CBD (Cannabidiol) has been gaining in popularity in recent years, due to mounting evidence of its health benefits. Although years of prohibition and propaganda has made a large part of the public view the marijuana and its byproducts with skepticism, researchers are concurring that we might be on the verge of a breakthrough regarding the health benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids.
CBD oil and other byproducts (such as CBD tinctures or CBD extracts) can help patients suffering from a wide range of conditions, like epilepsy, PTSD or anxiety. Recent research has shown that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties can help those who suffer from autoimmune diseases as well. Is that possible? Let’s find out!
What Are Auto-Immune Diseases?
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmune diseases are a series of chronic illnesses that involve almost every human organ system. More than 24 million people in the US alone suffer from some type of autoimmune disease (about 7% of the total population). These disorders seem to be more prevalent in women rather than men, with female patients accounting for two-thirds of all cases.
Autoimmune diseases can occur for no apparent reason and affect the immune system. Under normal circumstances, our immune system protects us from harmful bacteria and viruses that enter the organism. In cases of autoimmune diseases, however, the body mistakes its own healthy tissue and cells as pathogens and produces antibodies and T-Cells to fight them. This results in an inflammatory reaction from the affected area, that causes pain and discomfort. Most autoimmune diseases aren’t curable, so patients have to live with their condition, and treat it with strong medicine.
Common Autoimmune Conditions
AARDA has listed about 150 autoimmune conditions that affect all parts of the body. However, only a few of them are responsible for most cases. The most common autoimmune disorders are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Addison’s disease
- Graves’ disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Sjögren’s syndrome
All of these disorders cause severe inflammation in different parts of the body, that is usually treated with immunosuppressants and anti-inflammatory medication. These drugs are highly potent and can potentially have harmful side-effects.
And this is where hemp comes in: Researchers believe that cannabidiol’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties can be the catalyst for autoimmune patients. But how much truth is there in this statement?
How Can CBD Oil Help With Autoimmune Diseases
CBD is a naturally occurring compound of the cannabis plant and is explicitly extracted from low-THC strains (hemp). THC and CBD are the two most prevalent among hundreds of cannabinoids found naturally in marijuana, and their roles are entirely different: THC is psychoactive and is responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana consumption. CBD however, works antagonistically with THC and provides a non-psychoactive, relaxing feeling that comes with a host of health benefits to the user.
CBD is often extracted from legally grown hemp (which is essentially low-THC cannabis) and comes in a wide assortment of products, such as CBD oil, CBD tinctures, isolates, and extracts. Research has shown that CBD works by interacting directly with specific receptors within our body, specially designed to work in tandem with cannabinoids. This collection of receptors and neurotransmitters is what scientists call the endocannabinoid system (ECS)!
The Endocannabinoid System
When we talk about the endocannabinoid system, we must think of it as a collection of cell receptors and molecules that are distributed throughout our body. These receptors are designed to work with specific chemical compounds (in this case, endocannabinoids). The two primary receptors of the ECS are called CB1 and CB2. Whenever cannabinoids interact with one of these two receptors, neurotransmitters release messages to the cells, guiding their moves.
Endocannabinoids are essentially compound similar to the ones found in the cannabis plant. Two of the most prevalent are anandamide and AG-2. These chemical compounds regulate many fundamental body functions such as:
- Immune system
- Pleasure and reward
Essentially, endocannabinoids maintain an internal balance on the body called homeostasis. When this balance is disrupted, bad things can happen. And this is precisely where phytocannabinoids such as CBD comes into play.
CBD and Inflammation
If our own body produces cannabinoids, then why are we not always in a state of relaxation or high?
That is a question that seems reasonable at first. However, we shouldn’t confuse the way THC and CBD work with our body with the way endocannabinoids works. Our organs break down THC much more slowly, hence the intense psychoactive effect.
On the other hand, CBD interacts with more than just the cannabinoid receptors in our body, substantially slowing down the metabolization of endocannabinoids. CBD is known to inhibit the FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase) enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of anandamide. As a result, CBD increases the amount of anandamide, thus prolonging its effects.
Anandamide (also known as the bliss molecule) has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, that can prove valuable to people suffering from autoimmune disease. Thanks to the subtle way CBD works, the benefits are more long-lasting, and the side-effects are minimal. However, as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, research is harder to conduct.
Even though research on ECS and cannabinoids is still nascent, studies have shown that CBD can impede the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. Also, in 2008, a test conducted on mice, has revealed that CBD can delay or prevent the onset of type-1 diabetes.
Despite its health benefits, CBD oil is still not officially recognized as medicine by the FDA (although it is legal). However, cases such as the one of Cleo Bella, who suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Angie, who suffered from Lupus, and studies such as the one conducted at in 2014 give hope to millions of patients that an alternative way to treating autoimmune diseases is on the rise.