By Kristi Pahr
By now, everyone has probably heard of CBD — if you haven’t tried it yet, someone you know definitely has. The compound has shown promise in managing our most common maladies, and some not so common ones, and it’s being sold everywhere from Sephora to your corner gas station. What many people don’t realize, though, is that according to research, CBD may modulate the immune system, which might spell great news for people whose immune system needs support or for those living with autoimmune disorders.
What is CBD?
CBD, which is short for cannabidiol, is one of many related chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. These compounds, known as cannabinoids, interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to promote homeostasis or balance within the body and have several therapeutic benefits when taken on their own or in conjunction with other cannabinoids.
CBD has become a front-runner in cannabinoid due to its profound therapeutic value and its non-psychoactive properties. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD’s most popular cousin, is the compound in cannabis that provides the euphoric feeling or high so often associated with cannabis use. Since CBD does not provide that high and is nonaddictive, it is legal in all 50 states, unlike THC, which still faces a somewhat uphill battle in terms of legalization.
CBD and Immunity
CBD, Inflammation, and The Immune System
Research shows that CBD has significant anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it has become so popular for pain relief. Inflammation is part of a normal immune response — it’s the body’s way of attacking invaders like bacteria and viruses, foreign objects like splinters, and starting the healing process for wounds or damage both internal and external. While it’s a perfectly normal response, chronic inflammation can disrupt healthy immune function, cause pain, or lead to chronic problems, which we can all agree isn’t fun.
CBD’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties can lessen inflammation, thereby modulating the immune response and decreasing associated pain. Used orally in tinctures, edibles, or drinks, or topically in lotions, creams, and massage oils, there are various CBD preparations to augment immunity and reinforce a normal inflammatory response and can provide long-lasting, low side-effect relief.
CBD and Autoimmune Conditions
While research is limited, there is evidence that CBD can act as an immunosuppressant, targeting certain white blood cells and proteins called cytokines that make up part of a typical immune response. In many autoimmune disorders, the immune system goes into overdrive and begins mounting defenses against the body itself, causing conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and lupus, among others. By targeting and suppressing these overzealous immune cells, CBD may hold promise in providing relief to those living with certain autoimmune conditions.
CBD, Colds, and Flu
Because CBD has immunomodulating qualities, it might serve as a useful tool in your medicine cabinet to manage symptoms associated with viral infections that plague us during the winter months. The most common cold and flu symptoms, things like fevers and runny noses, are caused by the body's immune response. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effects can help lessen cytokines that get stirred up from infectious agents and ease those annoying symptoms. While no evidence shows it protects against sickness, CBD can certainly make the inevitable winter cold more bearable.
CBD as an Immune Booster
Though some say research is mixed on whether or not CBD can actually boost your immunity, there is scant evidence that this claim is true. But regular use of CBD can promote an overall state of better health, owing to the ECS’s role as the balancer of the body and its many systems.
Ultimately, a healthier immune system will be more effective at fighting off everyday pathogens like cold and flu viruses, but CBD itself, unfortunately, is likely not the cure for the common cold many hope it is.
- Atalay S, Jarocka-Karpowicz I, Skrzydlewska E. Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;9(1):21. Published 2019 Dec 25. doi:10.3390/antiox9010021
- Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009;1(7):1333-1349. doi: 10.4155/fmc.09.93
Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.