How Does CBD Affect the Immune System and Autoimmune Disease?
By Roland Sebestyén
While more countries around the world continue to acknowledge the potential of CBD, the full biological effects of the cannabinoid are yet to be fully understood. However, some research demonstrates that CBD has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties.
But what does this mean for those that use CBD products, and who could potentially benefit from it?
CBD is one of the most common chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. It is classed as a cannabinoid, along with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabinol (CBN), and over a hundred other compounds in the plant. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals that have become known for their medicinal and wellness potential.
It is also clear that, in some cases, CBD might be used to treat particular diseases for which other available treatments have failed to be effective. Although we know that it produces effects in the central nervous system, in contrast to THC, which is psychoactive, CBD doesn’t create the so-called ‘high’ feeling.
Everything you should know about our immune system
In a nutshell, the immune system is the main defense our bodies have against diseases and other potentially damaging threats. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies and attacks intruders, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites – distinguishing them from our body’s healthy tissue.
Lymphocytes, or B cells and T cells, fight against antigens and they help the body to remember the once-beaten substances so that the next time the immune system can act quickly and effectively.
Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the Immune System
Despite the existence of the Endocannabinoid System only being confirmed by researchers in the 1990s, we already know that this system can play an important role in many bodily functions, including brain functions. Endocannabinoid receptors are expressed throughout the central nervous system, as well as in the human immune system.
Interactions between endocannabinoids and receptors are thought to influence mood, emotions, appetite, pain-sensation and memory, among other important physiological and cognitive processes. Phytocannabinoids (the most well-known are CBD and THC) interact with this system in similar ways to endocannabinoids.
So, what are the effects of CBD on our immune system?
According to research by James M. Nichols and Barbara L.F. Kaplan, it would appear that “considering all the studies conducted on immune responses and inflammation, the data overwhelmingly demonstrate that CBD is immune suppressive and anti-inflammatory.”
While the definition of something being anti-inflammatory should be clear, CBD functioning as an immunosuppressant might require clarification.
As a potential immunosuppressant, CBD may reduce the immune system’s inflammatory responses, promote apoptosis (cellular death), and prevent rapid cellular growth. In certain cases, these features may have a negative effect on a healthy human’s immune system.
In addition, CBD exposure may also suppress the functions of cytokines, chemokines, and T cells – all of which play an important role in immunodefense.
Using Immunosuppressants as a Treatment
It has been suggested that CBD may have potential as an adjunct treatment for some autoimmune diseases.
An autoimmune disease is when the immune system begins to attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs. This can occur basically anywhere in the body, and it can result in particular body functions weakening and, in some cases, life-threatening conditions. The most common autoimmune diseases include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Psoriasis.
Inflammation plays an important role in autoimmune diseases. As an anti-inflammatory, CBD might help the body to tackle the disease. In addition, CBD’s immunosuppressive nature might be able to help it to deal with hyperactive immune systems that attack themselves.
Research has shown that CBD has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties but how can it affect the immune system and autoimmune diseases?
Immunity and CBD Oil: Does Cannabidiol Help or Hurt the Immune System?
Written by Jason Brett — Edited by Cathy Rozyczko on February 9, 2021
One of the most complicated things to understand about CBD oil is its impact on the immune system. Is it positive or negative? Will CBD oil strengthen or weaken your immune system?
There really is no simple answer to this, because technically it can do both, depending on the autoimmune condition in question.
Here’s what you need to know to understand whether CBD oil could help or hurt your immune system.
Effects of CBD Oil On The Immune System
To understand whether or not CBD oil can strengthen or weaken the immune system, it is important to understand the basics.
Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a significant role in regulating a wide range of bodily functions and systems, including the immune system.
The immune system, when functioning properly, is what keeps humans healthy and enables the body to fight disease and infection. In healthy immune systems, inflammation is a normal and effective response to bodily threats. In individuals with poorly functioning immune systems, an inflammatory response is triggered far too readily, which can result in persistent inflammation that often leads to chronic pain in other conditions. Current research points to chronic inflammation as being a common factor in many diseases.
CBD oil may be able to alleviate this inflammation, allowing your immune system to function better and allowing you to feel better.
How Does CBD Oil Affect the Human Immune System?
Within the endocannabinoid system, there is one receptor, in particular, that plays a key role in regulating inflammatory immune responses: cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). CBD oil inhibits the CB2 receptor, which then helps regulate inflammation in the body . Additionally, cannabidiol has several indirect anti-inflammatory impacts on the central nervous system, which amplify its therapeutic effects.
For example, cytokines are proteins released by immune cells when the body experiences stress or trauma. These proteins play a role in the initiation and continuation of inflammation in the body. Research has shown that cannabinoids like cannabidiol can disrupt the release of cytokines so effectively that CBD oil may even prevent inflammation before it starts.
CBD oil can also affect the immune system by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitter adenosine. Through this action, the amount of adenosine in the brain is increased, influencing the A2A adenosine receptors in such a way that reduces inflammation throughout the body.
So at this point, it may seem like all the benefits of CBD oil are the result of cannabidiol’s ability to suppress the immune system. However, it isn’t quite that simple: There is evidence that CBD oil can, in some instances, do the opposite and strengthen the immune system to produce other benefits.
Whether CBD oil will strengthen or weaken your immune system will depend heavily on your personal health. Let’s break it down.
How CBD Oil Can Suppress the Immune System
CBD oil may play an integral role in managing autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases include conditions like rheumatoid arthritis , multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, HIV/AIDS, and even Parkinson’s disease. While these diseases are varied in their effects and symptoms, they all have one thing in common: a hyperactive immune system.
Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the immune system overreacting to non-threatening internal events, leading to an attack against perfectly healthy cells within the body. The inflammation that results can cause stiffness, pain, and in some cases, internal organ and tissue damage.
In multiple sclerosis (MS), for example, the immune system erroneously targets the central nervous system, causing the body to attack the material that coats nerve fibers, which then creates layers of scar tissue. Eventually, the scar tissue disrupts the ability of these nerves to send and receive signals, resulting in loss of motor function and ultimately paralysis. CBD oil has been shown to improve the experience of MS sufferers , reducing inflammation, stiffness, muscle spasticity, and pain.
Anecdotally, individuals with MS have been using the cannabis plant to manage symptoms and recently Sativex, an oral spray pharmaceutical made of THC and CBD , has been approved in Canada, the United Kingdom, and a handful of European nations, to treat nerve pain and spasticity in MS patients.
Traditionally, medications used to treat autoimmune conditions are immunosuppressive and synthetically created; essentially they work to shut down the immune system. Unfortunately, shutting off the immune system can create additional problems because it leaves individuals even more susceptible to infection and illness.
CBD oil, on the other hand, could be a great middle-of-the-road option for those with autoimmune conditions, because it suppresses very specific parts of the immune system without completely turning it off. Also, cannabidiol is naturally occurring and similar to the endocannabinoids produced in the body, making it a gentler treatment option than certain prescription pharmaceuticals. With little to no proven side effects , CBD oil could be something to try if you’re looking to manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease. Just remember to consult your doctor first.
How CBD Oil Can Strengthen the Immune System
In contrast to a hyperactive immune system, a weakened immune system is not able to adequately defend the body and fend off infection as it should.
As mentioned above, CBD oil has been found to work as an effective immune suppressor, which is why it’s used to treat inflammation. So how exactly can CBD oil both suppress and strengthen your immune system? While the answer to this question is still being researched and sought out, promising progress has been made.
In studies examining CBD’s effect on cancer sufferers , a condition in which the immune system is greatly diminished, results have shown that individuals are better able to fight infection when taking cannabidiol.
In one such study , it was found that cannabinoids taken in high doses prompted the body to kill cancer cells through a process known as apoptosis. In a healthy immune system, apoptosis is naturally triggered when infectious cells are detected in the body. The study’s findings are huge considering cancer cells are defined by their ability to avoid apoptosis, which allows them to multiply and spread throughout the body. While the specifics of how cannabinoids elicit this reaction are still being researched, it’s encouraging to know CBD oil may be able to deter cancerous cells when the immune system cannot.
According to the research so far, cannabidiol can address autoimmune disorders by calming a hyperactive immune system, and strengthening a compromised one. Ultimately, CBD oil may help your body find the balance it needs to function at an optimal level.
Best CBD Oils for the Immune System
What you determine to be the best CBD oil for your immune system will depend on a handful of factors like where you live, the condition you are hoping to treat, and your personal preferences.
Before you make any type of cannabis-related purchase, it’s important to know what is legal in your state . If you live in a state where medicinal and recreational cannabis is legal, you may be able to get a full-spectrum CBD oil that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has its own range of potential health benefits that may be able to help with specific autoimmune diseases, but can also cause mind-altering, intoxicating effects. If you live in a more cannabis-restrictive state, you may still be able to use a hemp-derived product without THC, or CBD isolate .
How you choose to take CBD oil will depend on your preferences and needs. For an autoimmune disease that causes localized chronic pain, like arthritis, a CBD oil topical or transdermal patch will provide targeted, long-lasting relief. If you’re prone to sudden stiffness, cramping, or spasticity, vaping CBD oil will offer the quickest relief.
CBD oil capsules or tinctures/drops are the most common ways to take CBD oil. These products are easy to work into a daily routine, and allow you to feel the benefits of cannabidiol on a consistent, daily basis.
When looking to find the best quality CBD oil , consider brands that test their products in a third-party lab and post the resulting Certificates of Analysis on their website. If a brand does not post certificates, you should reach out and ask to see them before spending any money. Certificates of Analysis will allow you to understand exactly what is in your CBD oil, giving you a better understanding of the product’s potency and safety.
It is also a good idea to look for an organic product. CBD oil derived from organically grown hemp plants will reduce the likelihood that harmful chemicals or pesticides will end up in the final product. If you’re living with an autoimmune disease, choosing the cleanest CBD products is a must.
And finally, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start supplementing with CBD oil. While CBD oil has little to no known side effects, it can interact with some commonly prescribed medications . You may wish to consult a specialist cannabis doctor who has an in-depth understanding of CBD oil for medicinal use.
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Is it possible that CBD oil can both strengthen and weaken the immune system? See what the research has to say.