Is it possible that CBD oil can both strengthen and weaken the immune system? See what the research has to say. Some studies suggest cannabis can help the immune system, while others imply the plant can suppress it. Learn more about the current research on how cannabis effects the immune system.
Immunity and CBD Oil: Does Cannabidiol Help or Hurt the Immune System?
One of the most complicated things to understand about cannabidiol (CBD) oil is its impact on the immune system. Is it positive or negative? Will CBD oil strengthen or weaken your immune system?
There really is no simple answer to this because technically it can do both, depending on the autoimmune condition in question.
Here’s what you need to know to understand whether CBD oil could help or hurt your immune system.
Effects of CBD Oil On The Immune System
To understand whether or not CBD oil can strengthen or weaken the immune system, it is important to understand the basics.
Cannabinoids like CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a significant role in regulating a wide range of bodily functions and systems, including the immune system.
The immune system, when functioning properly, is what keeps humans healthy and enables the body to fight disease and infection. In healthy immune systems, inflammation is a normal and effective response to bodily threats. In individuals with poorly functioning immune systems, an inflammatory response is triggered far too readily and strongly, which can result in persistent inflammation that often leads to chronic pain in some conditions. Current research points to chronic inflammation as being a common factor in many diseases.
CBD oil may be able to alleviate inflammation, allowing your immune system to function better for you to feel better.
How Does CBD Oil Affect the Human Immune System?
Within the ECS, the cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptor plays a key role in regulating inflammatory immune responses. CBD oil inhibits CB2, which helps regulate inflammation in the body. Additionally, CBD has several indirect anti-inflammatory impacts on the central nervous system, which amplify its therapeutic effects.
For example, cytokines are proteins released by immune cells when the body experiences stress or trauma. These proteins play a role in the initiation and continuation of inflammation in the body. Research has shown that cannabinoids like CBD can disrupt the release of cytokines so effectively that CBD oil may even prevent inflammation before it starts.
CBD oil can also affect the immune system by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitter adenosine. Through this action, the amount of adenosine in the brain is increased, acting on the A2A adenosine receptors to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
So at this point, it may seem like all the benefits of CBD oil are the result of CBD’s ability to suppress the immune system. However, it isn’t quite that simple: there is evidence that CBD oil can, in some instances, do the opposite and strengthen the immune system to produce other benefits.
Whether CBD oil will strengthen or weaken your immune system will depend heavily on your personal health. Let’s break it down.
How CBD Oil Can Suppress the Immune System
CBD oil may play an integral role in managing autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases include conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, HIV/AIDS, and even Parkinson’s disease. While these diseases are varied in their effects and symptoms, they all have one thing in common: a hyperactive immune system.
Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the immune system overreacting to non-threatening internal events, leading to an attack on perfectly healthy cells within the body. The inflammation that results can cause stiffness, pain, and in some cases, internal organ and tissue damage.
In MS for example, the immune system erroneously targets the central nervous system, causing the body to attack the material that coats nerve fibers, which then creates layers of scar tissue. Eventually, the scar tissue disrupts the ability of these nerves to send and receive signals, resulting in loss of motor function and ultimately paralysis. CBD oil has been shown to improve the experience of MS sufferers, reducing inflammation, stiffness, muscle spasticity, and pain.
Anecdotally, individuals with MS have been using the cannabis plant to manage symptoms. Moreover, recently, Sativex, an oral spray pharmaceutical consisting of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, has been approved in Canada, the United Kingdom, and a handful of European nations, to treat nerve pain and spasticity in MS patients.
Traditionally, medications used to treat autoimmune conditions are immunosuppressive and synthetically created; essentially they work to shut down the immune system. Unfortunately, shutting off the immune system can create additional problems because it leaves individuals more susceptible to infection and illness.
CBD oil, on the other hand, could be a great middle-of-the-road option for those with autoimmune conditions, because it suppresses very specific parts of the immune system without completely turning it off. Also, CBD is naturally occurring and similar to the endocannabinoids produced in the body, making it a gentler treatment option than certain prescription pharmaceuticals. With little to no proven side effects, CBD oil could be something to try if you’re looking to manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease. Just remember to consult your doctor before trying it out.
How CBD Oil Can Strengthen the Immune System
In contrast to a hyperactive immune system, a weakened immune system is not able to adequately defend the body and fend off infection as it should.
As mentioned above, CBD oil has been found to work as an effective immune suppressor, which is why it’s used to treat inflammation. So how exactly can CBD oil both suppress and strengthen the immune system? While the answer to this question is still being researched, promising progress has been made.
In studies examining CBD’s effect in cancer patients, for whom the immune system is greatly weakened due to the disease as well as treatments for it, results have shown that individuals are better able to fight infection when taking CBD.
In one study, it was found that cannabinoids taken in high doses prompted the body to kill cancer cells through a process known as apoptosis. In a healthy immune system, apoptosis is naturally triggered when infectious cells are detected in the body. The study’s findings are huge considering cancer cells are defined by their ability to avoid apoptosis, which allows them to multiply and spread throughout the body. While the specifics of how cannabinoids elicit this reaction are still being researched, it’s encouraging to know CBD oil may be able to deter cancerous cells when the immune system cannot.
According to the research so far, CBD can address autoimmune disorders by calming a hyperactive immune system, and strengthening a compromised one. Ultimately, CBD oil may help your body find the balance it needs to function optimally.
Best CBD Oils for the Immune System
What you determine to be the best CBD oil for your immune system will depend on a handful of factors like where you live, the condition you are hoping to treat, and your personal preferences.
Before you make any type of cannabis-related purchase, it’s important to know what is legal in your state. If you live in a state where medicinal and recreational cannabis is legal, you may be able to get a full-spectrum CBD oil that contains THC. THC has its own range of potential health benefits that may be able to help with specific autoimmune diseases, but can also cause mind-altering, intoxicating effects. If you live in a more cannabis-restrictive state, you may still be able to use a hemp-derived product without THC, or a CBD isolate.
How you choose to take CBD oil will depend on your preferences and needs. For an autoimmune disease that causes localized chronic pain, like arthritis, a CBD oil topical or transdermal patch will provide targeted, long-lasting relief. If you’re prone to sudden stiffness, cramping, or spasticity, vaping CBD oil will offer the quickest relief.
CBD oil capsules or tinctures/drops are the most common ways to take CBD oil. These products are easy to work into a daily routine, and allow you to feel the benefits of CBD on a consistent, daily basis.
When looking to find the best quality CBD oil, consider brands that test their products in a third-party lab and post the resulting Certificate of Analysis (COA) on their website. If a brand does not post certificates, you should reach out and ask to see them before spending any money. COAs will allow you to understand exactly what is in your CBD oil, giving you a better understanding of the product’s potency and safety.
It is also a good idea to look for an organic product. CBD oil derived from organically grown hemp plants will reduce the likelihood that harmful chemicals or pesticides will end up in the final product. If you’re living with an autoimmune disease, choosing the cleanest CBD products is a must.
And finally, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start supplementing with CBD oil. While CBD oil has little to no known side effects, it can interact with some commonly prescribed medications. You may wish to consult a specialist cannabis doctor who has an in-depth understanding of CBD oil for medicinal use.
Does cannabis help or hurt the immune system?
Cannabis is celebrated for the benefits it offers in the management of certain medical conditions. As awareness around cannabis grows, consumers are becoming better versed in the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in the treatment of specific autoimmune diseases, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disorders.
But how does cannabis affect the immune system as a whole? If you’re a regular consumer, you may have pondered whether cannabis weakens or boosts your immune system. Can frequent cannabis use render you more prone to infections or contagious diseases?
As it turns out, research into cannabis and the immune system hasn’t historically piqued the interest of scientists. However, as our understanding of the effects of cannabis on the body becomes more sophisticated, we need to also broaden our knowledge of how cannabis influences the immune system.
Present evidence suggests that cannabis can suppress immune system function. While this can be helpful for individuals with autoimmune illnesses, it may not be so beneficial for those with functional immune systems.
Meet your immune system
The immune system is one of the body’s most sophisticated networks. A collection of specialized cells, endogenous chemicals, and organs work in concert to ward off pathogens and infections, protecting the health and homeostasis of the body.
The immune system is multifaceted, and its core components that actively combat infection include white blood cells, the complement system, antibodies, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and bone marrow, but we’ll mainly talk about white blood cells.
Memories of every microbe previously defeated by the immune system are logged in white blood cells. These memories enable the fast tracking and elimination of infections that have already been experienced. The immune system is also responsible for detecting and eradicating malfunctioning cells.
The knowledge we have about the interaction of cannabis with specific immune elements is limited. While there is some research exploring the effects of cannabinoids on white blood cell count and the lymphatic system, we know less about how cannabis impacts the thymus or the complement system.
Cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, and the immune system
An elegant connection exists between the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its immune system. The ECS is generally considered to be one of the gate-keepers of the immune system, preventing the onset of overwhelming inflammatory responses that may result in disease. The ECS can also influence the function of immune cells.
CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system mediate the effects of cannabis within the immune system. The two major cannabinoids, THC and CBD, appear to have distinctive effects on the immune system due to their unique interactions with cannabinoid receptors. Abundant literature suggests that cannabinoids affect the functions of most types of immune cells.
A 2020 review found robust evidence that CBD suppresses certain inflammatory responses in the immune system and may induce cellular death in immune cells. Immune cell death isn’t always a bad thing—it’s a normal part of the cellular life cycle, and helps to protect a person by alleviating inflammatory responses.
Like CBD, THC also suppresses immune activity, dialing down inflammatory responses. THC has also been shown to alter the function of immune cells responsible for antimicrobial activity.
How does cannabis affect the immune system?
When scientists discuss cannabis and the immune system, they often discuss its effects as immunomodulatory or immunosuppressive. Immunomodulation refers to any therapy that modifies the immune system response. When cannabis suppresses the expression of aspects of the immune system, this form of modulation is known as immunosuppression.
It’s vital to point out here that marijuana’s ability to subdue or suppress immune system cells can be useful if the immune system is dysregulated and in need of suppression. If not, immune suppression might not be helpful.
Research published in 2017 indicated that both CBD and THC have an immunomodulatory effect on the human intestinal lymphatic system, the major host of immune cells. The lymphatic system also contains more than half the body’s lymphocytes—white blood cells that play a critical role in finding and destroying foreign cells or substances that have infiltrated the body.
The study’s authors found that oral administration of CBD and THC with fats resulted in extremely high cannabinoid levels in the intestinal lymphatic system: CBD concentrations in lymph cells were 250 times higher than in plasma, while THC concentrations in lymph cells were 100 times higher than in plasma.
So, what’s the significance of this? For individuals with autoimmune diseases, cannabis can achieve higher concentrations in the lymphatic system and suppress unhealthy inflammatory immune responses more successfully.
The pros and cons of cannabis as an immunosuppressant
While the immunosuppressive properties of cannabis may be just what the doctor ordered for autoimmune patients, they can cause problems for other cannabis users.
Research carried out in 2003 on healthy volunteers suggests that regular cannabis may subdue immune function. Cannabis users were found to have fewer proinflammatory cells and more anti-inflammatory cells.
While less potential for inflammation may sound like a win, in this case, it was associated with a significant reduction in white cell functionality, and impaired white cells can mean a hindered ability to fight off infections. Regular cannabis users also had decreased amounts of natural killer cells, which limit the spread of tumors and microbial infections.
The study also indicated that there may be a dose-response relationship between cannabis use over an individual’s lifetime, and a decrease in certain immune system markers, meaning those who use cannabis regularly may be more susceptible to the progression of infectious disease.
What about the effects of cannabis on extremely immunocompromised individuals? Unfortunately, cannabis can substantially decrease infection-fighting cells in people undergoing chemotherapy. This suppressive response may further add to the detrimental effects of chemotherapy on immune systems of those with cancer.
Research on people with HIV+ and AIDS, who are particularly vulnerable to infections, however, indicates that there is no firm evidence that cannabis adversely affects immune function.
Instead, findings suggest cannabis use among HIV+ patients may enhance the immune system by producing a statistically significant decrease in viral load and an increase in CD4 cells. CD4 cells can be considered a marker that indicate the robustness of the immune system.
While existing research allows us to glean insights into cannabis and the immune system, we need more rigorous data to paint broad brushstrokes. According to the most recent 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), there’s insufficient research on the effects of cannabis or cannabinoid-based medicines on the human immune system to draw firm conclusions.
Cannabis in the time of coronavirus
Within the current global climate shaped by COVID-19, there’s an impulse among the research community to enhance our understanding of the impact of cannabis on the immune system. Some cannabis researchers are currently channeling their focus into investigating whether cannabis may be helpful or harmful in treating COVID-19.
More profound exploration into the effects of cannabinoids on the immune system is also being encouraged. Watch this space as new frontiers are forged.