CBD And The Human Immune System

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Our immune system comprises many biochemical compounds and processes in charge to protect against attacks from a wide variety of agents, such as parasites, viruses and bacteria. Within our body’s complexity, the immune system must be able to distinguish healthy cells and microorganisms from the sick or enemy ones. All vertebrate animals possess an innate immune system and an adaptive immune system. We also have a specific neuroimmune system which protects our brain.


The immune system is a dynamic communications network. It is structured into subsets of different cells exchanging information about tissues and organs’ health, and about possible threats. For most of the time the immune system has to respond to minor external attacks to our body. Sometimes the threat can be more serious.
Anything that can trigger an immune response is called an antigen. An antigen can be a virus or even cells from another person (our immune system is working hard when we make love). A receptor is a molecule that receives chemical signals from outside a cell, causing a cell signalling response. When an immune receptor binds to its correspondent eternal substance, it signals other cells to start their defensive response. Disorders in the immune system cell signalling can result in autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, while immunodeficiency results in recurring and life-threatening infections.


The immune system protects living organisms with increasingly specific layers of defences: physical barriers, such as skin and hair, prevent some bacteria and viruses from entering the body. Invaders who dare to pass the skin barrier are immediately attacked by the innate immune system with generic chemical weapons. If pathogens are even able to survive this second defensive layer, then the adaptive immune system receives a message ordering to attack single invaders with specific agents. This targeted last chemical response implies recognition of the pathogen agent using an immunological memory which allows storing information about old and new enemies profiles, and proper countermeasures. That’s not easy, and sometimes the immune system can launch by mistake an attack against body’s own cells or tissues. In other cases, the immune system might respond heavily to a harmless substance such as pollen.

Inflammation is one of the innate immune system’s first responses to infections. It is produced by eicosanoids and cytokines. These are chemical messengers able to recruit fresh immune cells to the site of infection in order to attack the pathogen and then heal the damaged tissue. Research showed cannabinoids exert effects on cytokines production. This second immune system’s layer hosts the leukocytes, also called white blood cells. They behave as independent organisms with the ability to attack pathogens by “smashing” or “engulfing” them. Innate immune system also has natural killer (NK) cells working similarly to leukocytes. The difference is NK only attack our own body’s corrupted or virus-infected cells.

The adaptive immune system is our last protective layer. Its organs are positioned throughout the body and they produce cells called lymphocytes. These defensive agents travel throughout the body via the blood vessels and the lymphatic vessels. Immune cells are then exchanged between blood and lymphatic vessels, enabling the lymphatic system to monitor for attacks and anomalies. The adaptive immune system also generates its own killer cells, equivalent to innate system’s NK cells.


The recently discovered endocannabinoid system is composed of two kinds of receptors, CB1 and CB2, and their endogenous cannabinoids, which our body produces as needed. CB1 cannabinoid receptors are found mostly in the brain. CB2 receptors are found in the periphery, especially in immune cells. Because of prohibitionism hampering research, scientists were able to identify endocannabinoid receptors only between 1990 and 1993. That’s also why cannabinoids’ effects on the immune system are far from being understood by today’s science.
The first discovered endogenous cannabinoid is Anandamide, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word for "joy” or “bliss”. It binds with CB1 cannabinoid receptors (technically it is a CB1 ligand) to trigger some kind of messages to other cells. THC from cannabis plant is the botanical mimetic of Anandamide, meaning it acts as a ligand to the same receptor, trigging similar biochemical events. The other main endocannabinoid is 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, which is a ligand of both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol, or CBD, represents its phytocannabinoid mimetic.

Last years’ research showed cannabinoids, whether self-produced or assumed as a medicine, can modulate many different immune cell functions in humans and animals, such as the production of cytokines in case of external pathogenic attacks or autoimmune disorders. Many published studies have been examining the effects of the endocannabinoid system on appetite, metabolic health, blood sugar regulation, obesity, pain, oxidative stress, thermoregulation, mood, anxiety, depression, memory, and more. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors seem to play a role in the maintenance of body’s homeostatic internal equilibrium.


Looks like scientific research is now matching patients’ experience in confirming the effects of cannabinoids over the immune system regular functioning, or repairing. A new line of scientific studies investigates the role of the endocannabinoid system in **immune modulation processes, while **other research started considering the endocannabinoid system as a target for future inflammatory neurodegenerative diseases therapies.

other research

Cannabidiol have been shown to play a particular role in modulating neurogenesis and neurodegeneration in case of stroke, head injury, cerebral ischemia on tests with mice and cell cultures. Lab research is showing cannabinoids can reduce inflammatory responses in autoimmune diseases, as this study shows on diabetic rats, and this one investigates in multiple sclerosis-like disease. Thus, a new research pathway is now targeting the endocannabinoid system with novel therapies against inflammatory neurodegenerative diseases. In the meantime, CBD, THC and other phytocannabinoids from medical cannabis and agricultural hemp are regularly used by patients in order to help restoring balance to the immune system, as well as to reduce neuropathic pain in fibromyalgia, and muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis.


MS study



Cannabinoids’ therapeutic mechanisms are not completely clear yet. CBD raised a lot of interest also because it acts through multiple molecular pathways, binding to other receptors in addition to the main CB2 cannabinoid gate. As an example, CBD is an agonist of our vanilloid receptor TRPV-1, whose name comes from the analgesic properties of the vanilla plant. This means cannabidiol stimulates the action of that specific receptor, which triggers a biochemical chain reaction related to our pain perception.

Other CBD-sensitive receptors are involved in different immune system’s functions, such as apoptosis. This ancient Greek word used to mean “falling petals”. Today it represents the programmed cellular death which occurs when body’s cells cannot function correctly anymore. Natural apoptosis represents a major defence against sick cells’ overgrowth, and induced apoptosis with external substances has the same therapeutic purposes.
CBD or cannabidiol is the main phytotherapic compound in hemp, and it is found in some medical cannabis varieties. It acts as an antagonist of THC, reducing the psychotropic effect. These two main cannabinoid exert different effects based on their ratio. A CBD-only herbal remedy is safe, legal, and cannot cause any dizziness.

This said, demonstrating whether any substance can enhance the immune system functions is complicated. Instead, let’s remind ourselves that a simple healthy lifestyle can improve our immune system functionality as much as natural remedies: fruits, veggies, whole grains, low saturated fats and sugars, exercise, healthy weight, adequate sleep, and precautions against infections.


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