By Jenny Menzel
Inflammation is our body’s natural response to injury and illness, and it’s a necessary reparative immune reaction that occurs in healthy individuals when an acute situation arises. However, when inflammation lingers, it becomes chronic, having devastating effects on tissues and organs due to increased oxidative stress from excessive free radical production.
Whether oxidative stress is the cause or result of chronic health conditions remains to be concretely determined, but one thing is certain — inflammation proves to be an important underlying factor in disease.
Considered a strong contender next to natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric and ginger,
studies continue exploring cannabidiol (CBD) for its ability to ease inflammation without the psychoactive effects of THC, the cannabis plant compound that produces a high.
So what do we know today about CBD as a potent anti-inflammatory? Let’s take a closer look at the compiled research regarding its mechanisms in combating inflammation.
5 Known Ways CBD Eases Inflammation
1. CBD Inhibits the COX2 Pathway.
While CBD modulates the CB receptors in our endocannabinoid system (ECS), it doesn’t directly bind with them in the way THC does. In fact, CBD influences up to 65 different targets without binding — one of which is the COX2 pathway. CBD reduces inflammation by inhibiting COX2, an eicosanoid enzyme also targeted by NSAID medications like Aspirin and Advil. Unlike COX1 in the cyclooxygenase pathway that is also targeted by Aspirin and Advil, COX2 was found to produce anti-arthritic changes in body tissues with less gastrointestinal (GI) side effects — a reason why newer NSAID medications, like Meloxicam, are recommended. This action of CBD only targeting COX2 makes it an effective anti-inflammatory, free of producing the unwanted side effect of GI discomfort.
2. CBD Suppresses Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines.
Cytokines are a diverse set of molecules that primarily regulate inflammation. As mentioned, mild elevation of cytokines are important for short-term recoveries, such as with the mild muscle tears that come along with exercise — but excessive and chronic responses, as seen in cytokine storms, are no doubt damaging.
But is there any data showing CBD can reduce these prolonged inflammatory signals? A study in the journal Autoimmunity administered CBD to diabetic mice. The study results documented a significant reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), along with a 56% lowered incidence of diabetes.
Additionally, in a study on asthma, a condition caused by inflamed airways, CBD showed a decrease in serum levels in four of the five analyzed cytokines, suggesting that CBD may have significant anti-inflammatory effects on asthma as well.
3. CBD Reduces the Activity of NF-κB.
The nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) pathway is a key regulator of pro-inflammatory gene expression found to be highly activated in chronic inflammatory conditions — rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel diseases. A study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry showed that CBD reduced the activity of NF-κB, not only by decreasing the cytokine response, but also lessening neurotoxic damage that results from chronic inflammation — offering potential relief in many inflammatory conditions.
4. CBD Inhibits FAAH Enzyme.
A 2012 study in Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that excessive oxidative stress leads to organ and tissue damage that is difficult to therapeutically target due to the natural complexities of the disease process and individual immune responses. The study found that CBD may address these complexities in a number of ways, one being how CBD acts as a fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor.
FAAH is the main enzyme needed for endocannabinoid breakdown. As a part of the ECS, endocannabinoids are a group of lipids widely found in tissue that can reduce pain and inflammation, modulate energy and appetite, and more. By reducing FAAH activity, CBD prevents damage to the ECS — lowering inflammation. With FAAH found to heavily correlate with GI mobility, CBD has a hand in soothing inflammation in the intestinal tract, easing chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as IBS and Crohn's, and mitigating chronic pain in conditions like fibromyalgia.
5. CBD Inhibits the IDO1 Gene Expression
Even at low concentrations, CBD can inhibit indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO1) — a gene involved in tryptophan metabolization. As a precursor to serotonin, inadequate levels of tryptophan have been linked to depression, which can be found in many diseases associated with increased oxidative inflammation. A review in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment linked inflammation to depression due to increased activity in the IDO1 pathway. Typically activated by pro-inflammatory cytokines, the IDO1 enzyme may deplete tryptophan levels — a necessary amino acid for mood balancing due to its ability to convert to serotonin. With CBD potentially two to four times more capable of suppressing IDO1 activity than THC alone, CBD may be more helpful in boosting serotonin levels by preventing tryptophan degradation.
As much as a prolonged immune response to injury or illness can create a chronic inflammatory condition, so can repeating inflammatory lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking, poor diet, or lacking activity. While more evidence is needed with human trials, CBD holds huge promise for chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, Crohn’s, lupus, Alzheimer’s, and more. Finding the right doses of full- or broad-spectrum CBD with the guidance of experienced professionals may set you on the path to lowering chronic inflammation. Be sure to research the best CBD products and consult with your primary care physician before adding CBD to your daily health routine.
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Jenny Menzel, H.C., is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.