The human immune system is a complex network of organs and processes that work together to A) prevent infection and B) fight it should it overtake those initial defenses. A healthy immune system can identify suspected threats, target them, and destroy them.
To do so, it must distinguish between healthy cells and dangerous pathogens (e.g., virus, bacteria, parasite, fungi, poison). It must also evaluate the level of response and timing.
So like so many things in life, balance is critical. Might CBD oil influence that balance?
How Your Immune System Fights Disease
First of all, the immune system must recognize something as a threat to respond to it. And each type of virus, for example, has a unique signature. So in most cases, the immune system recognizes an invader only when it has seen that specific one before.
Alternatively, the immune system may realize there's a threat only after the virus begins to do damage.
To fight an infection, your immune system produces specialized antibodies. But immunizations and boosters can also expose your body to tiny amounts of pathogens so that the body learns how to make these antibodies without dangerous exposure.
Once it recognizes a threat, it must generate a measured response.
If these systems are slow to respond or mount too small an offensive, then the virus or other invader will be allowed to replicate and take hold, making you sick.
But if the immune system over-responds, it may begin to attack cells in an area indiscriminately, creating rampant inflammation and cell death. In some, this results in autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis, and even seasonal allergies.
It's also the cause of pneumonia when a lung infection sets in.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the Immune System
The body regulates all bodily responses with specific hormones. Your brain tells the body to produce hormones or eliminate those already in the body based upon what it determines the body should do.
These substances float around in the body. And each cell has receptors designed to attach to them. This causes various effects.
When it comes to balance, the endocannabinoid system is involved. This system of cells is present in the immune system, brain, and digestive tract primarily.
Your body produces endocannabinoids to maintain balance in these areas. These naturally-produced endocannabinoids attach to the endocannabinoid system's receptors. As a result, the system calms down so that it doesn't overreact.
In other words, it's a natural immunosuppressant. That means a more measured response, less inflammation, and fewer casualties among healthy cells.
Cannabis and the Immune System
Cannabis contains plant-based cannabinoids. At least one of these, cannabidiol (CDB), is very similar to the endocannabinoids you produce naturally. So research is finding that CBD may have a similar balancing effect on your immune system.
Another cannabinoid, THC, has an intoxicating effect. This is the primary substance found in marijuana. Hemp-based CBD products should have only trace amounts of this cannabinoid.
You have CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors on your cells. CB1 attach to THC. CB2 connects to CBD.
CB1's are primarily in the brain. CB2's are in the immune system (throughout your body), which includes the digestive tract.
That's one of the reasons that THC gets people high, while CBD has other effects on the body.
Benefits of CBD on the Immune System
So can CBD oil supplement your naturally-produced endocannabinoids? Several animal and human studies suggest that it might.
Reducing Inflammation and Pain
Studies show that CBD may reduce inflammatory markers present in an area. Fewer markers mean less inflammation. Chronic inflammation is an overreaction of the immune system. It is responsible for much of the pain and cellular death that people with certain conditions have.
Another study on people with joint pain found that the group taking CBD experience reduced inflammation and pain.
Might Slow Disease Progression
Because of the anti-inflammatory effect, CBD oil may slow the progression of certain degenerative diseases. Additionally, CBD appears to offer a level of protection to the nerves. Certain diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis attack the nerves, which makes them sensitive and eventually non-functional. So protecting the nerves could slow the progression of these diseases, although more human research is needed.
CBD as an immunosuppressant
Ultimately, CBD appears to work as an immunosuppressant, but not to the extent that you can't fight infection. Instead, it seems to moderate the response so that the immune system doesn't attack healthy cells.
And keep in mind, CBD and your own endocannabinoids encourage balance. So there have additionally been studies in immunocompromised people showing the opposite effect. The presence of CBD led to an increase in the white blood cell count. This may lead to a more robust immune response in a person that has a compromised immune system, such as someone with HIV/AIDS.
Suppresses Cytokine Production
Cytokines are proteins that help regulate how your immune system responds. They also mediate various cellular functions to maintain healthy cells. Studies show that CBD may significantly reduce the presence of overresponsive cytokines, which researchers believe could eventually lead to treatments for asthma, allergies, and dermatitis.
CBD and Cancer
CBD may reduce nausea from chemo, which an immune response. And early studies show that CBD may inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells from slowing tumor growth and reducing spread to other parts of the body.
How to Boost Your Immune System with CBD
Research on the benefits of CBD is ongoing. More human clinical studies are needed to confirm any specific health effects of CBD. However, initial results are promising, and any side effects of CBD minimal. So many people are currently exploring the benefits of CBD for themselves in the means of time.
It's important to note that because CBD is balancing to the immune system, it's not a quick fix. If your goal is to boost the immune system, you should take a high-quality CBD oil regularly and note any changes in your wellness. Adjust the dose as needed.
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