CBD & the Immune System: What Does the Research Say?

CBD & the Immune System: What Does the Research Say?

From the age-old tradition of drinking chicken broth to the use of natural ingredients like honey and lemon, there’s no shortage of remedies for viral infections.

However, as the impact of COVID-19 continues to linger, the demand for up-and-coming immune-boosting supplements appears to be higher than ever. From probiotics to elderberry, a number of new ingredients have come into vogue in the past year, and another natural remedy that has been gaining a lot of traction of late is CBD.

Deriving from the cannabis Sativa plant, CBD is a herbal compound that is understood to contain a range of remedial properties. But what’s the current research saying about how CBD products influence the immune system? And how does the cannabinoid respond differently to healthy people as opposed to those with faulty immune systems?

This article is going to be answering all of these questions and more to shed some light on the complex relationship between CBD and our immune systems.

Our Immune System: A Breakdown

Our immune system is comprised of a network of cells, tissues and organs that work hard to protect our bodies from external invaders like fungi, toxins, and viruses. Due to the number of pathogenic microorganisms we are constantly exposed to, without its protective mechanisms, our bodies would be at constant risk of infection. 

While this system operates smoothly most of the time, if it’s out of balance, it can lead to a variety of undesirable health consequences. For instance, an overactive immune system can result in the onset of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes, whereas an underactive immune system can lead to anything from minor infections or more serious illnesses like cancer.

Fortunately, there are foods and supplements out there that are designed to maintain the delicate balance of the system. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the herbal extract, CBD, is understood to impact immune health.

CBD’s Impact on Faulty Immune System 

Abbreviated from its scientific name, cannabidiol, CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids that are native to the hemp plant. Despite its relatively recent entry into the wellness world, a growing amount of anecdotal and scientific evidence already backs its immune-boosting benefits. Here’s how the cannabinoid is currently understood to benefit our immune health.

CBD & Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders like HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis typically occur when the white blood cells become infected. Since these cells are the system’s first line of defence, when they are compromised, they go into overdrive and attack healthy tissues, cells, and organs. This depletion of healthy cells subsequently weakens function within the body, and one of the first signs of this occurring is over-inflammation. 

Due to CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties and immune-suppressing characteristics, the compound has been shown to limit the unhealthy proliferation of immune cells. When used correctly, this may be able to make the ingredient effective at addressing autoimmune disorders. Moreover, because of CBD’s supposed anti-inflammatory and remedial properties, there’s also a chance that cannabinoid-infused products may be able to mitigate the pain that is often associated with these chronic disorders.

CBD & Cancerous Tumours

A healthy immune system is usually successful in preventing the growth of cancerous cells. However, when an immune system is not functioning properly, these cancerous cells don’t respond to the process of apoptosis, the method the body uses to get rid of unneeded or abnormal cells. This means that when an immune system is under-functioning, cancerous cells have more chance of spreading. But where does CBD come into all of this?

Well, research has shown that CBD oil may be advantageous to those who are suffering from cancer because of its ability to naturally induce apoptosis. As this study reveals, the cannabinoid may be able to trigger the death of these dangerous tumours, and in some cases, even prevent their growth. So, while much more research into CBD’s antitumor potential needs to be conducted, current studies suggest that CBD may be able to limit the growth of cells when the immune system fails to work effectively.

CBD’s Impact on Healthy Immune Systems

Now we’ve discussed how CBD may impact unhealthy immune function, let’s take a look at how the compound can benefit those with healthy systems. As a study by the Nutrition Examination Survey points out, when cannabinoids are consumed regularly through the cannabis plant, they may be able to raise white blood cell counts in the body. As we’ve addressed, white blood cells are critical for protecting our bodies from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Therefore, by increasing levels of the cells, there’s a chance that CBD oil could improve the performance of our immune system. 

However, more research needs to be conducted on their prevalence in cannabinoid consumers before convincing arguments can be made.

A Double-Edged Sword? 

While CBD is understood to support certain immune functions, due to the complexity of the system, the compound’s relationship with immune health is not straightforward. In fact, the herbal agent has actually been recognised to decrease immune function in certain people by suppressing the production of chemokines. Chemokines are signalling proteins that direct immune cells to sites of invasion so that they can destroy the threat. By suppressing the movement of these proteins that are part of important bodily defence mechanisms, it could jeopardise your healthy immune function and hinder your body’s ability to fight infections. 

Whatsmore, certain cannabinoids are also understood to alter your immune system’s ability to remember foreign invaders. This means that when you are repeatedly exposed to the same pathogen, it may be harder for your body to gain natural immunity.

Final Thoughts 

As we’ve just explored, CBD’s relationship with our immune system is anything but simple. While a growing amount of studies point to its immune-supporting potential, many claims about the compound still remain understudied and unproven. With this in mind, it’s recommended that you seek medical advice before using the extract to remedy any specific condition.