Does CBD Oil Help Boost The Immune System?
Many people are taking CBD for illnesses or discomforts related to the immune system. While CBD’s anti-inflammatory qualities are generally accepted, its effect on our immune system is not as well researched. What do we currently know about the ways CBD interacts with our immune system?
How our immune system works
The immune system is not located on a single organ or part of the body. It involves many organs and parts of the body, including the bone marrow, lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels, spleen, thymus gland, tonsils, and adenoids.
The many parts of our immune system
The immune system gets activated when bacteria, viruses or diseases enter the body.
The immune system initially recognizes these foreign bodies. Once it understands that these are harmful to the body, it triggers a series of responses designed to get rid of them.
The immune system’s first line of defence against pathogens involves the body’s white cells, along with various other cells such as phagocytes, lymphocytes, and neutrophil. These cells have been programmed to either fight bacteria, kill viruses, or send ‘information’ to the relevant cells to fight the invaders.
Killing pathogens and malfunctioning cells is our immune system doing its job.
What sort of immunity do we have?
The body builds two main types of immunity, namely the innate immunity and the adaptive one.
Innate immunity is the immunity we are born with.
The human body has to deal with pathogens from the first day we are born, which means that it needs defences immediately after birth. These defences are initially found on the skin, which is the first barrier a pathogen will encounter.
Adaptive immunity is the type of immunity we get throughout our lives, as we come across viruses, microbes, and bacteria.
Our body gradually builds a ‘database’ of these pathogens. If it encounters them again, it has the memory of fighting them already in its database. This means that fighting diseases becomes easier because the body remembers how it fought them the first time.
What can go wrong with our immune system?
Because our immune system is so complex and involves so many organs throughout the body, there are many ways it can go wrong.
Some people suffer from immunodeficiency: somehow the body cannot fight properly the external pathogens attacking it.
People suffering from HIV have an immunodeficiency due to the virus in their bodies. Equally, people undergoing chemotherapy might suffer from immunodeficiency because of the effects of chemotherapy on the body. For others, older age or some other issue means that their body is unable to protect itself.
The most common sort of a faulty immune system, however, is auto-immunity.
In the case of auto-immune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy cells rather than external pathogens or infections. The immune system believes that it has found pathogens while, in fact, it is attacking itself.
Auto-immune diseases can be devastating. With time, the immune system attacks itself so much that it starts destroying organs.
Some of the most common auto-immune diseases include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis. The immune system attacks the lining of the joints. This results in the swelling of joints, pain, and disfigurement.
- Lupus. The immune system harms various organs, with wide-ranging symptoms and effects.
- Multiple sclerosis. An overactive immune system targets nerve cells. Again, the effects and symptoms vary greatly.
- Diabetes. A kind of type-1 diabetes is caused by the immune system attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. When the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, the result is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Psoriasis. This is an auto-immune disease of the skin which causes skin plaques to form.
It is yet unknown what triggers the immune system to destroy healthy tissue. One factor is genetic predisposition but there are many other factors involved, such as stress.
It is also hard to predict which auto-immune disease will manifest. Initial findings suggest that auto-immune diseases often come in groups. They seem to relate to each other because of common genetic background, environmental reasons, or both. For example, people suffering from thyroiditis often also suffer from arthritis or psoriasis.
How does our endocannabinoid system interact with our immune one?
Discovered in the 90s, the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) makes sure that our body remains in balance. It informs us if something goes wrong and fixes any problem that arises. This activity of keeping everything in balance is called homeostasis.
Our ECS relates to a vast array of body functions: it regulates our mood, appetite, fertility, memory, pain sensation, digestion, immune function, temperature regulation, inflammation, and even sleep patterns. Therefore, our ECS interacts with many discrete body systems such as the nervous system, the digestive system, and the immune system.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The ECS takes its name from the close resemblance between two cannabinoids—components found in cannabis—in the body. CBD mimics the action of one of them. It is precisely because of this resemblance that CBD can affect the immune system.
Specifically, the ECS includes two endocannabinoids: 2-AG and anandamide. These two endocannabinoids bind to two receptors, namely CB1 and CB2. These let our ECS know that it needs to take action because there something is threatening the body’s balance—or homeostasis. The trigger could be something as simple as the cells needing more hydration, in which case the ECS translates the signal into thirst.
Because CB2 receptors are mainly found on immune cells, ECS also interacts with our immune system.
When triggered, CB2 receptors warn our body that it needs to take care of an inflammation.
What is the importance of i
Inflammation is a very useful reaction of the body to a pathogen. Inflammation is another way the body defends itself and confines a threat.
Through inflammation, the body limits harmful pathogens and inhibits them from spreading throughout the body. Inflammation, therefore, insulates damaged areas of the body so that a disease will not spread.
The problem with auto-immune diseases is that, once the body wrongly attacks itself by killing healthy cells, they cause rampant inflammation. Instead of using inflammation to fight harmful pathogens, the body now inflames healthy cells.
Most auto-immune diseases involve inflammation: arthritis causes inflammation of the joints, multiple sclerosis causes inflammation of the nerves, thyroiditis causes inflammation of the thyroid, etc.
Inflammation causes pain, swelling and even the loss of function of the targeted organ or body part.
Rather than fighting a disease, our immune system is killing us.
CBD and its role in battling inflammation
While there is still ongoing medical speculation as to how exactly CBD decreases inflammation in the human body, researchers agree that CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory. So far, our best guess is that CBD stops some inflammation-producing enzymes and inflammation-causing molecules while it increases the production of anti-oxidants—components that help reduce inflammation.
For instance, cytokine is a peptide that has been known to provoke inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, when produced in large quantities.
Our ECS normally regulates the production of cytokine, but when our immune system overreacts, our ECS gets out of balance and loses its homeostasis. Production of cytokine increases and causes inflammation.
CBD seems to suppress the effects of cytokine, therefore diminishing inflammation.
Research is ongoing but it looks like CBD helps our ECS work better and more effectively, which in turn starts regulating again the production of cytokine.
Scientists speculate that CBD fights inflammation by diminishing the killing of healthy cells and promoting the production of new ones.
Is CBD an immuno-suppressant?
You may assume from the above that CBD is an immuno-suppressant. However, that’s not how CBD works. Unlike immune-suppressants, which reduce the efficiency of the immune system, CBD seems to be an immune-regulator. It regulates the immune system and limits inflammation in case of an auto-immune disease.
That is why the immune system of a healthy individual disease who takes CBD, will suffer no side-effects.
Current research and studies suggest that CBD regulates itself in how it affects the immune system. While it is an immune-suppressant regarding auto-immune diseases, it does not suppress the immune system of an otherwise healthy individual. Instead, it looks like CBD modulates the way our immune system works to make it function at its best.
Research supports this. So far, studies with healthy individuals have shown no increase in contracted infections from individuals taking CBD. What has been revealed is that CBD could help our immune system to reach its own homeostasis, restoring its balance.
In conclusion: CBD could be a powerful anti-inflammatory
CBD is probably not very effective in treating common colds or the flu. In these cases, the body is usually well-equipped to isolate and eventually kill the intruders.
But initial results are promising regarding the treatment of auto-immune diseases that exhibit inflammations.
This is particularly important because there is no cure for auto-immune diseases. Medication typically centres on diminishing the inflammation caused by the disease. In many cases, doctors prescribe steroid hormones (cortisone) which has a lot of unwanted side effects.
If clinical trials prove CBD’s worth in fighting inflammation, people could treat their auto-immune disease without experiencing any serious side effects. While CBD can have a few side-effects, these are usually minor and usually stem from an adverse interaction with medication or existing conditions. That is why you should consult with your doctor before trying CBD (read more on CBD’s side-effects here).
In most cases, CBD’s side effects — such as nausea, diarrhoea, low blood pressure, or change in appetite — can be dealt with by changing the CBD brand or altering the dosage. That is why it is important to carefully choose your CBD provider and the right CBD dosage.