CBD and the Immune System

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If your body’s health and wellness are important to you, then you are no doubt invested and interested in your immune system. The immune system is responsible for fighting off unwanted bacteria or viruses—in short, pathogens—that negatively affect your health in a myriad of ways. Even if you are not a wellness buff, the health of your immune system should be of vital importance to you. When people refer to immune health, they are often talking about the products or habits that boost your immune system and help it remain strong. The stronger your immune system, the better able it is to ward off toxins.

Today, there are many ways to fortify your immune system. The list of products continues to expand from foods to supplements as we find more innovative, less traditional ways of strengthening our body’s natural processes. One method that is gaining traction and becoming increasingly popular is using CBD to assist in immune function. CBD as a medicinal solution has been around for centuries, however, we are just now discovering its many uses and the way it interacts with our internal systems. Much research is still needed to reach a conclusive understanding of CBD and the immune system. Nonetheless, there is evidence suggesting its ability to bolster immune activity.

How does the immune system work?

Being alive invariably means that your body will be confronted with all kinds of risks. There is an endless stream of diseases, infections, viruses, and bacteria that you may be exposed to just by leaving your front door. If not for your immune system, many of these invaders can be fatal. The immune system’s primary function is to keep you safe and ward off any possible harm from pathogens. Evident by its name, the immune system’s work isn’t the job for a single entity but is a collective effort performed by many constituent elements and processes working in unison. In short, the immune system is a system of cells, organs, and tissues that work together in order to eliminate foreign, harmful substances from invading and injuring the body. 

What are the types of white blood cells and what do they do?

A key component of a healthy immune system is a sufficient white blood cell count. In the body, there exist two kinds of white blood cells: lymphocytes and phagocytes. Lymphocytes, known as B-cells and T-cells, destroy antigens which are toxins and harmful substances. In addition to fighting antigens, B-cells and T-cells are also tasked with keeping track and remembering every harmful substance that enters your body. That way, your immune system can respond more quickly if they should happen to infiltrate your system again. On the other hand, the function of a phagocyte is to absorb and neutralize the invader. This prevents the toxin from spreading and causing further damage. 

white blood cells immune system cbd

Aside from shielding your body from toxic invaders, your immune system is also responsible for locating and destroying cells that are no longer functioning properly. The process by which these defective cells are located and eliminated is called apoptosis. Apoptosis is necessary because if defective cells are left to their own devices, they will multiply and lead to the formation of tumors. 

The Endocannabinoid System and the immune system

The Endocannabinoid System was discovered in the 1900s and is believed to interact with the immune system, among other internal systems. Much is yet to be discovered about the exact ways that the Endocannabinoid System affects the body and its specific functionalities. For now, we can be certain that the Endocannabinoid System is comprised of two G-protein receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous ligands known as endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), proteins that transport these endocannabinoids, and enzymes that break the endocannabinoids down. 

What are endocannabinoids and how do they work?

Endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the body. When they attach to receptors they are responsible for regulating several bodily functions. Some of these are related to mood, sleep, and immune function, depending on the receptor that they bind to. Endocannabinoids are produced according to the body’s needs. The more stress your body is under, the more endocannabinoids the body produces to combat that stress. For this reason, the ECS is known to be a regulator for homeostasis. It helps the body find and maintain a healthy biological balance. 

When the body faces physical or mental strain the ECS produces endocannabinoids. In turn, the endocannabinoids bind to specific receptors to target the stress. Once the endocannabinoids have fulfilled their biological function the enzymes proceed to break them down. As mentioned earlier, the ECS is responsible for dealing with several physiological processes—immune function and inflammation are two of the most important. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on immune cells. Endocannabinoids act upon immune cells through CB2 receptors. 

Anti-inflammatory responses and the immune system

When CB2 receptors are activated, an anti-inflammatory response is initiated. For this reason, CB2 activation is vital to those who suffer from autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation. Inflammation is not an innately harmful bodily response; in fact, our health often depends on our body’s ability to initiate inflammation. Inflammation is activated in the same way that the immune system generally operates. Once the body detects a pathogenic substance, the immune system triggers inflammation, whereby immune cells target the area causing swelling and redness as it essentially suffocates the toxin. 

Inflammation typically comes in two forms—acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the appropriate response to actual harm or damage that the body experiences. The immune system unleashes immune cells to protect the affected area. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can be incredibly harmful to the body. This can happen when the inflammatory response is prolonged or the immune system cannot distinguish between benign and malignant particles. This kind of inflammation can be extremely taxing on the body because immune cells are released to combat toxins that don’t exist. In this way, inflammation can suffocate and destroy vital tissues and organs in much the same way as it does with toxins. 

Inflammation in and of itself is not pathogenic unless it lingers and becomes chronic. Be aware that chronic inflammation is usually caused by more simple acute inflammation that goes untreated for some time. For instance, a typical injury that goes untreated for some time can possibly lead to chronic inflammation. In addition to prolonged, untreated acute inflammation, chronic inflammation also results from autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, any long-term exposure to irritants like polluted air and chemicals can play a factor in causing chronic inflammation. 

Now that we understand how the ECS works with the immune system we can move on to the effects of CBD on the immune system.

How does CBD help the immune system? 

1. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties

CBD impacts the ECS, and ECS in turn directly interacts with the immune system. CBD has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. As such, it functions as an immunosuppressant and immunomodulator. This is particularly useful for people who suffer from chronic inflammation. As an immunosuppressant, CBD reduces the immune system’s inflammatory response, promoting apoptosis, and preventing rapid cellular growth. 

2. CBD suppresses an overactive immune system

Additionally, CBD intake can suppress the function of cytokines, chemokines, and T-cells—all of which are vital to immune defense. This is necessary for those who have an overactive immune system. Specific cells in your immune system secrete cytokines. These proteins communicate with molecules whose job it is to regulate immunity, white blood cell production, and inflammation. CBD suppresses the function and secretion of cytokines. Chemokine, on the other hand, is a group of cytokines that act as a chemoattractant (a chemical agent that induces an organism or cell to migrate towards it. The purpose of the chemokines is to lead immune cells to the affected area so that white blood cells can find and eliminate the microbes. CBD can suppress chemokine production. As for T-cells, CBD can suppress their function and production, which can suppress the immune system’s ability to remember its various invaders. 

3. CBD can potentially help treat autoimmune diseases

CBD has the potential to be a possible treatment option or a supplement to other treatment methods for those with autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease is when the immune system begins to attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs by mistaking them as toxic foreign bodies. This can occur anywhere in the body and has the potential to weaken specific bodily functions, which can sometimes cause life-threatening conditions. CBD can halt or slow the immune system, thereby delaying or preventing potentially unnecessary and harmful immune responses such as inflammation.

4. CBD can help treat anxiety.

It is known that mental stress weakens the immune system. We learn more about the link between mind and body every day. Treating your anxiety can bolster your immune system back to normal. We’ve written about how to use CBD oil to treat anxiety here.

There are many ways to use CBD to help with inflammation and immune disorders. The most common method is ingesting CBD oil sublingually. This method has high bioactivity and typically takes effect relatively quickly. To help with more localized pain due to joint inflammation, you can also apply topical CBD. Topical CBD comes in the form of balms, ointments, and creams, and can provide more targeted pain relief. 

Conclusion

CBD can be a safer alternative to more traditional medicine that may possess many side effects. In order to know which CBD product is best for you and your condition, it is best that you consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner to see if CBD can complement your treatment plan. Certain CBD products might be more effective for your specific condition than others. In general, it’s best practice to try a small amount of a product and increase your dosage as necessary. This will allow you to customize your CBD use and ensure that you are consuming or applying a safe amount.

Addendum: CBD and COVID-19

While there isn’t enough clinical evidence that CBD can treat the novel coronavirus. There is encouraging research being done. The importance of a strong immune system in fighting COVID is known. For the reasons listed in the article above we think CBD can help bolster your immune system. Traditional advice applies: get enough sleep, exercise, and sunshine, make sure to wash your hands properly. Stay safe.

Written by: Rahaf Sheikh-Khalil

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