While advancements in science have enabled a greater understanding of our health, getting to the root cause of a chronic disease can be challenging. Autoimmune conditions are an area of medicine that remain largely misunderstood. Presently, there are more than 80 registered autoimmune disorders, affecting various parts of the body. More conditions may also turn out to be Can CBD Help With Autoimmune Diseases? Data from several studies demonstrate that CBD has properties that may be useful in treating autoimmune diseases.
Molecular Mimicry: The Role of Cannabis in Healing Autoimmune Disease
Sarah Russo is a writer, cannabis consultant, and a social media and content manager. She got her degree in environmental studies and social justice, with a focus in plant medicine from the Evergreen State College. She has previously worked for Project CBD and the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. She has also acted as an herbal medicine educator in natural remedy apothecary shops. Some of her main goals are diversifying the cannabis movement by integrating the plant into the greater herbal medicine compendium as well as encouraging sustainable agricultural practices.
While advancements in science have enabled a greater understanding of our health, getting to the root cause of a chronic disease can be challenging. Autoimmune conditions are an area of medicine that remain largely misunderstood. Presently, there are more than 80 registered autoimmune disorders, affecting various parts of the body. More conditions may also turn out to be autoimmune related.
Autoimmunity (AI) is an “attack on self”, where the immune system gets triggered and thinks that the body’s healthy tissues are invaders. Our immune system is mediated by beta cells which produce antibodies to foreign invaders. Beta cells produce antibodies to prevent infection or fend off bacterial and viral pathogens. T-cells are in charge of cell-mediated immunity are derived from the thymus and other immune tissues. They attack foreign invaders in the body. In an autoimmune response, T-cells take action as if the body’s own cells were foreign in order to bring the body back into homeostasis. This self-attack is known as “molecular mimicry” and is the root of any autoimmune disease.
The location of the autoimmune attack will vary based on the condition. For example, if there is autoimmunity in the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may result. If molecular mimicry occurs in the thyroid, it may lead to Hashimoto’s. For skin disorders like psoriasis, the dermal layer is the target. Autoimmune conditions may attack more than one part of the body at the same time. Lupus can manifest in the skin, digestive system, joints, and the brain.
The reason why the self-attack switch is turned on is relatively unknown. Common consensus is that those with autoimmunity have a genetic predisposition for these types of conditions. Then a particular event like an infection, parasite, leaky gut syndrome, or a traumatic experience sets off the autoimmune reaction.
The triangle of autoimmune triggers. Gut dysbiosis and genetic and environmental factors play mayor roles in the development of autoimmune diseases.
AI can remain latent in the body, resulting in ailments that have not been properly pinpointed. Autoimmune related situations can linger in the body unexposed for many years, which can result in digestive complaints and various associated problems. Frequently, autoimmune diseases are misdiagnosed because their symptoms can mimic other ailments.
There has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of autoimmune diseases since World War 2. Autoimmune conditions more commonly affect women than men. The National Institute of Health estimates that 23.5 million people in the USA have an autoimmune disease, while cancer affects 13 million in the country. The true number of those affected by autoimmunity is likely higher, due to misdiagnosis and general lack of understanding about the complexity of AI related conditions.
Conventional medicine ideology believes that the immune system cannot be controlled and once the autoimmunity switch has been triggered, it is impossible to revert back to the body’s normal state. However, many alternative medical professionals feel that autoimmune conditions may be reversed or greatly resolved. In typical treatment protocols, patients are not given information about dietary changes and are generally told that pharmaceutical medications are required to get better.
Conventional treatments for autoimmune disorders
Currently, prescription medication for autoimmune diseases aim to “turn off” the immune system all together. Immunosuppressive drugs are synthetically created antibodies which attack the autoimmune antibodies. Immunosuppressive drugs can create many potential side effects. These medications may make someone more susceptible to infection, and may lead to the development of cancer. According to Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a cannabis friendly doctor in Southern California, many patients who try immunosuppressive medications end up discontinuing them due to unfavorable side effects. In her experience, patients seek holistic treatment options for autoimmune diseases.
Steroids are a commonly prescribed medication for autoimmunity to lower inflammation and suppress the immune system. They are meant to be taken on the short term. Julie Holland, a pro-cannabis psychiatrist based in New York, says that the goal shouldn’t be to be globally immunosuppressed, “With steroids, you are sweeping the dirt under the carpet. You’re not getting to the root cause at all. It’s as if you’re hitting mute on the alarm, but the alarm is going off for a reason.” Steroids may decrease blood supply to various parts of the body, and create fat deposits in the face or other areas. If someone has autoimmunity and chronic pain, steroids may not help address the root of the discomfort.
In general, immunosuppressive therapy is incredibly expensive and not always effective. The aim should be to modulate the immune system and bring it back into balance, not to turn it off completely.
What options exist for someone with an autoimmune condition if they do not wish to use traditional medications? Holistic approaches for autoimmune conditions are to decrease inflammation, repair the digestive tract, and regulate the immune system. This includes getting rid of stressors and sensitivities on the broad spectrum, including environmental, food, chemical, and others. Managing autoimmune disease requires dietary and lifestyle changes, which have been reported to help reverse these conditions.
Someone with an autoimmune disease may consider cannabinoid therapies for their ability to decrease inflammation, modulate the immune system, and help to bring the system back into balance.
Immune system modulation
The immune system is a delicate balancing act and deeper investigation is needed to better understand the mechanisms of how it works. Herbs and foods that work to modulate the immune system are ideal for someone dealing with an autoimmune condition. Cannabis therapy and dietary changes seem to be safer, cheaper, and possibly more effective for combating autoimmune conditions than pharmaceutical medications.
Cannabis and other adaptogenic herbs are known to be immune modulating. They act as a regulating tool: they can bring an over or under-reacting immune system back into balance. However, the difference between “immune modulating” and “immune boosting” can be tricky to decipher. It is generally felt that someone with autoimmunity would not want to take anything which boosts the immune system, but this is a point of contention among practitioners.
According to Kevin Spelman, faculty member in Botanical Medicine at National University of Natural Medicine, the definition of immune modulatory is the biphasic effect of an herbal medicine. “Immunomodulatory herbs offer a very beneficial strategy to treat autoimmune conditions. The category of immunomodulation rests on biphasic activity. If someone’s immune response is overly vigilant, there would be a down regulation of immune response. If someone’s immune response is ‘deficient’ there would be an increase of immune activity.” Spelman explained that a patient’s therapeutic response is dependent on how their individual molecular environment is behaving.
Cannabis is a unique biphasic botanical remedy that can bring the system back into balance in numerous regards. Based on current research, cannabis therapies may provide benefit for autoimmune disease in three basic ways: modulation of the immune system, decreasing general inflammation, and helping to assist the digestive system. Cannabis medicine may also treat symptoms of specific autoimmune diseases like ALS, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, fibromyalgia, Huntington disease, multiple sclerosis, and others. The plant may decrease chronic pain, inflammation, and spasms associated with some of these conditions. There have been few specific investigations on cannabinoid treatment for AI, due to federal prohibition on human clinical trials. However, extensive studies in test-tubes and in animals have reported the anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabinoids for specific AI conditions like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Investigation has demonstrated that CB2 receptors regulate many complex pathways of the immune system. Preclinical studies show that triggering CB2 receptors can suppress immune response, which can be beneficial for those suffering with AI. CB2 can also inhibit production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhance anti-inflammatory cytokines, which helps to restore a balanced state. However, there are conflicting reports as research has shown that CB2 activation, under certain conditions, may aggravate inflammation.
There has been some preclinical investigation focusing on the role of particular cannabinoids in AI disease models. CBD has been found to modulate the immune system instead of suppressing it. Cannabidiol also slows down T-cell production and suppresses immune system memory, meaning that CBD could cut down on the likelihood of future autoimmune attacks. CBD has also been found to increase the expression of genes that deal with oxidative stress, which may reduce cell damage from autoimmune attacks. As for THC, this cannabinoid is immunosuppressive only at very high doses. In low doses can be helpful as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Its ability to activate CB2 receptors may down regulate T cell function and decrease the harmful effects of immune cells.
The role of cannabis terpenes for autoimmunity deserve further investigation as well. The terpene beta-caryophyllene, found in certain strains of cannabis and black pepper, is known to decrease inflammation through its ability to stimulate the CB2 receptor. Myrcene, another terpene, also has antiinflammatory properties.
Based on preclinical evidence, cannabinoids may help bring the system back into homeostasis, protect against damage from AI attacks within the body, slow down overactive T-cell production, and prevent the immune system from being triggered.
Inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses, and autoimmunity is no exception. Extensive research has been performed on the anti-inflammatory properties of THC, CBD, and other cannabis components. If inflammation response is regulated, there will be less likelihood of an autoimmune attack. More investigation is needed to examine the particular role of cannabinoids for autoimmune disorders.
Cannabinoid therapy has the potential to assist those with autoimmune conditions by decreasing systemic inflammation, with little to no side effects. Preclinical evidence has found that cannabinoids can attenuate autoimmune inflammatory response. In an animal model of multiple sclerosis, CBD decreased the gene transcription that promoted inflammation.
Despite a scarcity of specific human based studies, patients with autoimmune disorders have been able to improve their situation by integrating cannabis medicine into their lifestyle. Dr. Bonni Goldstein has seen a number of patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis wean off pharmaceuticals and control their symptoms with cannabis, dietary changes, exercise, and stress reduction. Goldstein gave the example of a young patient with ankylosing spondylitis. Goldstein reported that after two months on cannabis the patient discontinued three of the pharmaceuticals, experienced a significant improvement in her pain symptoms, and was “able to participate in her life again”. Dr. Goldstein encourages patients to try various CBD/THC ratios, and to experiment with raw cannabinoids such as THCA and CBDA. Trial and error is required to find what works best for an individual’s unique situation.
Additional approaches one can take to lower inflammation:
- A nutrient rich diet: a whole food diet, devoid of processed foods, will naturally decrease inflammation.
- Exercise: active movement increases circulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines from the skeletal muscles.
- Sufficient sleep: your body naturally lowers inflammation while you get shut eye.
- Herbal medicine: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nettle, and various medicinal mushrooms can help decrease inflammation throughout the body.
- Probiotics & Prebiotics: these supplements promote healthy bacteria in the gut, which lowers inflammation and promotes healthy immune response.
While autoimmunity may be a complex and challenging situation in need of deeper investigation, there are holistic approaches one can take to manage their condition. Coping with an autoimmune disease may feel burdensome, but it can also be an opportunity to get back in touch with your body. Aim to treat it in the best way possible. Nature can be your guide.
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Holland, Julie. Entrevista personal. 6 de junio de 2017
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Jacob, Aglaée. “Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease — Research Suggests Digestive Abnormalities May Be the Underlying Cause”. Today’s Dietitian. 2013
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CBD Oil for Autoimmune Diseases – August 2022
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.