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CBD and the immune system

CBD and the immune system

You already know that CBD helps with pain management, anxiety, stress, and inflammation. But does CBD help your immune system? Science says it might! In this article, we’re going to look at how the immune system and endocannabinoid systems are related and the various ways that CBD can support a strong immune system.

The immune system: what it is and what it does

The immune system is your body's defense against infections. It comprises a network of immune cells, tissues, and organs. To keep you well, the various cells within this network have to identify different pathogens and distinguish them from your own healthy tissues. Pathogens are around us all the time and can include anything from viruses to parasitic worms. When your body detects foreign substances that may be harmful to you (called antigens), the components of your immune system work to isolate the antigens and get rid of them.

The endocannabinoid and immune systems

Your immune cells have their own cannabinoid receptors, which means that CBD products may have important immune-supporting effects. Research has shown that the endocannabinoid system plays a part in the development of certain immune cells and the chemicals they produce. In fact, it’s been found that cannabinoids help to regulate your most important immune cells: T and B lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and macrophages. 

While more research is necessary to determine the exact relationship between CBD and the immune system, there is evidence to suggest that CBD can help strengthen the immune system and keep it in good working order.

Does CBD help your immune system?

Your body has its own endocannabinoid system (ECS), which works to keep you in a state of biological balance. Your ECS includes receptors that are located throughout your nervous system and immune system. Your endocannabinoids play a part in regulating immune function and inflammation. 

Cannabinoids and terpenes are tiny molecules that bind to receptors in the body and signal to other networks. These interactions allow cannabinoids, terpenes, and hundreds of other phytochemicals to trigger different processes and functions in cells, as well as help to promote cellular homeostasis (balance) in the body.

Endocannabinoids act upon immune cells directly through these receptors, mainly the CB2 receptor. When activated, it has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. This is helpful not only for reducing systemic inflammation, but also for relieving symptoms caused by autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

While the evidence is still relatively limited, some studies suggest cannabinoids can have a beneficial effect on our adaptive immune system. There’s some anecdotal evidence that CBD is a helpful means of immune support against the common flu. It appears to reduce symptoms and can be used as a natural alternative to over-the-counter pain relievers, sleep aids, and medicated topical treatments.

Does CBD oil kill viruses?

Some research shows that cannabinoids are potent antimicrobials, which means they can kill off certain types of bacteria and fungus. In fact, one of CBD’s superpowers is its ability to fight serious “superbugs” like MRSA. It’s even able to ward off common yeast infections. In short, evidence suggests that cannabinoids may indeed help treat certain types of viral infections—but not all. 

One important responsibility of your immune system is apoptosis, the programmed death of unwanted or harmful cells. Apoptosis is involved in anything required to kill diseased cells, including those infected with viruses. 

Thanks to the way in which cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system work together, there are ways that CBD may actually help to keep pathogens at bay. Without going into too much scientific detail, cannabinoids interact with every other system in the body via a special signalling system to keep everything into balance—and to keep your immune system primed against invaders. 

It’s in this way that CBD helps reduce inflammation. Many viruses depend on systemic inflammation to invade cells, as this allows them to spread more easily throughout the body. One theory is that if CBD can reduce inflammation in the body, it may also reduce the rate or severity of an infection. 

While scientists do know that specific cannabinoids can, in fact, help against certain types of viruses, there have not yet been any human studies, so they can’t make any conclusions just yet. However, one study so far has shown that certain cannabinoids were able to inhibit a copy of the betacorona virus (MHV) in vitro. More research is pending! 

CBD for autoimmune disorders

There is some solid evidence that CBD helps reduce harmful inflammatory responses caused by autoimmune conditions. It acts as an immune system modulator, which means it's like a thermostat—it can turn the level of immune activity in your body up or down, depending on your needs. Cannabis products may benefit for autoimmune disease in three basic ways: 

  • Modulating the immune system
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Assisting the digestive system

By triggering CB2 receptors, CBD may suppress the immune response, which is a good thing for those with autoimmune disorders. The CB2 receptor can also slow down the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines while boosting anti-inflammatory cytokines. This is what helps keep the body in balance. 

Cannabidiol appears to slow down T-cell production and suppress immune system memory, which could mean that it can reduce the risk of future autoimmune attacks. This is also a way of modulating the immune system, rather than suppressing it.

Of course, while this makes CBD potentially useful for those with autoimmune diseases, it may not be so useful if you’re trying to fight off a viral infection! 

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Finding the right CBD for you

There are lots of options for taking CBD—and while they all have similar effects, each has its own ‘best’ use.

  • Vaping is excellent for quick relief, as the body is able to absorb and use the CBD quickly 
  • Salves and lotions are for external use only and best for targeting pain or inflammation in specific areas of the body (such as for muscle or joint pain)
  • Edibles affect the entire body and are ideal for general use 
    • Chewable edibles take up to about 90 minutes to kick in and effects may last 6–8 hours
    • Edibles like lollipops and gum are faster to start working, since the body absorbs the CBD sublingually
  • Tinctures are one of the most popular ways to take CBD; they’re also absorbed sublingually and  ideal for general use

The right type of CBD product for you is the one that fits best into your lifestyle and delivers the results you’re looking for—whether that’s pain and inflammation relief or simply bringing more balance to your body to (hopefully) boost your immune system.

Final words

Cannabidiol has the potential to be effective against viruses, but we’ll have to wait for more research before we can say which ones. 

Just a quick note for those who are taking both prescription medication (for anything) and also using CBD: CBD has been found to inhibit cytochrome P450 enzymes. These are present in the liver and are required for metabolizing up to 60% of prescription medication. Tell your doctor about your CBD use—just case it causes problems with your prescription meds!

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