COVID-19 is putting the spotlight on wellness, and encouraging us to find ways to support our immune systems to stay as healthy as possible during this time. First and foremost, regular exercise, sleep, and managing anxiety are the mainstays of a healthy immune system. As we look to maximize our health, millions of Americans will turn to supplementation to fortify their immunity. CBD has received both attention and research for its role in modulating the body’s immune response. Many of our customers use CBD to address specific concerns, but others use it to support their overall wellness.
CBD’s Role in the Immune System
Our immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that run with precision to keep us healthy. Our immune system protects us against the constant exposure to infectious diseases, bacteria and viruses. While our immune system is incredibly efficient in fighting off foreign invaders, it cannot win every battle and some infections, like COVID-19, can trigger an immune response that causes devastating effects on the body.
A growing body of research points to cannabinoids (CBD) as having an adaptive, immunomodulating effect on the body. For example, CBD may effect expression of major inflammatory mediators such as Interleukin-6 and Interferon-Gamma. Studies have found that when rats with severe infections received treatment with cannabidiol, mortality rates were lower. The ECS (see below) is thought to modulate the amount of oxidative stress and development of damaging “free radicals” that overrun and damage the body during severe infections. To further understand this, we look to the role of our body’s endocannabinoid system – better known as the ECS.
The ECS works to maintain a state of biological balance in our bodies. It is made up of these three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids, are molecules made by your body (endogenously, meaning from within our own body). They’re similar in structure to plant cannabinoids (CBD), but they’re produced by your body. They help to keep your internal functions running smoothly.
Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to these receptors to activate the ECS to aid in maintaining homeoestasis, a state of balance in the body.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The resulting effect depends on where the receptor is located and to which endocannabinoid it binds. For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Alternatively, they might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body is experiencing inflammation, a common component of infections and autoimmune disorders.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
CBD and the Immune Impact
Both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on immune cells and endocannabinoids act upon immune cells primarily through the CB2 receptor. CB2 receptor activation creates an anti-inflammatory effect. Scientists now know that plant cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) impact our health by interacting in different ways within the endocannabinoid system.
Here’s a quick overview of how CBD works as an immunomodulator:
- CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce the immune system’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is a vital initial response that isolates infected areas and prevents toxins from spreading.
- CBD can promote apoptosis, or cellular death of unhealthy cells, as well as prevent proliferation, or rapid cellular growth of them, which is especially helpful when foreign invaders that cause infection enter the body.
- CBD can modulate or suppress the function and secretion of cytokines. Cytokines are large groups of proteins, secreted by specific cells in your immune system. Their function is to signal molecules that regulate your body’s immunity, inflammation, and white blood cell production. Of note, cytokines are largely responsible for what makes COVID-19 so damaging to the body, and potentially lethal. As a response to the virus, the immune system triggers an abnormal runaway response known as a “cytokine storm” that causes significant collateral damage to the body.
- CBD can suppress T-cell production and function, ultimately suppressing the immune system’s ability to remember foreign invaders and have demonstrated the ability to mute cytokine response in many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.
Conclusion: CBD, Immune Health and COVID-19
While there is still much to learn about how CBD impacts our immune system, a growing body of evidence on CBD and immunity supports its role in maintaining the health and vitality of our body’s ECS, a system known to play an important role in regulating immunity and of which scientists consider to be one of the “gatekeepers” of the immune system. COVID-19 has heightened our awareness more than ever on the value of strengthening our immune system. You can learn more about the science of CBD at our Ultimate CBD Glossary. Wishing you good health in the days, weeks and months to come!
Pharmacol Res. 2009 August ; 60(2): 85–92. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2009.03.019.
Cells 2020, 9, 307; doi:10.3390/cells9020307
Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Sep 15; 76(6): 726–737