Inflammation occurs as a natural protective response when the body is harmed. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs following an injury, infection, or illness. The immune system unleashes immune cells to the affected area to protect it, causing redness and swelling.
Chronic inflammation refers to a prolonged inflammatory response in the body. When inflammation lingers, it can detrimentally impact tissues and organs due to the increased production of free radicals, which result in oxidative stress.
Inflammation and oxidative stress are involved in many diseases. Chronic inflammation may be caused by autoimmune disorders, untreated infections or illnesses, and often plays a role in conditions such as asthma, cancer, and diabetes. Factors such as smoking, obesity, or stress may also contribute to chronic inflammation.
While inflammation is necessary to help protect the body as it heals, a state of ongoing or chronic inflammation is undesirable and can be a source of significant pain, anxiety, and is sometimes linked with depression. CBD has been touted as a potent plant-derived anti-inflammatory. Is there research to support its use in the treatment of acute and chronic inflammation?
Overview of the Research
Research has shown that CBD is able to modulate the immune system. While CBD does not have much affinity for the body’s cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, it does affect other receptors and targets. CBD binds to TRPV1 receptors and rapidly desensitizes them. TRPV1 receptors are known to mediate pain and sensory perception, inflammation, and body temperature.
CBD has been shown to reduce inflammatory pain in animal models, but again, not by interacting directly with the body’s cannabinoid receptors. Rather, CBD appears to block inflammatory pain by interacting with another protein, the glycine receptor, which plays a critical role in transmitting pain signals from the body, through the spinal cord, and into the brain (where pain is actually perceived).
CBD also acts on inflammation by decreasing oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress occurs when there is a disturbance between the production of free radicals and antioxidant defenses, resulting in inflammation or tissue damage. CBD possesses antioxidant properties, and has been shown to markedly reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body following a potent chemotherapy treatment.
The Studies on CBD Oil for the Treatment of Inflammation
A 2015 review published in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry by Elsevier discussed the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD. The reviewers found that CBD reduces inflammation through several pathways in the body, and represents an effective potential treatment for a range of conditions characterized by inflammation.
A 2017 study in the journal Pain by publisher Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins examined the effects of CBD in male rats with osteoarthritis. After two weeks, acute inflammation of the joints was reduced by local CBD treatment applied to the area. The administration of CBD was also found to prevent the development of nerve damage and joint pain.
A 2016 study published in Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation by IOS Press investigated CBD as a treatment for early pancreatic inflammation in diabetic mice. Pancreatic inflammation can lead to diabetes due to an invasion of immune cells that destroy insulin-producing cells. The mice who received 10 weeks of treatment with CBD developed diabetes later than the mice that didn’t receive the treatment, and also showed a significant reduction in leukocyte activation. Leukocytes are an immune cell.
A 2011 study published in PLoS One explored the effects of CBD on acute and chronic inflammation in the gut. This elegant research was conducted on animal models with intestinal inflammation and biopsies of human patients with ulcerative colitis. CBD was found to profoundly counteract the inflammation, and also reduced intestinal damage in the mice and human biopsies by decreasing the expression of inflammatory proteins.
Amy Orr, author of a forthcoming book, “Taming Chronic Pain,” has been using CBD oil for three years to treat the inflammation and pain associated with irritable bowel disease, an autoimmune illness.
“I have had IBD for over 20 years, and had been on a range of medications, from steroids to opioids,” Orr told Weedmaps. “The steroids helped a lot with inflammation but not with the pain, and the oxy was like trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer — brutal side effects. It made me feel awful due to bad nausea and extreme fogginess.”
Orr first experimented with medical marijuana with mixed results, then discovered CBD. “I’ve found more long-term success with fewer side effects from CBD oil,” Orr stated.
“I’d say switching to CBD oil was like a ‘eureka’ moment for me, and I couldn’t really believe that something this good and simple hadn’t been available to me from the get-go.”
For Orr, CBD was immediately more effective that both opioids and steroids, and even better than edibles. “I’m able to titrate my dose very exactly, and can vary the amount depending on how bad a day I’m having.”
“I’ve had a variety of experiences with different doctors, as well as with different ingestion methods. However, I have genuinely found CBD oil to be transformational and am committed to increasing awareness for other autoimmune and IBD sufferers.”
Adam Kemp is a professional basketball player who turned to CBD products after breaking a bone in his back at the beginning of the 2017-2018 season.
“I was able to undertake my whole recovery from the back injury by using only CBD products, and now I continue to use them to help with inflammation and other muscle pains,” Kemp said.
However, not everyone who has turned to CBD to help with their inflammation has experienced benefits.
Lucy Blythe, whose name has been changed for this article, has experimented with CBD to help treat her chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, and fibromyalgia — all of which are autoimmune illnesses characterized by chronic inflammation in the body.
“I have taken CBD to fight inflammation and have tried four different brands,” Allen explained. “I didn’t notice a difference with any of the brands. So, I prefer to use my other anti-inflammatories, like Plaquinel, low-dose naltrexone, and turmeric.”
Medical Experts Weigh In
Jeremy Riggle, Ph.D. is the Chief Scientist at Mary’s Medicinals, a brand specializing in CBD products for the treatment of pain and inflammation.
“Overall, the research literature indicates that cannabinoids, including CBD, could potentially be very effective anti-inflammatory agents for nervous tissue inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, vascular inflammation and certain types of cancers that are triggered by chronic inflammation,” Riggle told Weedmaps.
He cautions, however, that there is still a long way to go before scientists fully understand how CBD attenuates inflammation.
“Inflammation is an extremely complex and varied process, and the effect of CBD and other cannabinoids is not completely understood at this time,” Riggle explained.
“What we do know is that cannabinoids exert their observed anti-inflammatory effect through induction of apoptosis (programmed death of abnormal or damaged cells), inhibition of cellular proliferation, suppression of cytokine production (proteins that regulate the inflammatory response), and induction of T-regulatory cells.
Riggle emphasizes that the mechanisms by which CBD acts on the body, its specific applications, and appropriate doses require further study. That being said, Riggle acknowledges that CBD represents a low-risk, high-reward treatment for inflammation, as it is non-toxic and has minor side effects.
“Based on my experience, I think that CBD may offer some relief if dosed properly, such as a minimum of 50 milligrams a day to start, but it may take a few weeks to see a good result,” said Woodcock.
She recommends sublingual tinctures, since they can be easily adjusted for dose, are absorbed quickly, and last 4 to 6 hours. Vaping lasts only a few hours, but can help with breakthrough symptoms. The two are best combined for long-term relief.
Woodcock emphasizes that while CBD has potent anti-inflammatory qualities, THC does, too, and the two often work more effectively together. In her opinion, a full-spectrum medical cannabis product containing both THC and CBD will work faster due to THC’s direct effects on the receptors which control inflammation on the body.
“THC has actually been shown to have 20 times the anti-inflammatory potency of aspirin and 2 times that of hydrocortisone, so a medical cannabis product containing both CBD and THC will be a much stronger anti-inflammatory medication than CBD alone.”
Woodcock acknowledges that compared with other anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen, CBD represents a safe alternative. “CBD provides inflammation relief without the blood-thinning or stomach ulceration side effects that traditional OTC (over-the-counter) anti-inflammatories can cause.”
She notes that she has seen patients successfully transition from anti-inflammatories and steroids to medical cannabis, but that this should only be done under the supervision of a doctor or pharmacist.
The Bottom Line
There is already a large body of scientific literature and anecdotal evidence that supports the use of CBD for the treatment of inflammation.
It is critical to remember, however, that many of these existing studies have been preclinical, and that human trials are needed to understand more comprehensively how CBD works in humans.
The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice.