Can CBD Help With Autoimmune Diseases?
- Data from several studies(1) demonstrate that CBD has properties that may be useful in treating autoimmune diseases.
- In one study, cannabidiol was found to attenuate an experimental model of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, by targeting multiple anti-inflammatory pathways(2).
- Another study suggested that cannabidiol might help treat autoimmune conditions(3).
- However, many of the studies were based on animal subjects. More human trials are needed to determine CBD‘s effectiveness in treating these disorders.
- To avoid complications, consult a doctor before deciding to buy or use any CBD product.
Why People Are Turning to CBD for Autoimmune Diseases
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, may be useful in treating autoimmune diseases due to its reported ability to alter immune functions.
CBD is a chemical compound extracted from cannabis plants. It is commonly available in the form of oil.
A 2020 review published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research analyzed several studies involving CBD and its effects on autoimmune disease models(4). The data overwhelmingly demonstrated CBD as an immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agent.
Results revealed that cannabidiol‘s mechanism of action involved the direct suppression of various immune cell types (T cells)(5). This ability could mean that CBD might be able to help treat a range of autoimmune diseases.
In another study, researchers reported that cannabidiol attenuated an experimental autoimmune model of multiple sclerosis in mice(6). Treatment with CBD resulted in a significant reduction of paralysis in cells that cause inflammation.
The authors mentioned that CBD‘s mitigation of experimental autoimmune models is due to its ability to target multiple anti-inflammatory pathways. They concluded that cannabidiol may be an excellent candidate in treating multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases(7).
A study published in the journal Molecular Medicine also suggested that CBD might help treat autoimmune disorders(8).
However, there is a lack of clinical studies on humans to prove that CBD can treat autoimmune diseases. Most of the assumptions on cannabidiol‘s potential against autoimmune disorders are based on animal studies.
More in-depth trials are necessary, particularly on human subjects, to determine CBD‘s efficacy in these conditions.
How CBD Oil Works to Help with Autoimmune Diseases
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is present in mammals, and it is responsible for regulating various functions, such as the nervous system.
Understanding how CBD impacts the ECS is necessary to learn how it works to help with autoimmune diseases.
The ECS does its modulation through structures known as cannabinoid receptors, primarily the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CBD has a low affinity to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. In a review of CBD‘s effects on the immune system, the compound was shown to suppress inflammatory responses via the CB2 receptor(9).
However, CBD‘s anti-inflammatory properties were also attributed to the CB1 receptor in some models of inflammation.
The effects of CBD on immune function may also be mediated by how it interacts with non-ECS receptors.
In one study, the vanilloid receptor (TRPV1) was found to be activated by cannabidiol(10). Activation of the TRPV1 receptor has been associated with pain and inflammation(11).
The Pros and Cons of CBD Oil for Autoimmune Diseases
- Cannabidiol might be useful in treating autoimmune diseases because of its purported ability to alter immune function.
- A review of CBD and various autoimmune disease models revealed that the compound is an immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agent(12). Cannabidiol was found to suppress multiple immune cell types, suggesting that it may treat a range of autoimmune disorders.
- CBD is not similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is a psychoactive compound that causes mind-altering effects when consumed.
- Selling, transporting, and possessing hemp-derived CBD is now allowed with a permit according to the United States 2018 Farm Bill(13). Cannabidiol obtained from hemp is legal in most states and can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. Always check your local and state laws before doing any of the above.
- Government agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recognize the potential of cannabidiol(14).
- Many of the studies on cannabidiol were performed on animal subjects. Clinical trials on human subjects are lacking, making it difficult to determine if the compound can effectively treat various conditions.
- When using CBD, there is a risk that the compound may interact with other medications and result in adverse side effects(15).
- There is a lack of regulation in the cannabidiol industry. This predicament has led some CBD brands to deliberately mislabel their products, especially those sold online(16).
- Epidiolex, a medication for two rare forms of epilepsy, is the only cannabidiol product approved by the FDA. No other marketing applications for CBD have been recognized by the agency(17).
How CBD Oil Compares to Alternative Treatment for Autoimmune Diseases
Turmeric, ginger, and rosemary are anti-inflammatory herbal remedies that could potentially benefit patients with autoimmune diseases(18).
A 2019 study on curcumin, a chemical compound from turmeric, revealed that supplementation with the substance could be a possible therapeutic agent for various autoimmune diseases(19).
Researchers learned that ginger might improve the well-being of people with rheumatoid arthritis due to its potential therapeutic roles in symptom amelioration(20). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune problem that affects the joints.
In an open-label trial, rosemary extract was found to noticeably reduce inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia(21).
Similarly, cannabidiol also has properties that could help people with autoimmune diseases.
It was revealed that CBD‘s mechanism of action involved the direct suppression of various immune cell types(22). Thus, the compound may be useful in treating a range of autoimmune conditions.
How to Choose the Right CBD for Autoimmune Diseases
When selecting CBD for autoimmune diseases, it is vital to know the different types available today. CBD comes in three forms: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate.
Full-spectrum CBD oil offers all of the phytocannabinoids present in Cannabis sativa plants. It contains terpenes, flavonoids, and THC.
Top-quality full-spectrum CBD products have high CBD content, with only small amounts of the other compounds. Individuals who want to try the whole CBD experience can buy full-spectrum CBD.
Broad-spectrum is the next type of cannabidiol that also contains all of the compounds of cannabis except for tetrahydrocannabinol. Some people prefer broad-spectrum because of the lack of THC.
The last form of CBD is known as isolates. These are products that are made purely of cannabidiol and are often available as crystals.
Due to the purity of CBD isolates, they do not have a distinct taste or smell.
The full-spectrum CBD variant could be the most potent form of CBD oil for autoimmune diseases. It is known for the “entourage effect,” the synergism of its components.
This effect is believed to cause cannabinoid compounds to work more efficiently when taken together(23).
Whichever variant of CBD one chooses, users should always buy the best-quality cannabidiol products available.
Below are some tips to help people select the best CBD products for autoimmune diseases:
- Get a certificate of analysis (COA) or the laboratory report of the desired item. The COA is a document that highlights the tests the CBD product has undergone and determines if it has the same contents listed on its label.
- Be aware of the laws concerning the purchase and consumption of CBD in various areas. Although hemp-derived cannabidiol is currently allowed, the legalities surrounding CBD may change at any time.
- Purchase only CBD that has been obtained from industrial hemp. Hemp plants are naturally rich in cannabidiol and are the best sources for the compound.
- Research about specific CBD brands and products before buying. Ensure that a physical dispensary has the proper authorization to sell cannabidiol.
- Consult a doctor before administering any CBD product. Someone with prior knowledge of medical marijuana is recommended.
CBD Dosage for Autoimmune Diseases
There are no approved FDA guidelines on CBD dosing, especially for autoimmune diseases.
However, it may benefit people to look at doses from past clinical studies to know the dose range that may be suitable for their needs.
One study revealed that high doses of CBD, around 300mg to 600mg, were able to induce the desired clinical outcome. It was also found that 10mg to 400mg of cannabidiol per day did not create toxic effects on patients(24).
How to Take CBD Oil for Autoimmune Diseases
A quick way of ingesting cannabidiol is through CBD tinctures. These products are taken sublingually, a method that has shown to be effective when the immediate onset of action is needed(25).
Cannabidiol tinctures also have droppers that allow for accurate and convenient dosing.
Inhaling CBD by way of vape devices is another quick way of taking the compound. However, not everyone is compatible with vaping.
Another direct way of consuming cannabidiol is by taking edibles or capsules. CBD edibles are often available as gummies or cookies and can be enjoyed like any other snack.
Several companies even sell coffees and teas infused with cannabidiol.
Besides tinctures and edibles, some brands also sell CBD topicals. The topical administration of cannabidiol may be useful, especially for autoimmune conditions that affect the skin(26), like eczema.
The most common CBD topicals available are creams, lotions, salves, and balms.
Before purchasing or using any CBD product, it is best to consult a doctor to avoid complications.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
An autoimmune disease happens when the body’s defense system is unable to tell the difference between its own cells and that of foreign invaders. When this happens, it mistakenly starts to attack healthy tissues.
Doctors do not fully understand what causes autoimmune diseases. Some experts believe that disorders resulting in autoimmunity may be due to the genes or environment of an individual.
More than eighty types of autoimmune diseases have been discovered, with each one affecting various parts of the body(27).
Several examples of autoimmune diseases are:
- Thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto‘s thyroiditis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Huntington‘s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
- Neuromyelitis optica (eye and spinal cord disease)
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Although there are many types of autoimmune diseases, many of them share the same symptoms, such as:
- Skin problems
- Joint pain, swelling, or stiffness (spasticity)
- Recurring fever
- Swollen glands
- Pain in the abdomen
- Digestive issues
How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?
The traditional therapies for autoimmune diseases have relied on immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory drugs intended to dampen immune responses. For many patients, these medications are highly effective and remain the current standard of treatment(28).
However, long-term solutions requiring high doses are often needed to maintain disease control. These scenarios can leave a patient susceptible to infections and malignancy.
Scientists have started developing more specific strategies that lower the risk of systemic immune suppression while improving tolerability. They have identified four goals for an optimal approach on autoimmunity:
- Can target pathogenic cells specifically while leaving the immune system intact
- Can re-establish a stable immune tolerance over time
- Is low in toxicity and minimal side effects
- Is cost-effective overall compared to alternative treatments
The new wave of therapies for autoimmune disease aims to accomplish these goals. The novel approaches either focus on inhibiting pathogenic cell activation or modulating pathways that suppress these cells.
Risk Factors for Autoimmune Diseases
Although the exact causes of autoimmune conditions are unknown, experts have identified several risk factors that may increase the chances of developing these disorders(29).
- Genetics – Certain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, have been observed to run in families.
- Weight – Obesity and being overweight increases the risk that a person develops rheumatoid arthritis.
- Medications – Some antibiotics or blood pressure drugs are believed to trigger drug-induced lupus, which is a more benign form of the condition.
Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy cells.
The causes of these disorders are not known. Meanwhile, current treatments have proven to be risky for patients.
Overwhelming data on cannabidiol revealed that the compound could alter immune function. This ability makes it a potential candidate in treating various autoimmune diseases.
Several studies have shown that CBD has immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties, mediated by its interaction with various receptors in the body. Pathways that are associated with pain and inflammation have been implicated.
However, more in-depth trials are needed to prove that cannabidiol can effectively treat autoimmune disorders.
Talk to a physician before buying or using any product that contains cannabidiol. A doctor who is knowledgeable about medical cannabis is highly recommended.
- Nichols JM, Kaplan BLF. Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2020;5(1):12-31. Published 2020 Feb 27. doi:10.1089/can.2018.0073
- Elliott DM, Singh N, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti PS. Cannabidiol Attenuates Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis Model of Multiple Sclerosis Through Induction of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells. Front Immunol. 2018;9:1782. Published 2018 Aug 3. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.01782
- Lee WS, Erdelyi K, Matyas C, et al. Cannabidiol Limits T Cell-Mediated Chronic Autoimmune Myocarditis: Implications to Autoimmune Disorders and Organ Transplantation. Mol Med. 2016;22:136-146. doi:10.2119/molmed.2016.00007
- Nichols JM, Kaplan BLF. op. cit.
- Elliott DM, Singh N, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti PS. op. cit.
- Lee WS, Erdelyi K, Matyas C, et al. op. cit.
- Nichols JM, Kaplan BLF. op. cit.
- Bisogno T, Hanus L, De Petrocellis L, et al. Molecular targets for cannabidiol and its synthetic analogues: effect on vanilloid VR1 receptors and on the cellular uptake and enzymatic hydrolysis of anandamide. Br J Pharmacol. 2001;134(4):845-852. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0704327
- Bujak JK, Kosmala D, Szopa IM, Majchrzak K, Bednarczyk P. Inflammation, Cancer and Immunity-Implication of TRPV1 Channel. Front Oncol. 2019;9:1087. Published 2019 Oct 16. doi:10.3389/fonc.2019.01087
- Nichols JM, Kaplan BLF. op. cit.
- Hudak, J (2018, December 14). The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2020, August 3). FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD). Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd
- Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139-154. Published 2017 Jun 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034
- Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2020, August 3). op. cit.
- Ghasemian M, Owlia S, Owlia MB. Review of Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Medicines. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2016;2016:9130979. doi:10.1155/2016/9130979
- Yang M, Akbar U, Mohan C. Curcumin in Autoimmune and Rheumatic Diseases. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1004. Published 2019 May 2. doi:10.3390/nu11051004
- Al-Nahain A, Jahan R, Rahmatullah M. Zingiber officinale: A Potential Plant against Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis. 2014;2014:159089. doi:10.1155/2014/159089
- Ghasemian M, Owlia S, Owlia MB. op. cit.
- Nichols JM, Kaplan BLF. op. cit.
- Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
- Hua S. Advances in Nanoparticulate Drug Delivery Approaches for Sublingual and Buccal Administration. Front Pharmacol. 2019;10:1328. Published 2019 Nov 5. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.01328
- Bruni N, Della Pepa C, Oliaro-Bosso S, Pessione E, Gastaldi D, Dosio F. Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. Molecules. 2018;23(10):2478. Published 2018 Sep 27. doi:10.3390/molecules23102478
- John Hopkins Medicine. What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease? Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease
- Rosenblum MD, Gratz IK, Paw JS, Abbas AK. Treating human autoimmunity: current practice and future prospects. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(125):125sr1. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003504
- John Hopkins Medicine. op. cit.