Autoimmune Diseases: How Cannabidiol (CBD) Can Help
One of the major functions of the immune system, under normal conditions, is to protect the body by attacking microorganisms, foreign bodies and abnormal cells. Under abnormal conditions, which no one specifically knows for sure, the immune response is triggered against the cells of the body which it is meant to protect. This leads to a wide variety of autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune diseases have been gradually making their way into our lives since the Second World War and the medical community still does not understand the causes. Apparently, now there are more than 100 autoimmune diseases that have been identified so far that affect various parts of the body. The list continues to grow as the immune response attacks more areas of the body and a new name is coined for each new condition. In conventional medicine there is no cure for autoimmune diseases. There is only chronic medicine to control the symptoms with harmful side effects. Fortunately we can find a natural solution in the alternative medicine world. One remedy that has been found to help with the treatment of autoimmunity is cannabidiol (CBD).
Many autoimmune patients are turning to the alternative solutions because the immunosuppressant drugs that they are given by convetional medicine have too many side effects. Also, the patients do not like the frequent infections that result when their immune system turned off! Contrary to conventional medicine, the alternative medicine community believes that the autoimmune conditions can be resolved to a large extent, or even reversed. Alternative medical practitioners aim to modify the immune system and bring it back into balance, not to turn it off completely. They prescribe a holistic approach to treatment in order to reduce inflammation, repair the digestive tract, and to adjust the immune system. The approach includes dietary and lifestyle changes to remove stressors and sensitivities in food, the environment, chemicals and other areas. They may also use cannabidiol therapy because of its ability to decrease inflammation, and to regulate the immune system in order to bring it back into balance.
CBD is an adaptogen, meaning that it is a non-specific remedy that stabilizes physiological processes and promotes balance. It increases resistance to a broad range of stressors of different chemical, biological and physical natures. It has been proven to treat a long list of diseases because it activates our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ESC is made up of cannabinoid receptors that are found throughout the whole body in the organs, the immune cells, the glands and the connective tissue. The receptors (so far scientists have identified CB1 and CB2) send signals to almost every system and cellular structure in the human body to encourage balance. In simple terms, CBD interacts with the body to regulate and to balance systems, including the immune system.
A holistic approach that includes dietary changes, lifestyle changes and CBD therapy creates a safer, cheaper and potentially very effective way for fighting autoimmune conditions.
CBD and Immune System Modulation
Through various actions in the body, CBD dissolves the seeds of chronic inflammation and brings homeostasis to an immune system that is out of balance.
Preliminary research that focused on the role of certain cannabinoids in autoimmune diseases found that CBD modulates the immune system rather than suppressing it. CBD is a unique biphasic plant remedy in the way it modulates the immune system. Biphasic activity means that if a patient’s immune response is too active, CBD provides it with a downward regulation and if the immune reponse is insufficient then CBD increases its activity. Basically, the patient’s response depends on how the system is behaving at molecular levels.
Research has found that CB2 receptors in the body influence many complex pathways of the immune system. Some preclinical trials (studies before clinical trials) found that when CB2 receptors are triggered, the action suppresses immune response, which can benefit those with autoimmune diseases. It was also found that CB2 receptors hinder production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines, which reduces inflammation and restores balance in the immune system (1). However, other studies found that CB2 activation may make inflammation worse. Therefore more clinical research is still needed in this regard.
Another way in which cannabidiol works is by slowing down T-cell production and suppressing immune system memory, meaning that it has the potential of cutting down on further autoimmune attacks.
Though CBD suppresses immune functions, it does not stop all immune activities and some immune cells can still be sent out. Therefore people can still heal from injuries while reducing inflammation. That makes it almost an ideal immunosuppressant!
Cannabidiol is Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is the underlying cause of many diseases including autoimmunity and if inflammation is controlled, there is less likelihood of an autoimmune attack. Inflammation is generally not harmful since it is part of the body’s immune response to viruses, fungi and injuries. However, when the inflammatory response is summoned unnecessarily and it harms the body’s own tissues, as in the case of autoimmune diseases, then it becomes a problem. This is when anti-inflammatory agents such as CBD are needed.
There has been much research into the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD and it has been found to be effective with little or no side effects. In preclinical trials, (studies done before clinical trials), CBD was found to reduce the autoimmune inflammatory response. Then, in animal studies involving multiple sclerosis, CBD managed to decrease the gene transcription that enhanced inflammation.
The US federal government prohibited clinical trials of cannabinoids for autoimmune diseases but test-tube and animal trials confirmed the anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabinoids for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. However, more research is needed, particularly clinical research, to find CBD‘s particular role in autoimmune disorders. Still, it has high potential to help sufferers of autoimmune conditions by reducing systemic inflammation. For example, people with autoimmune disorders have so far managed to improve their health by adding CBD to their lifestyle. Some of them have managed to wean themselves off pharmaceutical medicine and continue to control their symptoms with CBD, dietary changes, stress reduction techniques and exercise.
CBD is an Antioxidant
Oxidative stress has been found to be an underlying cause of inflammation, or at least a major contributing factor. There are too many free radicals around. Some are produced in the body by normal body processes while others are in the pollutted air that we breathe in. Normal levels of free radicals are generally dealt with by the antioxidants that we consume. However, when we do not consume enough antioxidants, and we happen to have too many free radicals in the body, the free radicals have an opportunity to affect our body cells in a process that is now known as oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is closely linked to autoimmune diseases. One study, by scientists at the University of Kobe in Japan, investigated the oxidative stress profile of patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome and found that most of them were in very high oxidative stress (2). Another study found the synovial fluid and tissue of rheumatoid arthritis suffers indicated oxidative stress damage. It is obvious that the treatment of autoimmune diseases must include the intake of antioxidants. Fortunately, CBD is a powerful antioxidant in addition to being anti-inflammatory! This was discovered by scientists as long ago as 1998 and the fact is recognized by the US federal government which holds a patent to that effect.
Other Ways that CBD Will Work
Cannabidiol is a unique biphasic plant remedy that can bring the immune system back into balance in numerous ways: modulation of the immune system as discussed above, reduction of general inflammation, and healing of the digestive system.
In the process, it may also treat symptoms like chronic pain, spasms and inflammation that are associated with specific autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, Huntington disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Best of all, it relieves depression, foggy brain and fatigue that are associated with the autoimmune diseases! With less pain and better brain health, people are restored to almost normal!
Scientists also found that CBD tends to increase the expression of genes that handle oxidative stress. In this regard CBD has potential to reduce cell damage from autoimmune attacks.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve the Immune System
Since we are not sure what really causes the inflammation that is the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases, we should also look at our lifestyle and environment for answers. The problem could be with our level of activity, our diet, and exposure to pollutants. In order to reduce inflammation, it is not enough to take CBD without changing our lifestyle. A holistic approach is called for. So one can change the diet by adding more whole foods and avoid processed foods and those foods that tend to cause inflammation. One can increase movement of all parts of the body to encourage increased circulation of antiinflammatory cytokines from the muscles. One must get enough sleep daily to naturally lower inflammation and to improve well-being.
Gut health cannot be neglected as it is said that our immunity is in our gut. So one can take probiotics and prebiotics to promote the growth of healthy gut flora which will help to heal the gut lining and to lower inflammation. These actions will promote a healthy immune response. While we are on gut health, we must avoid harmful foods such as dairy and gluten-laden carbohydrates. These foods cause food sensitivities and cause leaky gut syndrome which in its own way leads to autoimmune attacks. So to help with healing of the gut, these foods must be avoided.
Does CBD Really Work for Real People?
Slowly real life cases are coming up. There is the story of Cleo Bella who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 11 years old. She walked with a limp and sometimes she could not walk at all because of pain. Wrist deformity was beginning to show which limited her mobility a lot. Her fingers were swollen and very painful and that affected her ability to draw or write like other children. Cleo needed help even to perform basic tasks. Her mother made dietary changes but this resulted in very small changes to Cleo’s condition. So her mother turned to cannabidiol. In less than two weeks after starting on CBD, her appetite improved and she began to gain weight, her skin began to change from greyish to a healthy pink, and the swelling in her knees went down by half, surprising her physiotherapist and occupational therapist. Within a short time she began to grow in height, she gained some movement in her wrist and the wrist swelling was gone. Her brain power began to return, improving her learning abilities.
It is encouraging to know that CBD is safe for young people like Cleo. It has no known side effects and it does not give a high to its users like THC.
Modern living exposes us to a constant bombardment by chemicals, pollutants and free radicals. When we do not eat enough antioxidants to counteract them, oxidative stress results, making the body prone to many age related illnesses including autoimmune diseases. Though autoimmunity is a complex and challenging situation in need of deeper investigation, there are holistic approaches available to manage the condition. The approach includes the use of CBD therapy, dietary changes and other lifestyle changes. In the process of coping with an autoimmune disease people learn how to get back in touch with their bodies. Nature is a good guide. Nature is the pharmacy for healing.
1. Elliiot DM & Others. (2018, Aug). Frontiers in Immunology. Cannabidiol Attenuates Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis Model of Multiple Sclerosis Through Induction of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells.
2. Kumagai S1, Jikimoto T, and Saegusa J. (2003, Feb). Rinsho Byori. Pathological roles of oxidative stress in autoimmune diseases]. [Article in Japanese].