How Does CBD Work As An Anti-inflammatory?
Whenever an article mentions the healing qualities of CBD, it is bound to include its anti-inflammatory features. So, does CBD work as an anti-inflammatory? If so, how does this cannabinoid manage to fight inflammation in the human body?
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the first defensive response of our body to an intruder.
When a virus, bacteria, microbe, or any other unwanted intruder enters our body, our system initially tries to isolate it by causing inflammation around it. The inflammation functions as a bubble keeping the intruder locked, without allowing it to spread.
By causing inflammation, the body alerts the immune system that there is a problem that needs to be fixed.
Once the intruder has been contained, the body releases its own weapons to fight the disease. While these depend on the type of intruder, the initial response usually involves our white cells. The body sends these out to destroy the intruders.
A healthy immune system
Our white cells contain various cells, each with a specific task. Monocytes kill bacteria. Lymphocytes create antibodies. Neutrophils destroy bacteria. Basophils send the message that an intruder has come. Eosinophils kill intruding parasites and destroy potentially cancerous cells.
While they each have a specific job to do, they share something in common: their activation starts with an inflammation.
Therefore, the activation of an inflammation is a sign of a healthy immune system defending itself against danger.
Usually, inflammation is an acute symptom which, after proper healing, goes away. During a bout of acute inflammation, the body alerts the immune system. The immune system sends white cells to heal the problem causing the inflammation. As the white cells gather around the inflammation, their activity causes redness and swollen tissue.
Once the intruder has been exterminated, there is no reason for the inflammation to persist and the body slowly clears it away. Our immune system returns to its original homeostatic state.
When does inflammation become a bad thing?
Just like most things in life, more of a good thing is often a bad thing. In the case of inflammation, if the body cannot fight the intruder causing the inflammation, then the inflammation does not subside. This leads to pain.
This can also be the case for people who have a deficient immune system. People with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy exhibit immune-deficiency. Their bodies cannot fight diseases properly.
Another problem with inflammation arises when it becomes chronic. In chronic situations, inflammation persists over a long time, leading to moderate but persistent pain. In this case, white cells often gather around a perceived threat, although there might not be an intruder.
White cells start attacking healthy cells and tissue, causing organ damage. This is the case of auto-immune diseases, heart strokes and, to some extent, cancer.
As the inflammation persists throughout the body, it causes oxidative stress.
Inflammation and oxidative stress
Scientists have compared oxidative stress to an apple turning brown once you cut it and it comes in contact with oxygen.
Our cells rust (the equivalent of the apple turning brown) when they come in contact with free radicals. They oxidize and, in a sense, go bad.
Since chronic inflammation releases free radicals, this leads to a vicious circle. It’s no surprise, then, that studies have linked oxidative stress to cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and strokes.
Therefore, while inflammation is our body’s natural reaction to an intruder, its lingering in the human body signifies there is a deeper problem. A problem which often relates to our body’s endocannabinoid system.
What is the relation between the endocannabinoid system and inflammation?
In the 1990s, the medical community discovered that our body contains an endocannabinoid system (ECS). This encompasses our entire body, including our brain, immune system, and nervous system.
The ECS is a molecular system of natural cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. It aims to keep the human body in perfect health and balance. This state of balance is called homeostasis. Like all the body’s systems, the ECS works constantly.
The ECS is critical in balancing our appetite, mood, sense of temperature, fertility, immune system, motor senses, memory, and the sensation of pain among others.
If the ECS can fix a problem on its own, it solves it. Otherwise, it alerts us that something is wrong.
For instance, if we are feeling cold, it’s the ECS that lets us know that we need to cover up. If we are hungry, the ECS sends us to the kitchen to grab a snack. Since our environment, our mood, and our senses are always changing, the ECS is constantly working to keep everything in balance.
The ECS works with two natural cannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These two cannabinoids attach themselves to two receptors, simply called CB1 and CB2. Through these, our cannabinoids travel around our bodies and fix problems.
Cannabinoid 2-AG—along with its receptor, CB2—is found in the immune system. It repairs problems linked with inflammation and attacks on the immune system.
Anandamide with its receptors CB1 is mostly found in the brain and is responsible for mood, motor sense, and similar functions.
How the ECS deals with inflammation
When the body detects an inflammation, our ECS sends its cannabinoid 2-AG and anandamide to fix the problem and limit the inflammation and lessen the pain.
Once the work of the cannabinoids has finished, they get discarded by our body’s enzymes and are expelled through the liver.
Sometimes, however, the human body can’t reach homeostasis on its own.
We don’t understand yet how and why our ECS loses its ability to fix inflammation. Some researchers wonder whether, for some reason, our natural production of anandamide and 2-AG decreases.
Others have speculated that maybe our endocannabinoids lose their ability to fix problems. Οr, maybe, the enzymes that ultimately discard our endocannabinoids come in too early and don’t let the endocannabinoids accomplish their job.
Whatever the cause, the end result is chronic inflammation.
How does CBD reduce inflammation?
There are claims that CBD may be able to help treat inflammation because the cannabis plant contains two cannabinoids which are very similar to our own endocannabinoids.
These phytocannabinoids, as they are called since they come from a plant (phyto being Greek for plant), are THC and CBD. THC closely resembles anandamide and CBD is similar to 2-AG (you can find out more about CBD and the endocannabinoid system here).
Researchers wondered if a phytocannabinoid similar to 2-AG could help our ECS fight an inflammation when it fails to do so on its own. And if so, how?
CBD and the ECS
As with a lot of research surrounding CBD, it is yet too soon to get definitive answers. A lot of studies have been performed on animals and the results have yet to be replicated in humans. Moreover, we need large scale tests and studies to be able to draw permanent and trustworthy conclusions. However, initial medical findings are very promising.
A first observation is that CBD does not seem to bind to receptors CB1 and CB2. Researchers expected that CBD could replace or reinforce the work of our natural cannabinoids. Instead, it seems that CBD helps our own ECS function properly.
CBD makes our own cannabinoids more efficient but does not do the job for them. It’s as if CBD kickstarts our ECS to bring back homeostasis.
Another finding is that CBD seems to activate glycine receptors. Glycine is an amino-acid with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities. Activating its receptors means that the body becomes more responsive to glycine and its beneficial effects.
All that explains how CBD can help treat inflammation in our bodies.
Does CBD help with chronic inflammation?
Returning to inflammation and its causes, we know the body produces a peptide called cytokine. Cytokine sends the message to the immune system to create inflammation and stop the intruder from spreading.
Additionally, a hormone called prostaglandin produces blood clots to regenerate the damaged cells.
All these are perfectly natural responses to acute inflammation. When the inflammation becomes chronic, however, these reactions become harmful.
With chronic inflammation, cytokine is overproduced and overstays its welcome in the inflammation. Not only that, but during its stay, cytokine invites more of its friends, like macrophages and neutrophils, which cause even more damage and inflammation.
Studies have shown that CBD de-regulates cytokine and confuses it, thus limiting its catastrophic work in cases of chronic inflammation.
Moreover, CBD stops the enzyme cyclooxygenase that produces prostaglandins, again limiting inflammation.
Studies have also shown that CBD stops the production of macrophages in the gut. This is particularly helpful in cases of gut inflammation—such as Crohn’s disease.
A bright future for CBD
Researchers are following up on what they already know.
For instance, most of the non-steroidal drugs available for inflammation are based on their ability to stop an enzyme, cyclooxygenase, from producing prostaglandin, a compound that modulates inflammation. Researchers have found that CBD does the same.
CBD can also help manage the pain related to inflammation. CBD’s few side-effects and inability to cause dependency make it ideal for long-term use. This makes CBD better than common anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, which shouldn’t be used for more than 30 days.
However, before trying CBD, be sure to consult your physician, who will explain how to determine the right CBD dosage for you. They will also make sure it won’t affect any other medications you are taking. Also, always buy your CBD from a trusted source, as many products on the market have misleading labels.
Several studies are researching CBD’s potential as a novel anti-inflammatory drug with very promising initial findings. Testing and discovering new ways to treat inflammation with CBD could make a world of difference to sufferers!