In these uncertain times, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to “immune health”.
Although cannabis and its derived products have been used to boost health and wellness for thousands of years, medical knowledge is only beginning to catch up. However, a number of recent studies have demonstrated that many of cannabis’s compounds, including CBD, can have a notable effect on the immune system. For certain types of immune disorders, this may offer an exciting new application for CBD oils and other products.
As usual with your health and wellness, however, the research is somewhat complicated — and as always with the current state of CBD research, more research is necessary before concrete conclusions can be drawn. This article will be a digest of the current understanding of CBD’s effects on immune health, and is aimed at helping you make an informed decision about whether CBD is a good choice for regulating your own immune system.
Your Immune System, a Brief Overview
To maintain our health and bodily integrity, our body relies on a complex set of biological processes, known collectively as the “immune system”. Every day, we are surrounded by outside threats to our health, including diseases, infections, bacteria, and viruses. The immune system works to keep us healthy by keeping the outside out — and by working to eradicate threats when they make it into our internal systems.
The immune system uses white blood cells to help eliminate threats. These are divided into two categories: lymphocytes and phagocytes.
Lymphocytes are divided up into T-cells and B-cells, both of which work to destroy toxins or harmful substances in the body. As the body fights off these antigens, the immune system forms a sort of “memory” of past threats, which helps it to more efficiently address similar threats in the future.
In addition to fighting foreign threats, the immune system has another vitally important function: apoptosis. When your body’s own cells stop working properly, the body needs to eliminate them so they do not multiply and cause the growth of tumors or other issues. The immune system detects problem cells and dispatches white blood cells to eliminate them before they can cause problems.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids like CBD work through an interaction with your body’s endocannabinoid system, colloquially known as the “ECS”. The ECS, strictly speaking is not part of the immune system, but part of the nervous system. However, it regulates a number of important biological functions, including immunity.
The ECS’s main functions operate through cannabinoids’ interactions with two types of cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. These are located on cells throughout the body, and each type of receptor tends to be localized in different areas and bodily systems.
Cells in your body naturally produce their own cannabinoids, known as endogenous or “endocannabinoids”. The body uses these endocannabinoids to allow different cells to communicate with each other. One of the most important functions of this communication is to quiet signals that are being sent out from over-active cells, which might otherwise “clog up the works” by sending out a barrage of communications to other parts of the body.
While the body naturally produces cannabinoids for this purpose, CBD oils or other products containing cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN can also facilitate this regulating effect. For more on the complex workings of the ECS, please be sure to check out our Learn Center article on that topic.
Of the two known types of cannabinoid receptor, CB2 receptors are the most common within the immune system.
CBD’s Effects on the Immune System
More research into CBD’s full potential for affecting the immune system is still needed. However, existing work has shown that cannabinoids like CBD can have an effect on regulating the immune system, working as both an immunomodulator and an immunosuppressant.
Existing clinical research studies have shown that cannabinoid treatments involving CBD can interact with the body’s immune system in the following ways:
- CBD can act as an anti-inflammatory to reduce the immune-system’s inflammatory response. While inflammation is often beneficial and important for your health, it can also create a number of significant health problems. See “CBD and Autoimmune Diseases” below for more.
- CBD can promote and regulate apoptosis, or “cellular death”. While this term might sound alarming, apoptosis is a vitally important part of the immune system, which helps to eliminate damaged cells before they can replicate and cause harm.
- Suppress T-cell production, which in turn reduces the immune system’s “threat memory”. This application may delay the body’s response to certain outside threats, but has significant beneficial applications for when the body inappropriately targets healthy tissue.
- CBD has been shown to prevent rapid cellular growth, or proliferation, of tumor cells in a number of mainly animal studies. While further research is necessary, this could be a useful pathway for future tumor treatments.
Should you Take CBD to Boost your Immune Health?
From a review of the available research, the answer is somewhat unclear. As always, we strongly recommend that you not make decisions about your medical treatment alone. If you are considering taking CBD oil for boosting your immune health, it’s always best to consult a trained medical professional.
Ultimately, the existing research shows that CBD and other phytocannabinoids tend to work as an immunosuppressant. In short that means that CBD works to slow and moderate the body’s natural immune response.
If you’re an otherwise healthy individual looking for help guarding against the common cold or other, more pressing health concerns, then it’s unlikely that CBD will have a significant positive impact.
For individuals with compromised immune systems or any of a host of autoimmune diseases, however, CBD could have the potential to be an effective treatment tool.
CBD and Autoimmune Diseases
When the immune system misbehaves, it can cause damage to your body. The immune system normally targets outside threats or damaged cells, but a hyperactive immune system may target healthy tissue, nerves, or other essential bodily parts. Existing research suggests that CBD and other cannabis-based treatments may have potential for regulating hyper-active immune systems and bringing the body back into healthy homeostasis.
A large part of CBD’s potential here comes from its well-documented anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is often a very important immune response. The body uses it to isolate infected areas and stop the spread of disease by locking-off affected areas.
However, the body’s inflammation response can also cause severe problems of its own. A hyperactive immune system can lead to inappropriate inflammation responses that lead to a variety of disorders, from the everyday to the severe — a class of disorder known as “inflammatory diseases”.
Inflammatory diseases include allergies, asthma, coeliac disease, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and a host of debilitating autoimmune diseases.
By reducing the immune system’s inflammation response, CBD may be able to improve the symptoms of several such autoimmune diseases. Again, more formal research is necessary before making any concrete conclusions about CBD’s potential for any given disorder. But as the wealth of research knowledge grows, the therapeutic applications of CBD treatment only look more promising.
What Else Can You Do to Boost Your Immune System
Even if you’re otherwise healthy, it’s always a good idea to do what you can to keep your immune system running properly. Luckily, there are a few easy, basic things you can do throughout your day to keep your immune health properly regulated.
Get Regular Moderate Exercise
We don’t yet precisely understand HOW exercise boosts the immune system, but it’s clear that regular, moderate exercise does have a beneficial effect. Both for our immune health and our overall wellness, regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do to stay fit and ensure your long-term health and happiness.
The benefits of exercise are numerous, and they affect virtually every part of your bodily health. However, it’s important to note that too much exercise can actually have the reverse effect. Be careful with strenuous activity, such as training for a marathon or intensive weight-training.
For athletes looking to up their game or to take the edge off after a work-out, CBD topicals are a tried and true tool. For more on how CBD can benefit an active lifestyle, take a look at our blog on CBD for Athletes.
Minimize Stress and Anxiety
We all know the toll that stress can take on the body and mind. What’s less obvious is that, when you’re stressed, you’re far more susceptible to illness, infection, and disease.
Even under moderately stressful conditions, such as finals week for university students, research shows a significant reduction in immune response. For those under more severe stress, as many are today, it’s even more important to do everything you can to manage your stress and anxiety.
Get Full Nights of Restful Sleep
Recent studies have demonstrated that bad sleep impacts the immune system in a way startling similar to periods of high-stress. Other studies have found similarities between the immune system effects of sleep deprivation and of drinking too much alcohol. Numerous other studies have noted parallels between restless nights and a variety of other negative conditions. The common verdict? Sleep deprivation has a significant negative impact on your immune health and can lead to a whole host of serious and lasting health conditions.
To battle sleep deprivation and reclaim your healthy sleep, there are many things you can do. Many regular CBD users find that CBD helps them achieve the regular, deep sleep that their bodies crave. In fact, many manufacturers, including Lift CBD and cbdMD produce specialized, all-natural tools for exactly that purpose.
Eat a Balanced Diet and Avoid Alcohol
There’s some real wisdom in that old adage, “You are what you eat”. Our bodies are finely tuned machines, and food isn’t just fuel: it provides the building blocks we need to grow and thrive. An unbalanced diet can take a toll on every part of the body — including, to no surprise, the immune system.
Alcohol consumption has also been shown to have a significant negative impact on immune system health. Avoid overindulgence, and always be sure to adequately rehydrate following alcohol use.
To maintain good immune health, be sure to eat a balanced diet rich in the nutrients that your body needs most. Further, avoid eating foods or drinking beverages that are processed, or overly-high in sugar, salt, or refined carbohydrates.