In a sea of COVID-19 coverage and shelter-in-place measures, people are seeking additional solutions for staying healthy. Those who have heard of cannabidiol (CBD) are now wondering, “Can CBD help support my immune system too?”
Considering all its other benefits, CBD is certainly appealing. However, the immune system is highly complex. Researchers are still making discoveries about its true nature, including how CBD affects it.
We’ve created this monthly Science Series to answer questions like these and share the latest discoveries in cannabis science.
In this article you will learn:
- How the Immune System Works
- The Endocannabinoid System and its Role in Immune Function
- How CBD Can Support Immunity
How the Immune System Works
Most of us know that the immune system helps us fight infection and destroy foreign bodies that enter the body. It operates through a complex network of systems, organs, proteins, genes, receptors and immune cells.
All of these immune system components work together to defend your body against infection.
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system removes toxins by transporting white blood cells throughout the body. It functions by moving lymph, the fluid that contains white blood cells, throughout a complex network of organs and tissues.
The thymus creates progenitor cells, which are early descendants of stem cells that can form many kinds of cells but cannot divide and reproduce indefinitely. Essentially, these form immune cells, and then the thymus stores them.
Immune System Cells
There are many kinds of immune cells that work by processing antigens. (Dendritic cells, granulocytes, and lymphoid cells are a few examples). Antigens are internal/external substances that stimulate an immune system response and activate certain white blood cells.
White Blood Cells
We have several kinds of white blood cells, which all work together to kill and remove pathogens from our bodies. For example, phagocytes digest foreign particles, pathogens, and dead/dying cells. Lymphocytes create antibodies that recognize specific antigens, lock to them, and remove them from the body.
A healthy immune system maintains homeostasis, or in other words, a stable, internal balance of these various biological mechanisms.
Here is where the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) comes into play. Scientists have found that the immune system and ECS are so intertwined that the ECS directly influences immune responses associated with infection or inflammation.
The Endocannabinoid System and Its Role in Immune Function
The Endocannabinoid System is a highly complex system that helps regulate many of your core functions to maintain homeostasis. For instance, being sick compromises your internal balance, and this activates your ECS to bring things back to baseline.
Scientists have linked the ECS to so many body processes, they now believe that maintaining homeostasis is its main function. Here are a few processes linked to the ECS:
- Immune system responses
- Chronic pain
- Appetite and digestion
So far, we understand that it operates primarily through two components: endocannabinoid molecules and cannabinoid receptors.
Endocannabinoids and Cannabinoid Receptors
Your body produces endocannabinoid molecules naturally. Scientists have found they function by activating specific receptors in the nervous system, called cannabinoid receptors.
These endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, which may explain why the ECS has been linked to so many physiological processes, including immunity.
The Endocannabinoid System and Immune Function
When it comes to immunity, the real stars of the ECS are the 2-AG endocannabinoid molecules and CB2 receptors.
CB2 receptors are abundant throughout the immune system. Scientists found them in immune cells as well as the spleen, tonsils, and thymus glands. This is why scientists believe that CB2 receptors are directly linked to immune function and response, as well as regulating inflammatory responses.
When triggered, CB2 receptors appear to affect immune response by activating immune cells that are responsible for recognizing, destroying, and processing antigen materials.
In a broader sense, scientists have started to uncover how these ECS relationships create balance within the immune system.
For example, when the ECS is activated, the result is either immunosuppressant (it inhibits certain aspects of immune function) or immunopotentiating (it enhances certain aspects of immune function).
In other words, through these activated receptors, the ECS continually fine-tunes immune function and response. This is the complex, undulating nature of the ECS and how it regulates homeostasis.
How CBD Can Support Immunity
So, where does CBD come into play, and how does it relate to your immune system? One interesting discovery is that phytocannabinoids (produced by cannabis and other plants) also activate these cannabinoid receptors.
This means that CBD, along with other plant-derived cannabinoids, can supplement our body’s natural supply of endocannabinoids and help us stay balanced through supporting the Endocannabinoid System.
Scientists also believe that CBD phytocannabinoids could impact disease resistance through their interactions with the ECS. Here’s what we know:
- We’ve learned that CBD inhibits the fatty-acid enzyme FAAH. This is linked to higher levels of anandamide and 2-AG, which as we’ve learned, are important for maintaining homeostasis and healthy immune function through the ECS. Reducing FAAH can also reduce symptoms of pain, inflammation, anxiety, and depression.
- Studies show that CBD also activates TRPV1 receptors in immune cells. When activated, these enhance your immunity’s response to pathogens through the central nervous system.
On CBD and COVID-19
So, what does all of this mean in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic? Can taking CBD support your immune system and help it fight infection?
As we’ve seen, there is a growing body of research that supports CBD’s role in supporting the ECS, and as a result, helps our body maintain homeostasis and healthy immune function.
The practical perspective would be to adopt a variety of healthy habits that support a strong immune system, such as getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious foods, taking immunity-supporting supplements, and staying active.
CBD can be a great addition to health and wellness routines, especially with food-grade products that are lab-tested for purity and consistent potency.