The human body comprises a vast network of systems and cells working together to keep us alive. In our fast-paced lives, it's easy to forget that our bodies are constantly working hard to keep us healthy. We rarely give a second thought to the hundreds of processes happening inside us at any given moment.
One of those complicated mechanisms is inflammation. Inflammation seems to be a buzzword thrown around as it's often at the root of many health problems, but people generally don't know much about it.
There seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence floating around that CBD oil helps reduce inflammation. But what does the scientific community say?
There's a lot of interest surrounding cannabis compounds and their effects on inflammation—but the studies published are in the very early stages. While the research looks promising, there are limitations on what CBD can and can't do.
In this article, we'll dive into inflammation, what the current studies say about CBD, and how it may help support immune function.
- Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection. It involves releasing chemicals that help protect the body from further damage.
- In some cases, inflammation can be helpful, such as when it helps heal a wound. However, inflammation can also be harmful, as in the case of arthritis.
- CBD is effective in reducing inflammation in a variety of studies because it has actions that inhibit proteins that signal inflammation.
- While more research is needed to confirm these findings, it seems clear that CBD has the potential to be an effective treatment for inflammation. But there are still no FDA-approved CBD products for inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a function of the immune system designed to protect and repair the body from invading bacteria, viruses, and injury.
The common causes of inflammation include:
- External injuries
- Pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi)
- Chemicals or radiation
- Medical conditions
The immune system is incredibly complex. Things like allergies, intolerance to food, and chronic diseases often have inflammation at the root of many conditions.
When a potential threat (bacteria, poison, or bacteria) enters the body or we sustain a physical injury, the immune system kicks in by sending out the first responders called neutrophils through the blood vessels to assess the pathogen or damage within the hour of the infection or injury.
Next, cytokines are released. Cytokines are cell-signaling protein molecules that call for more backup from the immune system.
A critical function of inflammation is the accumulation of white blood cells. Most white blood cells are phagocytes, which means they "eat cells" like bacteria and other potentially dangerous particles and clean up any damage.
The inflammation process relies heavily on these chemical messengers to signal the immune system and regulate blood flow to damaged areas of the body.
There are dozens of cells involved in this process—some are involved in communication to signal to clean up, while others call the cardiovascular system to kick in and supply more blood flow to the damaged area to start healing.
This whole process results in swelling and pain in the affected area.
While inflammation is a life-saving mechanism, there are many times it can go wrong, which can lead to life-threatening situations—such as an anaphylactic allergic reaction to peanuts or swelling and pain can persist for months resulting in a chronic condition such as arthritis or irritable bowel syndrome.
Acute Inflammation Vs. Chronic Inflammation
Some inflammation in the body is good—but too much inflammation can lead to a host of problems. This means that inflammation shouldn't be eliminated. But instead, it needs to be controlled to support the body's ability to heal and keep foreign particles in check.
There are two categories of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Most people are familiar with acute inflammation after you sprain your ankle, cut your finger, or get sick with the flu.
The signs of acute inflammation include:
- Loss of function
Inflammation is designed to supply more blood flow to the area, and the pain signals that there's something wrong, and you should protect the damaged area.
On the other hand, when the inflammatory response over-reacts or lingers for far too long, the body starts to believe it's under attack and keeps fighting off or protecting itself indefinitely.
For instance, an anaphylactic reaction to a beesting can trigger the immune response to entering a state of red alert, causing an exaggerated immune response, which sends the body into a life-threatening condition of shock.
When this happens, the body starts to damage healthy tissue and organs—like in the case of arthritis and chronic pain, which can cause long-term damage to the joints and restrict movement. Many studies have shown that chronic inflammation is at the root of heart disease, cancer, and bowel diseases.
The problem with diagnosing and treating chronic inflammation is that it's difficult to understand what may have caused it—and sometimes symptoms can disappear altogether only to reappear with a vengeance.
Medical conditions that cause inflammation are recognized with the name ending in "itis." For example, "dermatitis" is a disease where the skin is inflamed, or "bronchitis" is the inflammation of bronchi in the lungs.
What Is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is one of many naturally-occurring compounds derived from the cannabis Sativa plant, which belongs to a class of chemicals called cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids closely resemble cell-signaling molecules in the endocannabinoid system present in all mammals for regulating a state of homeostasis (balance). The endocannabinoid system has been found to control processes and organs relating to mood, metabolism, memory, stress, and even immune function.
Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary cannabinoid in marijuana plants, CBD doesn't have intoxicating effects, making it a more suitable candidate for studies relating to therapeutic uses.
CBD is found in both hemp and marijuana plants, but legal CBD comes from hemp crops with less than 0.3% THC—thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill.
You can find CBD-infused products virtually anywhere from gas stations, health food stores, and online. They're often sold as CBD oils, capsules, and gummies, but you can also find them as topical products for fast-acting and targeted relief.
Not all CBD products are made equal.
Currently, there's only one FDA-approved CBD pharmaceutical on the US market—Epiliodex, prescribed for treating rare and difficult to treat epilepsy.
Many CBD brands are on the market, but none are authorized to claim they can cure or mitigate any disease. Instead, they're often sold as supplements to support a balanced lifestyle.
Later in the article, we'll get into how you can shop for a quality CBD product among the many dupes and scam products.
Does CBD Oil Help With Inflammation?
In preclinical and some early clinical studies, cannabidiol has been found to have anti-inflammatory potential through multiple pathways, making it a promising compound for further research.
People use over-the-counter or online CBD products and medical cannabis to support arthritis, sore muscles from exercise, injuries, chronic pain, and even bowel conditions.
Let's look at what some of the current research says about CBD's promising anti-inflammatory properties and what this means for the future of CBD in medicine.
CBD And Other Cannabinoids May Support Overall Endocannabinoid System Function
CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating various functions, including sleep, appetite, pain, and immune system response.
Preliminary research suggests that CBD and other cannabinoids may support overall endocannabinoid system function, theoretically promoting homeostasis (a state of balance) in the body . However, more research is needed to understand the potential therapeutic effects of CBD and other cannabinoids. So far, most of the available evidence comes from animal studies and small human trials. Larger-scale human studies are needed to confirm the potential health benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids.
CBD May Help Inflammatory Function
There's a generalized idea that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties to suppress the immune system—but some researchers found that they may help increase immune function in some conditions, specifically in vivo studies on mice with induced pulmonary inflammation .
Specifically, CBD and delta-9 THC enhanced interleukin (IL)-2 production, which activates T-sells . The results show that cannabinoids differentially affect immune function depending on the cell type, magnitude of inflammation, and age.
This is promising as it shows that compounds in the cannabis Sativa plant may help regulate function—not just halt processes in the immune system related to inflammation—as some inflammation is a good thing.
CBD May Help With Acute Inflammation
The most notable immune cells involved in the process of acute inflammation are histamine and the enzymes COX and 5-LOX. Most over-the-counter pain relief medications like Asprin work by blocking the COX enzyme release.
One study found that CBD, CBG, and THC from the cannabis plant may also help to inhibit COX enzymes similar to NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which shows potential for treating pain, especially related to joint pain and muscular pain .
According to this observation, strengthening the endocannabinoid system may help protect from colonic inflammation, which is vital for preventing bowel disease and colorectal cancer .
CBD May Help With Conditions Related To Chronic Inflammation
A widespread condition associated with chronic inflammation is arthritis—inflammation of the joints that affects over 58 million adult Americans.
In studies conducted on murine collagen-induced arthritis, CBD was found to have actions on multiple inflammatory messengers that cause pain, nerve damage, and mobility—rather than just one or two pathways like many medications designed to reduce inflammation .
Currently, no CBD-based medications are FDA approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis or any other inflammatory conditions. However, many people still choose to use CBD dietary supplements to control the severity of their conditions, as there have been many anecdotal reports regarding the success of CBD oils in treating chronic pain.
With more interest in the potential of CBD oil in medicine, we can expect more studies to emerge on CBD and anti-inflammatory activity.
How Are People Using CBD Products To Support Inflammation?
You'll find no shortage of nonprescription CBD products on the market. The type of CBD produce you use and the dose will give you varying effects, so you must find a type of product that works best for your lifestyle.
If you're shopping for a CBD oil to support health conditions, please remember that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products. It would help if you spoke with your doctor first to understand its safety and side effects and to ensure it will be appropriate in your situation.
There haven't been enough studies to understand how CBD affects inflammation in humans, but researchers have found CBD reduces inflammation and pain in animals. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that it may have the same benefits in humans.
CBD Oil/ CBD Tincture
The most common CBD supplement is in the form of CBD oil, sometimes called CBD tincture. It combines a set amount of pure CBD extract listed in MG in a carrier oil such as coconut oil or hemp seed oil, and it's designed to be used as an oral supplementation.
CBD tincture comes in a wide range of CBD concentrations ranging from 100–16,000MG per standard 30 mL (1 oz) bottle. The studies conducted on CBD and its effects on pro-inflammatory cytokines used higher doses of CBD—upwards of 50 mg.
Of course, you don't ever want to start with high doses if you're new to a cannabis compound. The best way to incorporate CBD into your health regimen is to introduce it in small amounts over a while to allow your endocannabinoid system to adjust to the cannabinoids.
You can measure out the CBD oil and apply it directly under the tongue or mix it into your favorite food or drink to mask out the CBD oil's natural "hemp" flavor.
Topical CBD Creams
Topical gels and creams with heating or cooling agents are popular tools for pain management related to muscles and joints. Some CBD topicals are formulated in these types of products.
The heating or cooling agents such as capsaicin or methol distract nerve cells from the pain of inflammation to provide comfort. When CBD is massaged into the affected areas, it provides fast support by interacting with endocannabinoid receptors in the skin tissue to support the skin organ's role in mitigating pain signals.
CBD applied topically doesn't enter the bloodstream, which means it has a more direct action on the area it's used. Only medical transdermal cannabidiol patches will deliver cannabinoids into the bloodstream. Transdermal patches are a common way to slowly deliver hormones, steroids, and other pain medications into the bloodstream, but this isn't a common CBD product offering.
Smoking CBD Products
Many people enjoy the ritual of smoking CBD products like hemp cigarettes or pre-rolled joints. It's also the fastest way and the most potent way to feel the effects of CBD.
When we eat CBD oils, the digestive enzymes and liver begin to process the active compounds before they have a chance to make their way into the bloodstream. Smoking cannabis delivers the active cannabinoids into the bloodstream through the oxygen exchange in the lungs.
While this is perhaps the most efficient way to use CBD products, it's not the best method for everyone.
How To Choose Quality Hemp-Derived CBD Products
CBD's growing popularity in the wellness space means that many ambitious entrepreneurs want a piece of the pie—however, not all CBD products will deliver the same level of effects, and many of the products out there can be dangerous.
- Choose a full spectrum CBD extract or broad spectrum CBD extract: full spectrum CBD oil contains a range of phytochemicals that help to support CBD's role in the endocannabinoid system. CBD isn't the only cannabinoid shown to have potential therapeutic effects. While CBD isolate extracts may be cheaper, they're not as effective as a full spectrum CBD product.
- Check third-party lab tests: third-party tests verify the cannabinoid profile (the type of CBD extract), how much CBD it contains, and its safety. Never purchase a CBD product without first looking at this document.
- Ensure the company discloses the CBD source: only hemp is legal as per the Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana plants contain more than 0.3% THC is is still a restricted compound and may result in psychoactive effects.
- Choose a higher potency CBD product: if a product doesn't have enough CBD, you may not notice its effects. There are companies sprinkling in dismal amounts of CBD to charge a premium price—don't get duped by these brands. Look for a CBD potency that closely matches your needs.
- Look for brand reputation: don't let the marketing and customer reviews on the company website fool you. Look to third-party review websites and forums to get a feel for a brand's efficacy and customer service before you shop with them.
The Takeaway: Cannabidiol and Inflammation
The nonpsychoactive cannabis constituent, cannabidiol, is increasingly available online and in stores. Many people are already finding a lot of luck using CBD oil as part of their wellness regimen to manage chronic and acute inflammation. Still, it's not an FDA-approved means of treating conditions.
The truth is that more research is needed in the space of CBD and inflammation—the immune system is an incredibly complex system with many moving parts. So far, the research results are promising, but there are still a lot of hurdles involved in medical cannabis testing because the cannabis plant remains a controversial compound.
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- Ruhaak, L. R., Felth, J., Karlsson, P. C., Rafter, J. J., Verpoorte, R., & Bohlin, L. (2011). Evaluation of the cyclooxygenase inhibiting effects of six major cannabinoids isolated from Cannabis sativa. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 34(5), 774-778.
- Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S. A., Hegde, V. L., & Nagarkatti, M. (2009). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future medicinal chemistry, 1(7), 1333-1349.
- Elmes, M. W., Kaczocha, M., Berger, W. T., Leung, K., Ralph, B. P., Wang, L., ... & Deutsch, D. G. (2015). Fatty acid-binding proteins (FABPs) are intracellular carriers for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Journal of Biological Chemistry, 290(14), 8711-8721.