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How does CBD work - on inflammation

How Does CBD Tackle Inflammation in the Body?

Loren Devito, PhD
Written by Loren Devito, PhD

Therapeutic Potential for Autoimmune Diseases

The immune system is the body’s first defense against foreign invaders like bacteria. This complex machinery includes a wide array of cellular and molecular factors that work together to keep the “bad guys” from infecting a healthy body.1 And, in most people, this system works quite well. Although many of us complain about the occasional cold, we’re actually quite lucky to avoid the multitude of potentially harmful microorganisms littering the environment that never make it past our fortress of immunity.

In cases of a weakened immune system, resulting from either stress on the body or certain medications, you are more likely to acquire an infection. Most of us have experienced this after a few all-nighters of studying – once stress levels begin to drop, you get hit with a cold, as your immune system tried to get back online.

What Are Autoimmune Diseases?

But, what happens if the body confuses healthy cells for foreign bodies? In this case, the immune system launches an attack on the body, which results in more serious conditions than the common cold. These types of conditions are called autoimmune diseases, and can include arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and autoimmune diabetes.2While each condition affects different systems, autoimmune diseases generally cause inflammation.1,2 Cannabidiol (CBD) plays an essential role in mediating inflammatory pathways and therefore mayhelp treat many of these conditions.3

How Does CBD Affect the Immune System?

Cellular and molecular studies have indicated that CBD may be exerting its anti-inflammatory effects through action on T cells, which are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the immune system, and their associated chemical messengers (called cytokines).3,4By reducing the production of chemicals that signal inflammation in the body, CBD can have beneficial effects on autoimmune diseases.5,6

Let’s take a closer look at some of these conditions:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Anyone who has experienced the “munchies” after consuming cannabis will not be surprised by the role of cannabinoids in the gastrointestinal system. In addition to stimulating appetite, cannabinoid receptors that line the gut regulate a host of essential functions including digestion.9

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, includes Crohn’s disease and colitis. Inflammation resulting from IBD significantly disrupts digestive function in patients. Pre-clinical studies showed that CBD treatment reduces inflammation in the gut and may help alleviate IBD symptoms.10

Multiple Sclerosis

Cannabinoids have been evaluated for their safety and efficacy in treating multiple sclerosis, or MS, for several decades.11MS is a progressive disorder that causes potentially disabling motor problems, as well as other nervous system disruptions.

Large clinical trials have shown that cannabis-based medications can help alleviate pain and improve motor movements.12,13 And several other trials are currently underway to further evaluate the effects of cannabinoids on MS.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body, resulting in painful swelling and joint stiffness.

Endogenous cannabinoids are involved in the inflammatory response within the joints themselves.7 Preliminary studies have indicated that a cannabis-based medication effectively treats pain and disease activity in RA patients.6,8

If you are a medical marijuana patient, be sure to talk to your dispensary and your doctor about different ways you can use CBD to treat your autoimmune condition.


  1. Yatim, K.M., Lakkis, F.G., “A Brief Journey through The Immune System”, CJASN, 2015, Volume 10.
  2. Wang, L., Wang, F-S, Gershwin, E., “Human Autoimmune Diseases: A Comprehensive Update”, J Intern Med, 2015, Volume 278.
  3. Kozela, E., Juknat, A., Gao, F., Kaushansky, N., Coppola, G., Vogel, Z., “Pathways and Gene Networks Mediating The Regulatory Effects of Cannabidiol, A Nonpsychoactive Cannabinoid, In Autoimmune T Cells”, Journal of Neuroinflammation, 2016, Volume 13.
  4. Srivastavaa. M.D., Srivasta, B.I.S., Brouhard, B., “Δ9 Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol Alter Cytokine Production by Human Immune Cells”, Immunopharmacology, 1998, Volume 90.
  5. Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S.A., Hegde, V.L., Nagarkatti, M., “Cannabinoids As Novel Anti-inflammatory Drugs”, Future Med Chem, 2009, Volume 1.
  6. Klein, T.M., “Cannibinoid-based Drugs As Anti-inflammatory Therapeutics”, Nature Reviews Immunology, 2005, Volume 5.
  7. Richardson, D., et al., “Characterisation of The Cannabinoid Receptor System In Synovial Tissue and Fluid in Patients with Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis”, Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2008, Volume 10.
  8. Blake, D.R., Robson, P., Ho M., Jubb, R.W., McCabe, C.S., “Preliminary Assessment Of The Efficacy, Tolerability and Safety Of A Cannabis-based Medicine (Sativex) In The Treatment Of Pain Caused By Rheumatoid Arthritis”, Rheumatology, 2006, Volume 45.
  9. Wright, K.L., Duncan, M., Sharkey, K.A., “Cannabinoid CB2 Receptors In The Gastrointestinal Tract: A Regulatory System In States Of Inflammation”, British Journal of Pharmacology, 2008, Volume 153.
  10. De Fillipis, D., et al., “Cannabidiol Reduces Intestinal Inflammation through the Control of Neuroimmune Axis”, PLoS ONE, 2011, Volume 6.
  11. Rog, D.J., “Cannabis-based Medicines in Multiple Sclerosis – A Review Of Clinical Studies”, Immunobiology, 2010, Volume 215.
  12. Russo, M., et al., “Evaluating Sativex® in Neuropathic Pain Management: A Clinical and Neurophysiological Assessment in Multiple Sclerosis”, Pain Medicine, 2016, Volume 17.
  13. Zajicek, J.P., et al., “Cannabinoids In Multiple Sclerosis (CAMS) Study: Safety and Efficacy Data For 12 Months Follow Up”, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 2005, Volume 76.