CBD & Inflammation: How CBD can Help Reduce Inflammation
One of the many benefits CBD boasts is the ability to reduce inflammation. Unlike the many medications which target inflammation, CBD is considered “natural,” having come straight from a plant versus synthesized inside a lab. Furthermore, CBD tends to come packed with its whole entourage of hemp plant buddies: CBG, CBV, CBN, and plenty of terpenoids which some theorize add to its ability to help the body.1 With an impressive lack of side-effects compared to medications2, it is no wonder why people are so curious in CBD for their inflammation. But does it really help? Is there real science to back this up? The answer is YES.
To fully understand how CBD manages to assist with inflammation, we’ll need to cover a few deeper topics of physiology. Specifically, we’ll need to arm ourselves with some basic knowledge of the immune system. In what follows, we will discuss what exactly inflammation is, its role in the immune system, how it can have possible adverse health effects, and how CBD can help remedy some of the pains and aches that come with inflammation. Before continuing, I want to stress that CBD is not some cure-all panacea. It isn’t a miracle substance. But, in this author’s opinion, it is impressively close.
What is Inflammation?
Before the wear and tear of age turned “inflammation” into a terrible curse word, you – and many other people – were used to inflammation in another context, usually involving sports or a playground. Inflammation is an immune response from the body. As a child, inflammation commonly meant infection, like when you got cut or scraped. Typically, that area would inflame and grow sore for a few days, before settling down and slowly healing up. Why exactly did this happen?
The human body is constantly at war with everything outside of itself. As medical knowledge has grown about germs (bacteria, protozoa, etc.) we have come to understand that by keeping clean, we can keep our bodies from falling apart early. We can live longer. Indeed, life expectancy in the West around the year 1800 was not much higher than 30 or 40 years old: contrast that with today, where life expectancy in America is around 78 years old.3 4
What does this have to do with inflammation? Inflammation is among the first responses by the body to enemy invasion: it is the first line of defense against germs! In general, the body will randomly run into some kind of invasion – like a foreign bacterium in the flesh of your finger. From there, the body begins releasing chemical messengers that report to the rest of the body “We found one!” This causes the immune system to recognize that something in the finger is “up,” and one method of incapacitating whatever has invaded is to inflame the area. Inflammation helps prevent the foreign substance from getting deeper into the body and allows the rest of the immune system to come together and fight it.
This all sounds well and good for kids, scraping their knees in the shadow of the elementary school building, but what about adults? What about the approximately 350 million adults worldwide that suffer things like arthritis and other joint diseases?5 We’ll get to that: but to do so, we need to better understand the immune system.
A Primer - The Immune System:
The immune system communicates with itself via chemicals. These chemical messengers, called cytokines, communicate in a way that you might compare to texting with only emotes (or “emojis” if you are cool). That is, they can communicate general ideas, like “infection discovered!” and “need more inflammation!” but they aren’t quite so good with the nitty-gritty specifics. That’s ok because they don’t need to be. You would be amazed how well you can communicate with just emotes, and the basic immune system has gotten by well enough for millions of years. Even so, it is important to note that the immune system’s communication skills aren’t perfect.
Once an infection has been discovered (again, by random happenstance) cytokines are released, which inform the rest of the body: 1) There is some kind of infection somewhere and 2) Where that infection is (based on where the cytokines are coming from). This can set off several responses, possibly involving the immune system’s major hunters (T-cells) and even more cytokines involved in starting inflammation.
Inflammation is a major part of preventing the invader from getting away. Inflammation makes travel between cells incredibly difficult, keeping the foreign substance locked up until the body can fully deal with it. The unfortunate side effect is pain: yes, your own body is causing you to hurt. But in a sense, this is good: it prevents you from doing anything else stupid with that infected spot (theoretically, anyway) and can help you better identify that whatever you did to cause the infection is bad, and should not be repeated. As the chemical invader is dealt with by other immune cells like the hunter T-cells, the cytokines are released less and less, and because inflammation is perpetuated by a specific “Please inflame me” cytokine, the inflammation naturally goes down. This is how the immune system should work.
Inflammation and Adverse Health?
Ordinary inflammation should be good, as it prevents invaders from escaping into the rest of your body, and even informs you something is wrong. But sometimes inflammation will occur when there is no foreign invader: sometimes it will start spontaneously, leading to pain, and possibly other issues like joint stiffness. How does this happen?
The immune system doesn’t just handle foreign invaders: it also handles your cells that have started to go rogue. Many of the cells involved with immune response are nonspecific – meaning they just bump into things, and say “I found something bad!” While this tends not to happen to the cells of your own body (unless something goes wrong in them, like the beginning of cancer), when it does happen it can lead to chronic inflammation, all a result of your body wrongly determining there is something amiss when there isn’t.
When your body makes such a mistake with your cells, it will begin releasing cytokines all the same. Many of these cytokines – like IL-1, IL-6, and NTF- – are pro-inflammatory, meaning they send the signal to the rest of the immune system to create inflammation, even if there is no real threat.6 Overactive immune systems are indeed one of the primary causes of chronic inflammation.
CBD and Inflammation:
CBD can help inflammation. CBD and its fellow cannabinoids target certain cytokines – such as the pro-inflammatory ones – and silences them.7 8 It can take the very cause of the inflammation signal and simply tell it to quiet down. Furthermore, CBD is a general immunosuppressant, meaning it tends to suppress the effects of the immune system.8 Don’t worry: this doesn’t mean taking CBD will suddenly tank your immune response – it is quite safe and well-tolerated in people.2 It does mean that an overactive immune system can be settled down, which is exactly what you want when fighting inflammation.
Runaway inflammation and an overzealous immune system can lead to various diseases and illnesses. Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and plenty of other neurological disorders implicate a rogue immune system. In fact, MS is directly caused by T-cells in the immune system getting places they ought not be – and one benefit of CBD happens to be the deactivation of such T-cells.9 Illnesses like Parkinson’s and even Alzheimer’s may be due, in part, to the immune system going after neural cells that can’t ordinarily be regenerated. CBD’s ability to suppress this has been referred to as a “neuroprotective effect.”8
Two major kinds of CBD products may help address your inflammation. The first, a “tincture” which is taken orally, can help soothe the body from the inside to the outside. This helps get to deeper inflammation. The second, a topical gel or cream can help from acting on the outside to the inside: this is best for more superficial inflammation. Either way, keep at it daily for at least two weeks: something like inflammation is built over time, and the CBD needs time to fully silence those inflammatory cytokine messengers.
While there are no strict guidelines established for how much CBD to take, with a high water-soluble CBD product (such as those supplied by Yes.Life) you tend to only need a concentration of around 250 mg. When taken orally, just 1 to 2 ml a day is recommended, while topical amounts tend to need little more than the volume of a nickel. Everyone has a different body, so be flexible with what you are trying. Take advantage of any money-back guarantees to make sure you are getting the best products, and products that will help you. And, perhaps most importantly, talk to your doctor first! Even though CBD is considered highly safe, your doctor will know your medical history best and can help you make the best decisions on the matter.
1 Petrocellis, Luciano De, et al. “Effects of Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid-EnrichedCannabisextracts on TRP Channels and Endocannabinoid Metabolic Enzymes.” British Journal of Pharmacology 163, no. 7 (December 2011): 1479–94. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01166.x.
2 Iffland, Kerstin, and Franjo Grotenhermen. “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 2, no. 1 (2017): 139–54. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0034.
3 Basaraba, Sharon. “How Has Longevity Changed Throughout History?” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 14 July 2019, www.verywellhealth.com/longevity-throughout-history-2224054.
4 Saiidi, Uptin. “US Life Expectancy Has Been Declining. Here’s Why.” CNBC, 2019, www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/us-life-expectancy-has-been-declining-heres-why.html.
5 Pahwa R, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2019 Jun 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
6 Zhang, Jun-Ming, and Jianxiong An. “Cytokines, Inflammation, and Pain.” International Anesthesiology Clinics 45, no. 2 (2007): 27–37., doi:10.1097/aia.0b013e318034194e.
7 Nagarkatti, Prakash, et al. “Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.” Future Medicinal Chemistry 1, no. 7 (2009): 1333–1349., doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93.
8 Rieder, Sadiye Amcaoglu, et al. “Cannabinoid-Induced Apoptosis in Immune Cells as a Pathway to Immunosuppression.” Immunobiology 215, no. 8 (2010): 598–605., doi:10.1016/j.imbio.2009.04.001.
9 Kaplan, Barbara L.f., et al. “The Profile of Immune Modulation by Cannabidiol (CBD) Involves Deregulation of Nuclear Factor of Activated T Cells (NFAT).” Biochemical Pharmacology 76, no. 6 (2008): 726–737., doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2008.06.022.