Our immune system is among the most vital functioning systems in our bodies. It protects us against harmful pathogens, diseases, and a multitude of other health problems. We aim to keep a healthy balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep in hopes of maintaining a healthy immune system, but is it enough? There’s plenty of health supplements on the market that promise immunity boosting qualities, but there seems to be one taking the world by storm: CBD.
The Endocannabinoid System and Immunity
Several ancient civilizations included cannabis in their pharmacopoeia. No one knew how it worked back then but it addressed body aches and calmed the spirits, and that’s all that mattered.
Travel to the modern day 21st century. Every day scientists are discovering more about the complex molecular makeup of cannabis and how it interacts within our body’s web of biological systems. Yet, despite many exciting discoveries, we still know relatively little, especially when it comes to the interplay between cannabis and the immune system.
Some studies suggest that cannabinoids like CBD are immunosuppressants, which can explain the relief experienced medical cannabis user’s autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation. Other studies have shown that regular cannabis use can increase white blood cell counts in immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV, suggesting an immune-boosting effect.
It gets even more complicated when we consider that the effects of cannabis are mediated primarily by the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which scientists believe interacts with all biological activity, including our immune system.
Optimum immune function entails a complex balancing act that relies on constant communication between our immune cells, tissues, and organs. With the discovery of the ECS in the 1990s, scientists have found another key piece of the puzzle.
The ECS comprises two main G protein-coupled receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous ligands known as endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), plus the proteins that transport our endocannabinoids and the enzymes that break them down in the body.
Endocannabinoids are produced on demand, travelling backwards across chemical synapses and modulating cell activity. This partly explains why the ECS has been termed a homeostatic regulator – continually working to maintain a state of biological balance.
The ECS regulates a plethora of physiological processes, including immune function and inflammation. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on immune cells, although there are between 10-100 times more CB2 receptors than CB1. Endocannabinoids act upon immune cells directly through the CB2 receptor.
CB2 receptor activation creates an anti-inflammatory effect and is therefore a therapeutic target for autoimmune disorders and neurodegenerative disease.1 However, any ECS immunosuppressant activity is thought to be transient, and can be overridden when necessary in the presence of infection.2
Scientists know that plant cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) impact our health by interacting in different ways with the ECS. New research is always emerging that explores links between the body’s physical, mental, and even emotional well-being and the interaction of the ECS. CBD has been shown to work with the ECS to regulate the body’s anti-swelling response, appetite, mood, stress levels, REM schedule in addition to the immune system. Essentially, CBD helps the ECS maintain health by keeping your body’s natural rhythms in biological balance.