Can CBD help with leishmaniasis, and if so, how?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes leishmaniasis as a disease caused by infection with leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of a phlebotomine sand fly. 

Leishmaniasis belongs to the category of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)(1)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NTDs are communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions, affecting more than a billion people and costing economies billions of dollars every year(2)

When Sand Flies Bite

Phlebotomine sand flies are known for their ability to transmit several viral, bacterial, and protozoal disease-causing organisms on humans and other animals(3).

Infection is transmitted through the bite of infected female phlebotomine sand flies. Sand flies become infected by sucking blood from an infected animal or person.

Sand flies live in a wide range of habitats, and individual species often have precise habitat requirements. They are distributed from Argentina to the United States, including Brazil, Columbia, Panama and Costa Rica(4).

Common Types of Leishmaniasis 

There are several types of leishmaniasis in people. The most common types are cutaneous leishmaniasis and visceral leishmaniasis.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis causes skin lesions that can persist for months or years. The skin lesions develop within several weeks or months after the exposure but first appear years later, as in trauma or immunosuppression(5).

Visceral leishmaniasis affects internal organs (mainly, spleen, liver, and bone marrow) and encompasses a wide range of severity and manifestations. 

Although the incubation period ranges from weeks to months, an asymptomatic infection can manifest decades after the exposure. This delayed presentation is particularly true in people who become immunocompromised, such as those with HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines or drugs to prevent leishmaniasis infection. The best way for people to avoid infection is to protect themselves from sand fly bites(6). 

Minimizing nocturnal outdoor activities, wearing protective clothing, and applying insect repellent to exposed skin may also help.

How CBD May Help With Leishmaniasis: A Close Look at Pinene

Full-spectrum CBD oil contains a complete range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids naturally present in cannabis, including a variety of fatty acids and beneficial fiber. 

Terpenes are the compounds in cannabis that give it distinctive aromas and flavors, while flavonoids are responsible for the vivid colors in most plants.

The combination of all these components creates a synergy known as “entourage effect,” where all of the constituents working together are more efficient than their isolated elements(7).

One of the essential terpenes found in cannabis plants is pinene, an aromatic compound that smells similar to a forest of pine trees. Pinene can also be found in orange peels, turpentine, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and conifer trees.

Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene are the two types of pinene. The alpha type is typically abundant in cannabis.

In a 2014 study, which was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the authors examined the effects of Syzygium cumini essential oil (ScEO) and its major component, α-pinene, on leishmania(8).

Syzygium cumini is widely used in folk medicine against leishmaniasis, inflammation, chronic diarrhea, and ulcers. It is also one of the most commonly used plants for the treatment of diabetes worldwide. 

The researchers concluded that ScEO and its principal constituent, α-pinene, have significant anti-Leishmania activity.

A recent study published in Biomolecules examined the therapeutic potential of pinene(9). 

The researchers found that these terpenes had antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiallergic properties. 

These results parallel those from a previous study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology(10). 

The authors of the said study noted that alpha-pinene acts as a bronchodilator when working with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), opening up airways to help inflammatory disorders, like asthma. 

Also, a 2015 study published in PLoS ONE showed pinene’s antibiotic benefits(11). 

Working with cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN), alpha-pinene demonstrated a broad spectrum of antibiotic properties that worked against infections, like MRSA(12).

The studies mentioned above highlight the therapeutic benefits of pinene, which may help alleviate symptoms of leishmaniasis, such as inflammation and bacterial infection.

Given that pinene is found in cannabis, a full-spectrum CBD oil is most likely to contain this terpene as well. Thus, CBD oil may also have the potential to help with leishmaniasis. However, it is important to realize that there is much clinical investigation needed in order to support these claims.

Conclusion

Studies have shown that terpenes work with some cannabinoids, like THC, CBD, and CBN, to provide therapeutic effects. 

Through this synergy, a full-spectrum CBD oil may be able to deliver maximum benefits to those looking to alleviate symptoms and conditions linked to leishmaniasis. 

However, while the opportunities for the medicinal applications of the entourage effect are extensive, scientific research in this area is still lacking. Also, long-term side effects of CBD use are still unknown.

Thus, before using CBD for leishmaniasis symptoms or related conditions, consult with and seek advice from a doctor experienced in cannabis use.  


  1. CDC. (2018, July 24). Parasites – Leishmaniasis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/leishmaniasis/index.html.
  2. WHO. Neglected tropical diseases. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/diseases/en/
  3. UF-IFAS. (2018, April). A Sand Fly. Retrieved from https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/flies/lutzomyia_shannoni.htm.
  4. Ibid..
  5. CDC. (2018, Oct 15). Parasites – Leishmaniasis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/leishmaniasis/health_professionals/index.html.
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Russo EB. The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain. Front Plant Sci. 2019;9:1969. Published 2019 Jan 9. DOI:10.3389/fpls.2018.01969.
  8. Rodrigues et al. Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels essential oil and its major constituent α-pinene exhibit anti-Leishmania activity through immunomodulation in vitro. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2014.11.024.
  9. Salehi B, Upadhyay S, Erdogan Orhan I, et al. Therapeutic Potential of α- and β-Pinene: A Miracle Gift of Nature. Biomolecules. 2019;9(11):738. Published 2019 Nov 14. DOI:10.3390/biom9110738.
  10. 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.
  11. Kovač J, Šimunović K, Wu Z, et al. Antibiotic resistance modulation and modes of action of (-)-α-pinene in Campylobacter jejuni. PLoS One. 2015;10(4):e0122871. Published 2015 Apr 1. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0122871.
  12. CDC. (2019, Feb 5).  Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/index.html
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