Products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, for inflammation are proliferating online and hitting store shelves around the country at an unprecedented clip, making claims about treating different inflammatory disorders from rheumatoid arthritis to osteoarthritis to Crohn’s disease.
There is scientific evidence for the effectiveness of CBD in treating severe childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), for which antiseizure medications do not have any effect. In rodents, local application of CBD around the joints was shown to inhibit pain and peripheral sensitisation in severe osteoarthritis. CBD treatment has also been shown to be effective in neuropathic arthritis, for whom first- and second-line analgesics are ineffective as well as in HIV-associated inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
At its most basic level, inflammation is the immune system’s response to an irritant — it’s part of your body’s natural method of healing itself. The irritant could be outside the body, such as an allergen or splinter, or it could be inside the body, such as a pathogen. Inflammation starts as the body begins to fight the harmful irritant. Cases of severe inflammation cause a general reaction in the body, including exhaustion, fever and changes in blood, such as more immune system cells.
If you have injured tissues or a broken bone, inflammation can work in your favor by increasing blood flow and directing the body’s healing resources toward the site of the injury. All’s well if the broken bone heals, but a different type of inflammation can also be a source of chronic disease, such as in the case of Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In a tragic case of mistaken identity, the immune system fights its own cells, such as cells in joints in the case of RA.
There is some evidence to support CBD for several inflammatory conditions, including arthritis and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, but more research is needed, particularly in human studies. We do know an increasing body of evidence shows that inflammation causes and advances many common diseases; for example, a host of research shows the role inflammation plays in cancers at various stages, and the role it plays in disorders that involve damage to the central nervous system.
How Does CBD Affect Inflammation?
According to a study which discusses conditions CBD may treat, cannabinoids (CBD and THC) have substantial anti-inflammatory properties because of their ability to “induce apoptosis, inhibit cell proliferation and suppress cytokine production.” That’s a mouthful, but here are the terms broken down: apoptosis is a kind of cellular suicide where the body gets rid of cells no longer needed; cell proliferation is an increase in the number of cells (think cancerous cells increasing rapidly); and cytokines are substances produced by the immune system that can have an effect on other cells.
Taken all together, CBD has properties that could help the body get rid of cells it doesn’t need, stop potentially harmful cells from proliferating, and suppress the effects of certain immune cells that may be creating a harmful reaction in the body.
In the case of a 2017 study looking at osteoarthritis in rats, researchers found that CBD treatment prevented later development of pain and nerve damage in joints, which suggests that “CBD may be a safe, useful therapeutic for treating OA joint neoropathic pain,” the authors wrote. Because the study was performed on rats, the results don’t necessarily translate to humans.
Another study looking at ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease causing ulcers in the digestive tract, concluded that a CBD-rich botanical extract may help UC symptoms, which include abdominal pain and rectal bleeding.
And there’s good news for patients suffering from inflammatory skin disorders. A 2019 study of 20 patients with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis who were asked to apply a topical CBD-enriched ointment to their skin for three months showed significant improvement, and no allergic reactions were documented. The study concluded that topical CBD, without any THC, is “a safe and effective non-invasive alternative (to) improve the quality of life in patients” with certain inflammatory skin disorders. The study comes with some caveats, including its small size.
There’s no such thing as a miracle cure-all, so view claims with some skepticism, especially those that claim to heal a wide variety of conditions. We still have a lot of questions about how CBD works in the body, including whether it remains effective year after year, and it may still cause side effects, such as fatigue and irritability.
If you’re looking to get inflammation under control, don’t forget that lifestyle changes, such as exercising more and eating a healthy diet, can help too.
Some Late-Breaking News Regarding CBD
The marijuana ingredient is one of the key components of medical cannabis, and according to research, it shows promise as a treatment for a number of inflammatory diseases, but exactly how well it might treat these diseases.
In 2019 it was shown that CBD which was able to exert its anti-inflammatory properties as an inhibitor of NFκB (activation of this nuclear factor in our cells is part of the inflammatory pathway.)
Additionally, in 2019, researchers from LSU, Tulane, Nektar Therapeutics and the University of Nebraska showed that long-term cannabinoid administration effectively inhibited T Cell Modulation and differential expression of Micro-RNAs and pro-inflammatory genes in monkeys who were infected with the simian form of HIV, namely SIV.
Another 2019 review of non-clinical studies concluded that with respect to cardiac injury, “CBD has multi-functional protective assets to improve cardiac injuries; preliminary through scavenging of free radicals, and reduction of oxidative stress, apoptosis (programmed cell death), and inflammation.”
French researchers in 2019 published a study in which they looked at the therapeutic prospects of CBD for alcohol use disorder and alcohol-related damage to the liver and the brain and stated that “CBD reduces alcohol-related steatosis and fibrosis in the liver…[and that]…CBD reduces alcohol-related brain damage, preventing neuronal loss by its antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties.”
This year in Germany, a study showed that CBD was abe to demonstrate antiarthritic effects independent of cannabinoid receptors in cases involving Rheumatoid Arthritis.
With regards to gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, in a first of its kind discovery, British researchers in a Randomized, Placebo-controlled, Double-blind Controlled Trial – published in 2019 -, showed that CBD and palmitoylethanolamide reduce[ed] the inflammation-induced hyperpermeability of the human gut and that these findings have implications in GI disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
If you’re looking to use CBD for inflammation, you may want to proceed cautiously — Harvard Medical notes that CBD is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn’t regulating the safety or purity of these supplements. That means you don’t know if the product has the same active ingredients listed on the label, or even if it contains any CBD at all. “We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition,” Harvard Medical noted. This means you could be taking far more CBD, or not enough, to effectively treat the problem.
That doesn’t mean CBD products are off limits, but like with any new supplement, it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor first and get personalized health advice. Inflammation is a complex response in the body triggered by a variety of factors, so one person may respond differently to CBD than another.