CBD for inflammation: What we know so far
Laura Tennant February 14, 2020
Inflammation, or the inflammatory response, is an aspect of the body’s immune response. While short-term inflammation can be protective, chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation often goes hand in hand with pain. The most common symptoms of inflammation include pain, heat, redness, and swelling. Typically, inflammation is treated with anti-inflammatory medications, including both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroid medications.
Such medications have risks and side effects, however. Some people choose to take a more preventative approach to treating inflammation, such as consuming an anti-inflammatory diet, and taking anti-inflammatory supplements. Could CBD contribute to a more natural approach to treating inflammation?
Current evidence suggests the answer may be yes, but as with many subjects in the cannabis world, more research is needed.
How does CBD reduce inflammation?
Cannabinoids, including CBD, are believed to be anti-inflammatory. Several studies in cells, rodents, and humans support the idea that CBD may be an effective anti-inflammatory, but more research is needed to determine how it works and the best applications for specific types of inflammation.
Inflammation is a complicated process involving many signaling pathways. The body uses signaling molecules called eicosanoids to initiate the inflammatory response. One of the ways CBD can reduce inflammation is by inhibiting an eicosanoid enzyme called COX2. NSAID medications such as Advil and Aspirin also target COX2 in their method of action.
CBD also appears to affect a class of molecules important to the inflammation process called cytokines. CBD tends to reduce the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby reducing inflammation.
Human health: What do studies say?
Inflammation plays an important role in a number of diseases, including asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and a number of autoimmune conditions, as well as in other seemingly unrelated conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Could CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects be used in any of these applications?
There is some evidence supporting the idea that CBD can act as an anti-inflammatory treatment for some diseases.
A 2008 study in mice found that CBD prevented the onset of type 1 diabetes, an inflammatory autoimmune disease that attacks the beta cells of the pancreas.
Another 2013 study found that CBD protected against the harmful effects of inflammation in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.
A 2013 review concluded that CBD was a potential candidate for an inflammatory bowel disease medication. However, a 2017 clinical trial found CBD to be safe, but ineffective for the condition. The authors said their results could “be due to the small dose of CBD, the small number of patients in the study, or the lack of the necessary synergism with other cannabinoids.”
Overall, there is not much research on the subject, but initial reports are promising.
What do experts say?
CBD is known to be an anti-inflammatory and it is likely one of the safest medicines to provide such an effect.
Dr. Michael Verbora
When asked if CBD might be able to treat inflammatory health conditions, Dr. Michael Verbora, MD, cannabinoid expert and chief medical officer at Aleafia Health, had a simple message: “CBD is known to be an anti-inflammatory and it is likely one of the safest medicines to provide such an effect.”
“One of the challenges is we don’t know what dose can alleviate what anti-inflammatory or immune-related conditions,” he continued.
Verbora is hopeful that future research might reveal a role for CBD in treating many inflammatory disorders.
“We need more evidence here, but CBD holds immense promise in inflammatory conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis to name a few.”
Laura Tennant is a Toronto freelance science writer. She has an Honours B.Sc. in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto. She hopes her writing will help others make better-informed choices about their health and lifestyle.