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As COVID-19 remains an ongoing topic, many people are thinking more about their immune systems. Is my immune response what it should be? What can I do to boost immune function? While we know that a healthy immune system can’t prevent the contracting of all diseases, including COVID-19, it is one of the most critical systems in the body.
A healthy immune system regulates how the body handles various invaders. And that’s a good thing because the world is filled with pathogens, all fighting for their survival, which often includes a parasitic relationship. In this “germ war,” we wouldn’t last five minutes without the human immune system.
You can do a lot of things to boost immunity like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, taking vitamins, and managing stress effectively. Could cannabidiol (CBD) be one more item in your immunity-boosting toolkit?
Studies have shown that CBD can support immune function by modulating immune response and inhibiting the proliferation of harmful cells in the body. Furthermore, it may reduce levels of cytokines, a pro-inflammatory substance in the body.1
Overview of the Immune System
The immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and tissues that work together to destroy foreign cells or particles, thus keeping you healthy and alive. In a nutshell, the immune system must:2
- Properly identify cells as invaders
- Mount an appropriate response to destroy the threatening cells before they can proliferate
- Coordinate the response throughout the immune system as several organs and tissues may take part
- Reduce cellular casualties in the area by distinguishing between harmful cells and things like your body’s own healthy cells, good bacteria, and harmless substances like pollen and dander
- Clean up and move out of an area once the threat has passed
- Maintain immune memory, so it can more quickly identify the pathogen in the future, to catch spread early, and in many cases prevent future infection. Vaccines artificially provide the body with immune memory to prevent a person from having to suffer a terrible disease to develop it, and some immune memory is passed from mother to child during birth and in the early months of life.3
The key players in the immune system are the leukocytes (white blood cells). There are two basic kinds.
These cells destroy antigens (toxins or harmful foreign substances). They also maintain immune memory to help your body remember these foreign substances. The lymphocytes include the B cells and T cells. These cells are produced in your lymphoid organs throughout the body, including primarily the thymus and bone marrow.
T cells which come in the form of helper T cells and killer T cells stimulate the B cells and help coordinate an offensive against an invading cell(s). They communicate with the immune system as a whole using “inflammatory” messenger cells called cytokines.4
B cells create special Y-shaped proteins that reach out like arms from various places on the globe-shaped B cell. If this Y protein bumps into a known invader, such as a flu strand that you’ve had before, it attaches to the virus to immobilize it so that it can’t spread.
If a B cell’s Y proteins encounter a virus they don’t know, like COVID-19 for most of us, they let it go on its way like a police officer who has no reasonable suspicion on which to hold you.
However, after many Y proteins encounter the virus, a healthy immune system will eventually realize that this virus does not belong here.5 Then the Y’s begin to attach, and the T cells send for reinforcements.
You may recall that “phag” means “eating” from the Latin “phagus” .6 Once the Y protein immobilizes the virus, these cells help absorb (eat) and neutralize the invaders, preventing them from spreading and causing more damage.
The process is similar for poisonous substances, toxins, fungi, bacteria, cancer cells, and allergens.
Apoptosis or Cell Death
The immune system is also responsible for detecting and eliminating cells that aren’t working correctly. These may be cells that develop mutations that are unhealthy for the body. They could also be cells that refuse to die when their time is up, which leads to tumor formation (cancer).7
The Amazing Immune System
This is how a healthy immune system works, but there are many cases where immune systems overreact, attacking healthy cells and sending too much inflammation into an area. When hyperactivity happens, allergies and autoimmune disorders may develop. As is the case with many COVID-19 patients, an overactive immune system can even kill the person it is supposed to protect.8
But where does CBD fit into this picture? To explore that, we’ll need to look at one fundamental way that your body balances out the immune response.
The Endocannabinoid System and Immune System
The ECS is a system in your body that you may not have learned about in school. It was only discovered in the 1990s, and much of that research is ongoing. The ECS helps maintain homeostasis (balance) between various systems in our body. In mental or emotional terms, a homeostasis is a place of contentment. In physical terms, it is a general wellbeing.9
Overwhelming stress, chronic inflammation, disease, fatigue—these represent a lack of this balance in the body.10 The ECS helps regulate them. That makes the ECS yet another essential system in the human body.
The ECS modulates (balances) cell function. Among others, this includes immune cells.
As part of the ECS function, your body produces endocannabinoids of which we currently know of two:11
- Anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
And it produces specialized enzymes to break down (reuptake) the endocannabinoids when they’re no longer needed. These are as follows:
- Fatty acid amide hydrolase responsible for breaking down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase responsible for breaking down 2-AG
An endocannabinoid attaches to a cannabinoid receptor (CB1 and CB2). CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors are found on cells throughout the body.12 It is this binding that helps regulate the immune system so that it does not over-respond. You use the ECS every day without knowing it. You don’t need to take CBD to do so.
CBD is simply a plant-based cannabinoid that is biologically similar to the ones your own body produces. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant (Cannabis Sativa), also interacts with this system through the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CB1 receptors are located mostly in the central nervous system and are responsible for regulating appetite, managing stress and anxiety, limiting nausea, as well as memory processing, emotional reactions, and pain. CB2 receptors are mostly located in the peripheral nervous system and are responsible for regulating the immune response.
So when THC binds to the CB1 Receptors, current science suggests pain reductions occur. This is one reason for medical cannabis use. But THC is also known to bring about the “high” side effects, which some people do not like or want. THC containing products are also illegal federally in the U.S.
For the past several years, scientists have been trying to figure out how CBD interacts with the ECS. Many currently believe that CBD may bind with CB2 receptors and slow the breakdown of endocannabinoids by those specialized enzymes.
This allows endocannabinoids to have more of an effect on the body.
How Cannabidiol Affects The Immune System
CBD appears to have immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce chronic inflammation and promote a functioning immune system.13 It is these anti-inflammatory effects for which many choose to take CBD.
CBD inhibits the action of CB2 Receptors. And it prevents a hyperactive immune response. For these reasons, CBD is useful for managing autoimmune diseases like:
- Rheumatoid arthritis14
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)15
- HIV / AIDS17
- Parkinson’s disease18
- Crohn’s disease19
Autoimmune diseases are characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to non-threatening internal events that trigger attacks on perfectly healthy cells within the body. Inflammation occurs, causing symptoms like:
So reducing that inflammation may improve symptoms in these and similar autoimmunity conditions.
Enhances Immune System
When CBD prevents endocannabinoids from being broken down, that equals a healthy immune system. This optimal immune system has increased white blood cell count to detect and handle invaders, and it will conduct apoptosis, detecting and eliminating cells that aren’t working correctly to prevent tumor formation. The healthy immune system orchestrates an appropriate inflammatory response, not a hyperactive one that does more harm than good. CBD oil can help your body find the balance it needs to function at an optimal level.
CBD and Your Immune System
As the many studies referenced here show, CBD is both an immunosuppressant and an immunomodulator. Because of its documented ability to prevent overactive immunity, cannabidiol may prevent or help one manage autoimmune diseases. It does so by soothing the hyperactive immune system and strengthening the compromised immune system.
Frogsong Farm’s family-owned organic hemp cannabis farm in Oregon produces, extracts, packages, and delivers high-quality CBD products to those who wish to explore the health benefits of CBD. Please take a minute and explore our selection of CBD products.