In the wellness world, the term “immune health” is incredibly broad, and it can invoke a number of different interpretations. Many of us have heard of “antioxidants” that provide the necessary boost to protect our body from lingering office bugs, household sickly overrides, and the seasonal sniffles. But what if your daily dose of CBD could boost your immune system without having to worry about waiting to be taken out by a lingering bug! Several scientific publications have described the “immunomodulating” properties of active cannabinoids (like CBD) – but what does this mean, exactly?
We know that cannabis is frequently used as a therapy for patients that suffer from autoimmune conditions like HIV/AIDS and rheumatoid arthritis, but can it be used in healthy individuals as well to prevent diseases and boost overall immune health?
In this article, we explore some of the most relevant research publications on CBD’s far-reaching influence on the immune system. While a greater clinical foundation is needed in order to come to any definitive conclusions with regard to its specific physiological effects, it’s clear that the endocannabinoid system and the immune system are very interrelated.
We are constantly exposed to infectious diseases, bacteria, and viruses (antigens), all intent on running wild and wreaking havoc. Without any inbuilt defenses to keep these invaders at bay, we’d all last about five minutes on this planet. Thank goodness we have an immune system: the complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, running with military precision to keep us healthy.
A key player in the immune system’s arsenal is white blood cells or leukocytes, which seek out and destroy any unwanted visitors. Leukocytes can be divided into two groups: 1) lymphocytes (B cells and T cells) that destroy antigens and help the body to remember previous attackers; and 2) phagocytes that absorb and neutralize foreign intruders.
Many of us are familiar with T cells because of their relationship with the HIV virus, which wipes them out; this is what makes HIV patients vulnerable to normally harmless infections.
Our immune system also plays a key role in detecting malfunctioning cells inside our bodies, and, through the process of apoptosis or cell death, ensures that these cells do not continue to grow and become tumors.
Killing cells is a crucial element of a healthy functioning immune system, which maintains a delicate balance between growth and death. If, for example, there is too much cell death, autoimmune diseases can result, while too little can create the perfect environment for cancer.
The optimum immune function entails a complex balancing act that relies on constant communication between our immune cells, tissues, and organs. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s, scientists have found another key piece of the puzzle.
Endocannabinoids are produced on demand, traveling backward across chemical synapses and modulating cell activity. This partly explains why the ECS has been termed a homeostatic regulator – continually working to maintain a state of biological balance.
A lot of the research into the health effects of CBD has been conducted on patients with severely compromised immune systems — those with HIV, hepatitis B or, surprisingly, the Ebola virus. Overall, researchers have found that treatment with medical cannabis and cannabinoids (synthetic cannabis compounds) doesn’t increase the number of virus cells in the body or the number of other infections that patients contract. In fact, they believe that cannabis known anti-inflammatory effects may reduce the damage that so-called opportunistic diseases do to the body.
Overall, cannabinoids act as immune suppressors, because they minimize inflammation. However, for those suffering from autoimmune diseases, diseases brought on by inflammation, cancer, or HIV/AIDs, cannabinoids may be able to help.
Because CBD is a potent immune suppressor, it works particularly well in cases where a hyperactive immune system is to blame for negative health. A hyperactive immune system tends to overreact when exposed to common allergens or food, and can even begin to attack the body in response.
For example, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, lupus, and arthritis are a few autoimmune diseases where cannabinoids are showing promising results.
With multiple sclerosis, the immune system is hyperactive and targets the body’s central nervous system as if it were a dangerous antigen. This causes the immune system to attack the protective coating around nerve fibers, generating a buildup of scar tissue. This buildup interrupts the ability of nerve cells to react and release signals, causing a loss of motor function and eventually paralysis.
Until recently, there was no treatment or cure for multiple sclerosis. But, research has found that CBD use can improve mobility and help reduce pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Although inflammation is often seen in a negative light, it’s a vital immune response to infection. Inflammation helps isolate infected or damaged parts of the body, preventing the problem from spreading. Therefore, preventing inflammation when it is actually needed can lower immune function and make people more susceptible to disease. CBD and other cannabinoids may be able to help balance that function in the body.
Chronic inflammation is attributed to many modern diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, allergies, asthma, arthritis, acne, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and more. Because CBD reduces inflammation, it can help reduce the symptoms of these illnesses.
For patients recovering from a stroke, where inflammation is high, CBD products can also help by reducing inflammation in the central nervous system and speeding up recovery.
Boosting your own and your family’s immunity doesn’t have to be a chore – in fact, it can be as easy as taking a daily dose of CBD. How could it get any better than that?