Anaphylaxis and Cannabis

Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a potentially deadly form of allergic reaction, in which the whole body reacts to the presence of a chemical, or allergen. The allergen may come into contact with the body in a number of ways, such as touching, inhaling or ingesting. An initial exposure to the allergen, such as a bee sting, may not cause a reaction, but the immune system will then become sensitive to the allergen, and any further exposures will bring on the reaction, which occurs extremely quickly. This is why anaphylaxis is considered to be so dangerous.

During an anaphylactic reaction, the allergen causes tissue all around the body to release histamine, among other substances, causing the airways to constrict, making it difficult to breathe and swallow, along with various other symptoms, such as swelling and hives. See here for a more complete list:

The standard prescribed medication for use in treating anaphylaxis is epinephrine, in the form of an intramuscular injector. That is, an Epipen, which you inject into yourself to treat the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine can have a number of side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and headache. More serious side effects include: chest pain, faintness, and seizures. For a more complete list, see this link:

However, it is important to note that these side effects are rare, especially the more severe ones, and your doctor will have prescribed epinephrine because they believe it to be for your benefit.

It is possible, though, that cannabis may be used to alleviate the symptoms of anaphylactic shock in place of pharmaceuticals. It has been documented that, when observing a model of inflammation in which an allergen was applied to tissue in vitro, the application of cannabinoids caused a “significant decrease in the response” (Burnstein) to the allergen. This shows that cannabinoids do have an anti-inflammatory effect and, as such, could serve as an additional or alternative treatment for anaphylaxis, by reducing the inflammation caused by the reaction. (See here for the full paper: )

Additionally, the pain-relieving effects of cannabis are well documented, and it is seen being used as a treatment for a variety of illnesses, such as cancers and chronic pain, so it is perfectly possible that it could alleviate the swelling caused by an anaphylactic reaction and, possibly, prevent it from occurring if ingested in time.


Burstein, Sumner, and Robert Zurier. “Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids, and Related Analogs in Inflammation.” The AAPS Journal. Springer US. Web. 14 June 2015. .

Re, G., R. Barbero, A. Miolo, and V. Di Marzio. “Palmitoylethanolamide, Endocannabinoids and Related Cannabimimetic Compounds in Protection against Tissue Inflammation and Pain: Potential Use in Companion Animals.” The Veterinary Journal 173.1 (2007): 21-30. Print.

“Anaphylaxis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 14 June 2015. .

“Epinephrine Intramuscular.” WebMD. WebMD, LLC. Web. 14 June 2015. .