Can Medical Cannabis Help Grave’s Disease?
Grave’s disease is an autoimmune condition affecting the thyroid gland. It is one of the most common of all autoimmune conditions, and the National Institutes of Health estimates that it affects as many as 1 in 200 people.
However, with limited treatment options, many patients are left wondering whether cannabis could help Grave’s disease. The herb has received much attention lately as new research sheds light on its many potential benefits. These benefits include regulating thyroid function and keeping the immune system in check.
So, can medical marijuana help Grave’s disease? We take a closer look.
What Is Grave’s Disease?
Grave’s disease gets its name from Robert James Graves, the Irish physician who described the condition back in 1835.
It is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing a variety of symptoms. In the case of Grave’s disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This causes it to overproduce thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
The thyroid produces several hormones, including triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The release of these hormones relies on another hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which the pituitary gland secretes.
These hormones control how the body uses its energy. Therefore, an imbalance in thyroid hormone levels can affect every biological system, including the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and reproductive systems.
Grave’s Disease Symptoms
Since the thyroid affects so many different organs, Grave’s disease can cause a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms of Grave’s disease include:
- Goiter (swelling in the neck)
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Restlessness or irritability
- Muscle weakness
- Tremor in hands
- Heat intolerance
- Eye problems (Grave’s ophthalmopathy)
People with Grave’s disease may also have a higher-than-average risk of developing heart problems, osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression.
What Causes Grave’s Disease?
As previously mentioned, an overactive immune system is the root cause of Grave’s disease. In this condition, the immune system creates an antibody known as thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI). The antibody attaches to thyroid cells where it acts similarly to TSH, stimulating thyroid hormone production. Specifically, Grave’s disease causes a relative increase of T3 levels in comparison with T4.
It is unclear exactly what triggers the immune system to behave in this way. However, scientists believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are at play. What we do know is that the following risk factors can increase one’s chances of developing Grave’s disease:
- Being aged 30–60
- Being female
- A family history of Grave’s disease
- A history of autoimmune conditions
Most experts agree that people with a predisposition to autoimmune diseases can have their conditions triggered by physically or emotionally stressful events. These could include a viral infection, surgery, or a bereavement, for example.
Grave’s Disease Treatment
There are currently three primary treatment options for people with Grave’s disease. These include medication, surgery, and radioiodine therapy.
Doctors may prescribe medication like beta-blockers to help with the symptoms of Grave’s disease. However, to address the underlying cause, they must use antithyroid medicines. These stop the production of thyroid hormones and include drugs such as propylthiouracil, methimazole, or carbimazole. Although these medications are effective, they may cause serious side effects, including rash, joint pain, and liver problems.
Surgery aims to remove the thyroid gland to prevent the overproduction of hormones. Aside from the normal risks associated with surgery, this Grave’s disease treatment has another significant drawback; a lack of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) is just as problematic as hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, this is the result of removing the thyroid. However, doctors generally consider hypothyroidism easier to treat than the hyperthyroidism that Grave’s disease causes.
Finally, the most common Grave’s disease treatment in the USA is radioiodine therapy. This technique uses radioactive iodine to destroy the cells that produce TSH. As with surgery, it induces a state of hypothyroidism, which doctors must then treat accordingly.
Can Cannabis Help Grave’s Disease?
This limited range of treatments has left many patients wondering whether natural remedies like cannabis could help Grave’s disease. To understand how medical marijuana could potentially help this condition, we must first understand how cannabis affects the human body.
Cannabis has a profound effect on both body and mind due to its interactions with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a physiological system which comprises cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors, and chemicals called endocannabinoids.
These cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids bind together to trigger a range of responses throughout the body. They are involved in mood, appetite regulation, pain, movement, and immunity, among other things. Therefore, the ECS is responsible for regulating some of our most essential functions.
Coincidentally, the cannabinoids that the cannabis plant produces, like THC and CBD, can also interact with this system. This is why cannabis users experience a range of physical and psychological effects. But how does this apply to Grave’s disease?
Cannabinoid receptors exist in almost all human tissues, including those of the thyroid gland. In the thyroid, there is a high concentration of CB1 receptors, the type of cannabinoid receptor that binds readily with THC.
Most people know THC as the cannabis compound that causes users to become ‘high.’ It does this by binding to CB1 receptors in the brain. But when THC binds with CB1 receptors elsewhere in the body, it produces very different effects.
A 2002 study for the European Journal of Endocrinology looked at the effects of CB1 receptors in the thyroid. Its results showed that stimulating these receptors with a synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist caused a 30% reduction in T3 and T4 levels. The study’s authors suggest that CB1 receptors in the thyroid play a vital role in modulating hormone release.
Further Research on Cannabis and Thyroid Function
The study above provided exciting insights into how the ECS affects thyroid hormone release. However, there are two critical factors to note.
Firstly, the study was conducted on rats rather than humans. Although both rats and humans have a similar ECS, there is no way of knowing how these results would transfer to human subjects.
Secondly, the researchers used a synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist rather than natural cannabis. THC is also a cannabinoid receptor agonist, so we can hypothesize that it would work similarly. However, additional research is necessary to confirm whether it is more or less effective.
Fortunately, there is also research available on how marijuana use affects thyroid function in humans. A 2017 study for the journal Thyroid assessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007–2012. It included information from 5280 adults who answered questions about cannabis use and provided laboratory results for thyroid parameters.
The researchers classified their subjects as recent marijuana users (within the past 30 days), past users (more than 30 days ago), and non-users. The study’s results showed that recent users had a reduced frequency of increased TSH levels.
The recent users also had a reduced frequency of raised positive anti-thyroid peroxidase antibody (TPOAb). This is an antibody which people with autoimmune thyroid conditions tend to have in abundance.
Although these results do not shed much light specifically on cannabis for Grave’s disease, they are interesting, nonetheless. They suggest that regular marijuana use has a regulatory effect on the thyroid, its hormones, and associated antibodies.
If you suffer from Grave's disease, you may be wondering whether cannabis could offer some relief. Here's all you need to know.
Updated on April 15, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The symptoms of a thyroid disorder — including fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression — can take a toll on your quality of life. Thyroid disorders are relatively common, as about 20 million people in the U.S. have them in some form. Fortunately, you have treatment options, including medical cannabis for thyroid disorders, that can help ease these symptoms so you can go back to feeling more like yourself again.
How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Thyroid Disorders
When your thyroid is overactive or underactive, you can experience many symptoms, since the gland plays such an integral role in regulating your body. Cannabinoids have pain-relieving, anxiety reducing, anti-inflammatory properties and more that help significantly in managing the symptoms of thyroid disorders.
Medical marijuana for thyroid disorders can treat a multitude of these symptoms, such as:
1. Pain — Medical weed can help relieve pain associated with Graves’ disease. Conventional therapies often lead to painful side effects like joint pain. Research shows cannabis reduces pain levels significantly.
Numerous strains of the cannabis plant can reduce pain and discomfort considerably. Indica strains seem to help alleviate pain better than hybrids and Sativas, according to patients. Some Indica strains to try to reduce your symptom of pain include:
- Afghan Kush
- Granddaddy Purple
That doesn’t mean Sativas and hybrids don’t work for pain. You might want to try out these alternative strains, which have also helped many patients find relief:
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Jack Herer
2. Inflammation: Certain thyroid disorders, like thyroiditis, cause inflammation of the thyroid gland. Cannabis is very effective at reducing inflammation. The cannabinoids in cannabis work like anti-inflammatory drugs. Try these strains to help reduce your symptoms of inflammation:
3. Weight loss: We all know how marijuana gives you the “munchies.” If you’re struggling with weight loss due to your thyroid disorder, cannabis can help. Some strains to try include:
- Cherry Pie
- Super Silver Haze
4. Anxiety and depression: Some patients struggle with anxiety and depression, which also impact their quality of life. For these individuals, the following strains can help:
- Pineapple Express
- Granddaddy Purple
5. Thyroid hormone balance: Research shows cannabinoids in marijuana for thyroid disorders play a significant role in hyperthyroidism treatment by regulating your body’s balanced energies, especially in your endocrine system. Medical marijuana’s cannabinoids respond well to the natural, innate cannabinoid substances in your body. Hyperthyroidism is an imbalance in your body’s normal functioning. CBD helps maintain and balance the body’s homeostasis.
- Cannatonic (hybrid)
- Blue Dream (hybrid)
- Pineapple Kush (hybrid)
Likewise, the European Journal of Endocrinology published a study in 2002 showcasing evidence of functional thyroid CB receptors in rats being able to modify the release of both T3 and T4 hormones. According to the study, a 30 percent hormone release decrease occurred within four hours of administering CBD.
6. Nausea and vomiting: There have been plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence that cannabis helps treat nausea and vomiting. Some strains to try include:
- Blue Diesel
7. Fatigue: Sativa strains can help with fatigue because they’re energizing and stimulating. Some of the best strains, however, include:
- Juicy Fruit
- Durban Poison
- Jack Herer
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for the Side Effects and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders
There are nearly endless cannabis strains, and each has different effects. Smoking marijuana for thyroid disorders might not be the best choice of delivery method, since it could harm your lungs. Fortunately, smoking is not your only option. There are healthier choices for receiving your cannabis treatment, including vaping, edibles, topicals, tinctures, CBD oils and more. Many people like the convenience of vaping, while others prefer edibles.
Keep in mind, cannabis can have some side effects, including hunger, drowsiness, red eyes, dry mouth, thirst, and short-term memory loss.
Start Your Cannabis and Thyroid Disorder Treatment Today
Not all states have legalized cannabis. However, many have passed laws that allow the medicinal use of the herb. Be sure you check your state’s laws to see if you qualify for cannabis for thyroid disorders. If so, book your appointment here at Marijuana Doctors to find a cannabis doctor to provide you with your recommendation so you can get started on treatment as soon as possible and begin improving your life.
What Are Thyroid Disorders?
Thyroid disorders are conditions affecting your thyroid gland, which is responsible for regulating multiple metabolic processes throughout your body. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around your windpipe in the front of your neck.
Your thyroid produces vital hormones using iodine. The primary hormone the gland produces is thyroxine (T4). The gland releases a small portion of T4, which converts to the most active hormone, triiodothyronine (T3).
A feedback mechanism that involves the brain regulates the thyroid gland’s function. Various types of thyroid disorders affect either its purpose or structure. When you have low thyroid hormone levels, for example, your brain’s hypothalamus produces a thyrotropin-releasing hormone.
That causes your pituitary gland to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone. Then, the TSH stimulates your thyroid gland to release more of the T4.
Because your hypothalamus and pituitary gland control your thyroid gland, disorders of these tissues may also affect the function of your thyroid, causing thyroid problems.
Types and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders
There are numerous types of thyroid disorders. Six common types are:
With hyperthyroidism, your thyroid gland is overactive, producing too much of its hormone. Hyperthyroidism impacts about 1 percent of women.
Hyperthyroid symptoms may include:
- Heat intolerance
- Weight loss
- Frequent bowel movements
- Sleep disturbances
- Irritability and nervousness
- Thyroid gland enlargement
Women are up to 10 times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men.
Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. It’s underactive and can’t make enough of its hormone. Nearly 5 percent of people over 12 years old in the U.S. have hypothyroidism, though the condition is usually mild.
Hypothyroidism symptoms may include:
- Weight gain
- Memory problems
- Cold intolerance
- Slower heart rate
- Memory problems
- Brittle or dry hair
- Higher cholesterol levels
- Irritability and depression
Hypothyroidism can cause a health problem called myxedema coma if left untreated for long periods of time. Myxedema coma is a potentially fatal but rare condition requiring immediate hormone treatment.
3. Hashimoto’s Disease
Also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It affects around 14 million Americans. While anyone of any age can develop it, it typically affects middle-aged women. Hashimoto’s disease occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland, eventually destroying it and its ability to produce hormones.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease may include:
- Mild weight gain
- Intolerance to cold
- Thinning, dry hair
- Dry skin
- Goiter or enlarged thyroid
- Puffy, pale face
- Irregular and heavy menstruation
4. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease commonly causes hyperthyroidism and affects around one in 200 individuals in the U.S.
It’s an autoimmune disorder that also occurs when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland by mistake. When this happens, it can cause your thyroid gland to overproduce the hormone that regulates metabolism.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease may include:
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irregular or increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Vision problems and bulging eyes
- Altered menstrual cycle
Goiter is a benign enlargement of your thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiter. Estimates show it affects around 200 million of the 800 million individuals who have an iodine deficiency worldwide.
If it grows big enough, a goiter could cause specific symptoms such as:
- Difficulties swallowing or breathing
- Tightness or swelling in your neck
- Hoarseness of voice
- Wheezing or coughing
6. Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid nodules are a type of growth that forms in or on your thyroid gland. Around 1 percent of men and 5 percent of women have thyroid nodules big enough to feel. Approximately 50 percent of individuals will develop nodules too tiny to detect without an X-ray or another scan.
Some thyroid nodules make thyroid hormone that causes irregularly high levels of the hormone in the bloodstream. When this occurs, the symptoms you may experience are similar to those of hyperthyroidism and may include:
- Weight loss
- High pulse rate
- Clammy skin
- Increased appetite
If the thyroid nodules are the result of Hashimoto’s disease, the symptoms you may experience are similar to those of hypothyroidism and may include:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
Causes of Thyroid Disorders
Thyroid disorders typical result in either too much thyroid hormone, as is the case with hyperthyroidism, or too little thyroid hormone, as with hypothyroidism.
Thyroid hormone overproduction involves all forms of hyperthyroidism, but the disorder could occur in a few other ways, such as:
- Toxic adenomas — You develop nodules in your thyroid gland that start secreting thyroid hormones, upsetting the chemical balance of your body — some goiters could contain a few of these nodules.
- Graves’ disease — Excessive thyroid hormone production
- Cancerous growths or pituitary gland malfunctions in your thyroid gland — While rare, you can also develop hyperthyroidism from these causes.
- Subacute thyroiditis — A thyroid inflammation is causing your gland to “leak” extra hormones, leading to temporary hyperthyroidism that typically lasts several weeks, but could persist for months.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body fails to produce enough thyroid hormones. Because the energy production of your body needs certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a decrease in hormone production results in lower energy levels.
Hypothyroidism can occur due to:
- Thyroid gland removal — A doctor may have to destroy or surgically remove the thyroid chemically.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — The body attacks your thyroid tissue in this autoimmune disorder. The tissue dies eventually, and hormone production stops.
- Lithium — There are implications this drug causes hypothyroidism.
- Exposure to extreme amounts of iodide — Sinus and cold medications, certain dyes provided before specific X-rays and the heart medication amiodarone could expose you to excessive amounts of iodine. You could have a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism if you’ve had thyroid issues in the past.
Physical Effects of Thyroid Disorders
If you have an untreated or improperly treated thyroid condition, you could suffer serious health problems.
An overactive thyroid can cause numerous problems like:
- Heart failure or difficulties with heart rhythm and rapid heart rate
- Osteoporosis, or brittle bones
- Swollen, red skin, especially on the feet and shins
- Eye problems like double or blurred vision, bulging eyes or vision loss
- Thyrotoxic crisis — the worsening of symptoms leading to rapid heart rate, fever and delirium requiring immediate medical attention
An underactive thyroid can lead to a range of complications like:
- A goiter or enlarged thyroid causing issues with breathing and swallowing
- Birth defects
- Nerve damage causing numbness, tingling and pain in the legs, arms or other affected areas
- Mental health problems like depression
- High cholesterol leading to heart disease
- Premature birth or miscarriage
- Myxedema, a life-threatening, but rare, condition that involves extreme cold intolerance, drowsiness, and lethargy leading to unconsciousness. Myxedema requires immediate medical attention.
Mental Effects of Thyroid Disorders
A thyroid disorder can also affect your mood, mainly causing either depression or anxiety. Typically, the more severe your thyroid disorder is, the more severe your mood changes will be.
If you have hyperthyroidism, you could experience restlessness, unusual nervousness, irritability and anxiety.
If you have hypothyroidism, you could experience mild to severe fatigue and depression.
Treatment that works by blocking your body’s ability to produce new thyroid hormone or one that replaces missing thyroid hormone typically helps improve both physical and mental symptoms thyroid disorders can cause.
Thyroid Disorders History
In 1656, Thomas Wharton coined the term “thyroid.” Graves’ disease takes its name from Robert Graves, a doctor in Ireland who diagnosed a case of goiter with bulging eyes in 1835. Charles H. Mayo introduced the term “hyperthyroidism” in 1910. Finally, in 2004, researchers linked neurological and thyroid abnormalities with the monocarboxylate transporter gene.
Current Treatments Available for Thyroid Disorders and Their Side Effects
Medication and sometimes surgery can treat thyroid disorders. The treatment you receive will depend on which thyroid disease you have.
1. Thyroid Medications
The doctor may give you medication if you have hypothyroidism to replace the missing thyroid hormone. They may provide you with synthetic thyroid hormone you take orally in pill form. If you have hyperthyroidism, medicines can help decrease thyroid hormone production or keep it from releasing from the gland.
Side effects of synthetic thyroid hormone pills include:
- Hot flashes
- A headache
- Sensitivity to heat
Your doctor may also prescribe you medicine to help manage hyperthyroidism symptoms, such as an increased heart rate. If medications can’t control hyperthyroidism, the doctor may perform radioactive ablation, where they provide you with iodine doses labeled with radioactivity to destroy thyroid tissue selectively.
2. Thyroid Surgery
The doctor may recommend surgery to remove a hyperfunctioning nodule or large goiter in the gland. Surgery is necessary if the doctor suspects you have thyroid cancer. If the surgeon can’t remove the thyroid gland entirely, you’ll need to take synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of your life. The doctor may also recommend surgery for Graves’ disease, which was the preferred treatment before the introduction of anti-thyroid medicines and RAI therapy. However, this surgery is not very common anymore.
Recent Developments in Thyroid Disorders
Over the past 10 years, there have been advances in the field of autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) concerning the available therapeutic and diagnostic techniques, along with the clinical consensus. The modernized clinical guidelines enable doctors to identify the most current and reasonable methods to manage thyroid disease properly.
Issues with ongoing discussions include:
- Reconsideration of long-term low antithyroid drug therapy doses in Graves’ disease patients
- Subgroup identification of Hashimoto’s disease
- LT4+LT3 combination therapy in individuals with hypothyroidism
More studies and research on pathophysiologic mechanisms, as well as AITD genetic backgrounds, will assist in developing the individualized and definite therapeutic techniques of autoimmune thyroid disease.
Medical marijuana can help relieve your Thyroid Disorders. Learn more about treatment options, strains and what symptoms cannabis can help you with.