There are many health claims about cannabidiol (CBD), but not all of these alleged benefits are legitimate. Many people claim that CBD can benefit your immune system, but currently, there is not enough research to confirm this claim.
Here’s a closer look at what experts know about CBD and the immune system, including how CBD may offer some benefits to people with autoimmune conditions.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
Before delving into the impact of CBD on the immune system, it’s important to understand how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works. Everyone has an ECS, which is a cellular signaling system located throughout your body.
In the ECS, endocannabinoids bind to endocannabinoid receptors and send signals to various parts of the body.
Endocannabinoids are similar to phytocannabinoids (often referred to as cannabinoids), which are compounds found in hemp. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are examples of phytocannabinoids. Unlike phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids are produced by your body regardless of whether you have ever consumed hemp.
The main endocannabinoid receptors are:
- CB1 receptors, which are primarily found in the central nervous system.
- CB2 receptors, which are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system, particularly in your immune cells.
Experts are still learning about the ECS and how it works, but it appears to play a role in several important bodily functions, including:
- thinking and memory
How CBD Funges
Phytocannabinoids such as CBD also interact with your ECS.
While some phytocannabinoids bind to CB1 and CB2 cells, CBD does not appear to do so. It is believed that CBD works by preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids, allowing them to have a stronger effect on the body. It is also possible that CBD may bind to a receptor that has not yet been discovered.
CBD as a general immune booster
Some people tout CBD as a natural way to boost the immune system, particularly in the era of COVID-19, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
In general, the immune system of a healthy individual does not need boosting. While there are lifestyle changes you can make to avoid weakening the immune system, such as getting enough sleep, there is not much you can do to increase immunity in an effort to avoid illness.
CBD as an immunosuppressant
It appears that CBD does not boost the immune system but may have some benefits for individuals with autoimmune conditions. An autoimmune condition occurs when your immune system mistakes a part of your body for a foreign threat and attacks it. This can lead to inflammation and other unwanted symptoms.
Common autoimmune diseases include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Hashimotova tyreoiditida
People with autoimmune diseases often need to use immunosuppressive treatment. An immunosuppressant is something that can slow down or stop an overactive immune system.
Research from 2020 and 2021 suggest that CBD has immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties are important for people with autoimmune conditions, as inflammation is a common symptom of autoimmune disease.
However, most of the research around CBD and immunosuppression involves animal and laboratory studies. To understand whether CBD is a viable immunosuppressant, it needs to be studied in humans.
The good news is that research into CBD for the treatment of autoimmune diseases continues, and promising research suggests it could help with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
CBD as an immunomodulator
An immunomodulator is something that can either suppress or stimulate the immune system.
While there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that CBD may have immunosuppressive properties, there is not enough research to suggest that it can stimulate the immune system.
Some people claim that CBD helps with the immune system because it may improve sleep and reduce the effects of stress. Poor sleep and stress are indeed associated with impaired immune function. However, this link will need further exploration before we can be certain.
If you have a weakened immune system, it is best to stick to evidence-based treatments. Before trying a new treatment or supplement, consult with your healthcare professional.
CBD is considered safe for human consumption. However, there are some side effects and potential interactions that you need to be aware of before starting to use CBD.
Side effects of CBD may include:
- changes in weight or appetite
Additionally, CBD can integrate with certain medications. If your medications come with a grapefruit warning , it’s important to talk to a cannabis expert before trying CBD.
Grapefruit, like CBD, interferes with CYP3A4, an enzyme that helps your body process certain drugs, including immunosuppressants.
Medications that usually include a warning about grapefruit include:
- antibiotics and antimicrobials
- anticancer drugs
- antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs
- blood pressure medication
- blood thinners
- cholesterol medication (statins)
- drugs for erectile dysfunction
- gastrointestinal medications
- heart rhythm medication
- drugs for prostate
Before using CBD to manage any condition, it is essential to speak to a healthcare professional, especially if you are taking any of the above medications.