Cannabinoids show immeasurable promise in the treatment of a myriad of health conditions. Epilepsy, joint pain, and even neurodegenerative disease – how can one plant help with such a variety of symptoms? Scientists believe it is because these conditions share one common underlying factor: inflammation.
Over the years, cannabis research has advanced in leaps and bounds. It is becoming increasingly clear that one small but mighty cannabinoid, CBD, may help to relieve the symptoms of countless inflammatory conditions.
Inflammation: an overview
Our immune system is our body’s defence mechanism, and inflammation is its tool to fight off biological threats. When our immune cells detect potential danger, be it bacteria, a virus, or an injury, it initiates a surge of inflammation that aims to flush out any harmful material.
When the threat is stubborn, or at least our body thinks it is, inflammation can persist. This is what is known as chronic inflammation. It can last for months – years, even – and is associated with countless inflammatory diseases, including type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Although an acute inflammatory response is essential for survival, chronic inflammation can be hugely harmful to the body. It can cause tissue damage, oxidative stress, and increases the risk of illness and disease.
In the search for new, safer anti-inflammatory drugs, it appears that CBD may offer unparalleled potential.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 natural cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. It is, effectively, the ‘sober cousin’ of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – cannabis’ other major cannabinoid. Unlike THC, CBD has no mind-altering properties, so it cannot get you high. For this reason, CBD has become a popular health supplement, used by many to support their mental and physical wellbeing.
CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a crucial yet complex cell-signalling network in the human body. The ECS is responsible for overseeing and coordinating a vast array of biological functions; it keeps us balanced, so is often referred to as our ‘universal regulator’.
Scientists are yet to fully uncover the wonders of CBD. Its exact mechanisms of action are not yet known, but it is believed that CBD can modulate the activity of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. This, in turn, can influence our mood, appetite, energy levels, immune activity, sleep quality, and all the other bodily processes that the ECS keeps in check.
Can CBD treat inflammation?
Since the ECS is heavily involved in regulating our immune system, CBD can have a strong influence on immune cell activity – it is an immunomodulator. In both experimental and clinical settings, CBD appears to have potent anti-inflammatory action.
This cannabinoid shows promise in the treatment of countless inflammatory conditions. A review, published in Pharmacology & Therapeutics in 2017, established that the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD may help to treat:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Inflammatory pain
- Cardiovascular disease
Since then, CBD has been investigated in a number of inflammatory conditions and appears to be hugely effective at reducing inflammation, but human clinical trials of CBD are lacking. Whilst there is an abundance of survey data to suggest that CBD can alleviate inflammation, much of the existing evidence comes from animal model studies.
CBD appears to be hugely effective at reducing joint inflammation in arthritis. In an animal model of arthritis, CBD skin patches significantly reduced swelling, inflammatory pain, and inflammatory blood markers after four days of application.
Survey evidence suggests that the positive benefits of using CBD for arthritis translate into humans. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over two-thirds of CBD users experienced significant improvements to their arthritis symptoms since taking the cannabinoid.
The anti-inflammatory effects of CBD have also been noted in other experimental conditions. In an animal model of lung inflammation, the high-dose CBD administration reduced immune cell migration by 55-65%, suggesting that CBD can also have anti-inflammatory action in respiratory diseases.
CBD, as well as reducing immediate inflammation, also appears to be a mighty antioxidant. By mopping up free radicals in the body, CBD could help to reduce oxidative stress and negate some of the long-term damage of chronic inflammation.
How it works
In the ECS, CB2 receptors are mainly located in immune cells. Through its ability to increase levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid, CBD can indirectly modulate the activity of CB2 receptors and subsequently influence immune cell function.
Immune cells are responsible for the production of molecules that mediate and exacerbate the inflammatory response, known as inflammatory cytokines. CBD can, therefore, inhibit the release of these cytokines and reduce the severity of inflammation.
In particular, CBD has been shown to consistently reduce levels of the major pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF alpha, IL-1 beta, IL–6, and IFN gamma in animal models of inflammation.
Is CBD safe?
CBD is a safe and well-tolerated substance, according to the World Health Organisation. Side effects of high CBD doses can include nausea, appetite changes, and fatigue, but these are rare and mild in comparison to both whole-plant cannabis and other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
As a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), ibuprofen can have some unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects. CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation via an alternative mechanism to NSAIDs, so it has a much lower risk of upsetting your stomach. However, CBD has been shown to have mild interactions with some medications, so be sure to consult your doctor before adding CBD to your daily routine.
It is also worth noting that CBD is biphasic, meaning that it can have opposing effects on the body, depending on the dosage administered or the activity of our immune system. So, in some instances, CBD can boost the immune system, rather than suppress inflammation.
How to take CBD
With the increasing popularity of CBD and the growing availability of products, it can be hard to know what type of CBD will work best for you. Here in the UK, CBD is legal but THC is not. For a CBD product to be legally sold, it must contain less than 0.2% THC. Those living in regions without restrictions on cannabis may wish to try CBD products with a higher THC content, so to benefit from the entourage effect.
As for deciding your method of CBD administration, your options are far from limited. Here are just a few of the most popular ways to take CBD:
Oils are a hugely popular way to take CBD. When dropped under the tongue, CBD can quickly enter the bloodstream, so CBD oils have a rapid onset of action. The dropper also gives you control over your dosage, allowing you to take more on days that you need it most.
Capsules & pills
CBD capsules, gummies, or pills are ideal for those who prefer a more consistent daily dose without the strong taste of CBD oil. Oral CBD products have to go through the digestive system, so they do have a slightly slower onset of action.
For those seeking localised anti-inflammatory relief, CBD-infused creams and gels may be your best bet. When applied to the skin, CBD can penetrate the skin surface and get right to the source of inflammation. Topical CBD products tend to have lower doses, so be sure to look for a product with a higher potency.
For more information, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to CBD. Whilst CBD may not remedy every ailment, it has already helped thousands of people all over the world. If you, or a loved one, suffer from a chronic inflammatory condition, it might be worth speaking to a doctor about introducing CBD as a supplementary therapy.