We’ve all experienced inflammation as part of our body’s healing process (e.g., after stubbing our toe, an accidental cut, or getting sick). Inflammation is a perfectly normal immune system response meant to help you recover.
But when inflammation becomes chronic, it can have a detrimental effect and is a contributing factor to a wide range of medical conditions that can affect any part of the body. There are many medications used to reduce inflammation and help with specific inflammatory conditions, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
However, these drugs (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen) are often limited in scope and come with side effects. That’s why people are increasingly turning to safer, natural alternatives. With that, many wonder if you can use cannabis and CBD for inflammation.
CBD and other cannabinoids are arguably best known for their anti-inflammatory effects and have shown great potential in many diseases with a chronic inflammatory component. Here’s what the research says about using CBD for inflammation.
Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to injury, infections, and harmful substances. Inflammation is meant to help the body remove whatever may be causing harm and help repair the damage.
When it operates as intended, the inflammatory response is activated in response to tissue damage by bacteria, toxins, heat, or trauma, and subsides within a couple of days. ¹
Unfortunately, when your body’s inflammatory response is not well regulated and becomes chronic, it can harm rather than protect you. This type of inflammation plays an important role in many serious health conditions.
Chronic inflammation can affect virtually any part of the body, including the digestive tract, joints, skin, brain, and other organs.
It plays a particularly notable role in autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, which are characterized by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking its own cells. ²
Chronic inflammation is also involved in a wide variety of other conditions, including arthritis, allergies, stroke, respiratory conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative conditions, and even cancer. ³
Low-grade chronic inflammation also plays a role in obesity and type 2 diabetes. ⁴
Inflammation Symptoms & Pathology
Signs of acute inflammation include swelling, pain, heat, redness, and loss of function in the affected area.
Meanwhile, the most common symptoms of chronic inflammation are body, joint, and muscle pain, chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and constipation, weight loss or weight gain, and frequent infections. ⁵
Can CBD Help With Inflammation?
CBD and other cannabinoids are perhaps best known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Most notably, research suggests that CBD can suppress certain immune system activities, many of which are related to inflammation.
For example, CBD has been shown to lower the levels of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines by reducing the migration and activity of immune cells involved in releasing them. ⁶
CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have been explored in various animal and test-tube studies for multiple inflammatory conditions including arthritis, allergic contact dermatitis, type 1 diabetes, skin inflammation, neuroinflammation, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. ⁷ ⁸ ⁹ ¹⁰ ¹¹ ¹² ¹³ ¹⁴
CBD, the Endocannabinoid System, and Inflammation
Research suggests that most of CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects come from its interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS has three major components:
- Endocannabinoids produced by our bodies: anandamide and 2-AG.
- Special enzymes that build and break down endocannabinoids.
- Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2) that interact with both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
Although studies have yet to confirm its role, this essential system may be involved in regulating the immune system and, by extension, the inflammatory response. ¹⁵ However, there’s evidence that immune cells are not only influenced by but also make and release their own endocannabinoids. ¹⁶
Furthermore, the CB2 receptor, which is abundant in immune system cells, seems to play a particularly key role in regulating inflammation. Multiple studies have shown that mice without this receptor suffer from increased inflammation. ¹⁷
Additionally, an investigation in rats demonstrated that activation of CB2 receptors in immune cells suppressed the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. ¹⁸ Other studies have also shown that CB2 activation can reduce pain and inflammation. ¹⁹
Other parts of the ECS have also been studied and shown to have the capacity to influence inflammation. For instance, in a test-tube study, the endocannabinoid anandamide was revealed to be capable of inhibiting the activation of (NF)-κB, a major proinflammatory pathway. ²⁰
CBD can have an impact on these and other inflammation-regulating ECS activities by suppressing the enzyme that breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide and by altering the function of the CB1 receptor. ²¹ ²²
Other Anti-Inflammatory Mechanisms of CBD
Aside from its effects on the ECS, researchers have also discovered other ways that CBD can potentially lower inflammation. Here’s a look at the most prominent findings:
- CBD can interact with glycine, TRPV1, and other receptors involved in regulating inflammation. ²³ ²⁴
- CBD may be able to increase adenosine which can, in turn, activate adenosine receptors to reduce inflammation. ²⁵
- CBD may inhibit the (NF)-κB pro-inflammatory pathway. ²⁶
- CBD may stimulate the PPARγ receptor, which can reduce inflammation. ²⁷
What Does the Research Say?
Most of the evidence for CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties are limited to animal and petri dish research. However, the list of human studies is steadily growing.
For starters, clinical trials suggest that CBD-rich cannabis preparations can help people with either type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
In one 2019 pilot study, CBD-rich cannabis extract capsules improved subjective ratings of disease severity and quality of life in ulcerative colitis sufferers when compared to the placebo group. The results were nearing statistical significance but were limited due the small number of participants (n=39) that completed it. ²⁸
Additionally, a highly scrutinized and yet-to-be-published study presented at the 2017 International Association of Cannabis Medicine found that CBD-rich cannabis oil (15% CBD and 4% THC) improved quality of life and disease severity in 50 Crohn’s disease patients. ²⁹ A follow-up publication in 2020 by the same researcher revealed that 65% of the people in their CBD group achieved disease remission, compared to only 35% for placebo. ³⁰
Studies of CBD in neurodegenerative conditions — which have a significant inflammatory component — have also reported positive findings.
In one 2014 trial, CBD treatment improved quality of life ratings in Parkinson’s disease patients compared to those taking the placebo. ³¹
Furthermore, a 2019 pilot study in people with severe dementia found that cannabis oil containing a 2:1 ratio of CBD to THC had a positive effect on behavior, daily care needs, and prescription medication use. ³²
Another area where CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have shown promise is autoimmune disorders. In particular, studies of the drug Sativex, which contains equal amounts of THC and CBD, have reported positive effects in some individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. ³³ ³⁴
All in all, while more research is needed, multiple human studies and reviews, including high-quality randomized controlled trials (RCTs), suggest that CBD products can have beneficial effects on inflammatory conditions.
How Much CBD Should I Take for Inflammation?
There’s no “right” dose of CBD for inflammation that will work for everyone. It can vary depending on many factors, such as your unique body chemistry, body weight, the specific inflammatory condition you’re dealing with, and its severity.
CBD products also come in many different forms which can influence the optimal dosage for your needs.
For this reason, it’s best to follow the “start low and go slow” approach. You can begin with a small dose of CBD (10-15 mg) and wait for a few hours to see if you notice any effects. If the dose is too small, you can slowly raise it in small increments of 5 to 10mg.
Be sure to wait and see if a dose affects you before increasing it again until you find the amount that provides the anti-inflammatory effect you’re looking for.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Research indicates that CBD is a very safe substance. General safety studies of CBD have only reported mild-to-moderate side effects such as sleepiness, tiredness, diarrhea, dry mouth, low blood pressure, dizziness, and changes in appetite or weight. ³⁵
Even a study using dosages as high as 6000 mg did not report any serious complications in healthy individuals. ³⁶ Some of these issues, notably sleepiness and fatigue, were also noted by a study of CBD in people with inflammatory bowel disease.
Besides, most studies of CBD use high dosages, so the likelihood of side effects is fairly low for the average CBD user.
This is especially true when using full-spectrum CBD preparations, which have been reported to have a lower risk of side effects than pure CBD. ³⁷
Like most cannabinoids, CBD may possess potent anti-inflammatory properties that could potentially be helpful for inflammatory conditions.
While more high-quality research needs to be done, there’s already solid evidence that merits further research to confirm how CBD may reduce inflammation and potentially help treat a wide variety of conditions marked by chronic inflammation including autoimmune, digestive, and neurodegenerative disorders.
On top of that, there continues to be more animal and test-tube studies that are revealing CBD’s potential to help with other types of inflammation and inflammatory disorders, such as asthma, skin conditions, and arthritis.
If you want to try CBD for inflammation, it may take some trial and error to find the right dosage. Having said that, CBD is a perfectly safe, natural compound with only minor side effects.
Better yet, it may work to reduce inflammation in many different ways, whereas prescription anti-inflammatory drugs typically work through a single mechanism.