. Turner, Marijuana and cannabis: Research why the conflict? in: “Marijuana ’84,” D. Y. Harvey, ed., IRL Press, Oxford (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  16. S. Zimmerman, A. M. Zimmerman, I. L. Cameron, and H. L. Laurence, Delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol effects on the immune response of mice, Pharmacology 15:10 (1977).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Y. D. Luo, M. L. Shen, and D. E. Ou, Does delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol suppress human immune functions? FASEB J. 3:Abstr. 291 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  18. F. Lu and D. W. Ou, Cocaine or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol does not affect cellular cytotoxicity in vitro ,Int J. Immunopharmac. 11:849 (1989).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. S. Burstein, S. A. Hunter, K. Ozman, and L. Renzulli, Cannabinoid-induced elevation of lipoxygenase products in mouse peritoneal macrophages, Biochem. Pharmacol. 33:2653 (1984).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. V. Patel, M. Borysenko, M. S. A. Kumar, and W. J. Millard, Effects of acute and subchronic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol administration on the plasma catecholamine, beta-endorphin, and corticosterone levels and splenic natural killer cell activity in rats, Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 180:400 (1985).

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. W. A. Devane, F. A. Dysarz III, M. R. Johnson, L. S. Melvin, and A. C. Howelett, Determination and characterization of a cannabinoid receptor in rat brain, Mol. Pharmacol. 34:605 (1988).

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. B. R. Martin, Cellular effects of cannabinoids, Pharmacol. Reviews 38:45 (1986).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. S. Endres, J. G. Cannon, R. Ghorbain, R. A. Dempsey, S. D. Sisson, G. Lonnemann, J. W. D. Van der Meer, S. M. Wolff, and D. A. Dinarello, In vitro production of IL-1 beta, IL-1 alpha, TNF and IL-2 in healthy subjects: distribution, effect of cyclooxygenase inhibition and evidence of independent gene regulation, Eur. J. Immunol. 19:2327 (1989).

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 1991 Plenum Press, New York

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Watzl, B., Scuderi, P., Watson, R.R. (1991). Influence of Marijuana Components (THC and CBD) on Human Mononuclear Cell Cytokine Secretion In vitro . In: Friedman, H., Specter, S., Klein, T.W. (eds) Drugs of Abuse, Immunity, and Immunodeficiency. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 288. Springer, Boston, MA.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4684-5927-2

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-4684-5925-8

  • eBook Packages: Springer Book Archive

Publish with us

Policies and ethics