The CBD conversation is abuzz with health claims ranging from helping with headaches to solving your pet’s anxiety. Countering inflammation is another widely touted benefit, but does it have merit?
As an unbiased, middle-of-the-road resource, we err on the side of what science can tell us for certain right now when educating about the benefits of cannabinoids and other forms of plant-based medicine. This isn’t to say that anecdotal accounts should be completely discounted. And it doesn’t mean science has unlocked all of the answers — far from it! But it does offer information that can help you discern your best course of action when you’re looking for natural and alternative solutions.
There have been many claims that we simply don’t feel confident educating on at this time due to the lack of scientific evidence, which is ultimately a result of years of cannabis prohibition. In the case of CBD and inflammation, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a relatively large body of research has validated the theory that this cannabinoid does, in fact, have anti-inflammatory properties which are being explored for managing a variety of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and migraines.(1,2,3)
According to the CDC, chronic diseases affect approximately 6 in 10 adults in the United States. It’s understood that inflammation is related to chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and pain. With inflammation impacting so many individuals, we felt this was information worth sharing, so we’re spilling the green tea.
Inflammation is a bodily process; it’s a natural systemic response. Experiencing inflammation is normal — to an extent.
Your immune system leverages inflammation to identify and neutralize or remove harmful or intrusive stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. You can think of it as a biological defense mechanism. So, counter to what you may think, inflammation is part of the healing process — you need it to be healthy.
However, inflammation becomes a problem when there’s too much of it or it doesn’t go away.
To understand this better, it’s helpful to know the two categories of inflammation:(4)
- Acute (and subacute) inflammation. This kind of inflammation usually stems from some specific trigger incident, like an injury or illness. It typically has a quick arrival and lasts just a few days to six weeks. Post-workout inflammation, which occurs when muscles tear during a workout, is also a form of acute inflammation.
- Chronic inflammation. It can be harder to nail down the origins of this kind of inflammation as its onset tends to be slower and takes place over a longer period. Chronic inflammation lasts longer than six weeks and can come and go for several months or years, leading to tissue damage and the onset of various diseases including arthritis, asthma, and heart disease.
Since acute inflammation is fleeting, it’s difficult to research with accuracy. This, coupled with the fact that chronic inflammation is so widespread, and has potential long-term effects, has granted chronic inflammation priority in the area of CBD and inflammation research.
Modern medicine has a variety of treatment modalities available to it. The most common include:(4,5)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Corticosteroids, a type of steroid hormone
- Metformin, the drug commonly used to treat Type II diabetes
- Statins, typically used to ward off cardiovascular disease
- Natural supplements and spices, such as fish oil, curcumin, ginger, and garlic
- Lifestyle modification, like attaining and maintaining a healthy weight, getting more exercise, and changing your diet
On top of these, there are treatments for other inflammatory symptoms (e.g., pain) and secondary issues (e.g., trouble sleeping).
While we’re experiencing an avalanche of CBD products coming to market with increased legalization, CBD has healthcare providers’ and consumers’ attention as a possible safer, more effective, nonaddictive alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, minus the THC, if so desired.(6) And, given positive results in animal studies, this is even more justification for additional research in human models and for the FDA to evaluate compelling anecdotal claims, and for the National Institutes of Health to fund research grants to evaluate health claims.
The cannabinoid CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in animal models. This makes it an interesting alternative, complementary, or adjunct treatment option for chronic inflammation in humans.
While there’s still much to be uncovered about CBD and its effects on inflammation, what we do know suggests that it could be a valuable tool in the fight against this condition by helping to:
- Reduce the severity and duration of inflammatory symptoms
- Reduce the risk of developing chronic inflammatory conditions in the future
- Improve quality of life for those with chronic inflammation conditions
It appears that these outcomes are achieved when CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps operate or control many of the body’s functions. The ECS exerts great influence on inflammatory and immune responses.(7)
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the primary inflammatory conditions for which CBD is being investigated as a possible treatment.
Numerous studies have verified that CBD has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that can chip away at inflammatory pain.(8) However, studies turn up mixed results, leading experts to agree more research is needed to suss out how and why CBD is reducing different aspects and markers of chronic pain from inflammation.(9)
Data also suggests that combining CBD with THC reaps the most rewards. Based on these findings, it stands to reason that full-or broad-spectrum CBD is preferable, with high-CBD marijuana strains being an option for those who use or require higher-THC products.
Research indicates that CBD could be an ally in the battle against arthritis in several ways. CBD alleviates symptoms like joint pain as well as helps to resolve the underlying inflammation.(10,11) CBD may even have protective qualities that could prevent some damage caused by inflammation and arthritis.(12)
According to the Arthritis Foundation, almost 80% of people with arthritis use, have used, or are considering using CBD oil products for their condition. Of those who’ve tried CBD, most use it to relieve pain. But they’re also enjoying other positive outcomes like improved physical function, better sleep, and less stiffness/more mobility.(13)
While animal-based research indicates that CBD can ease pain and inflammation attributed to arthritis, we lack sufficient evidence from quality human studies to validate the effects — both positive and negative — in people. However, the anecdotal evidence for CBD relieving arthritis symptoms and complications is abundant and compelling.(14)
Given inflammation is an immune response, it stands to reason that CBD oil may assist in the functioning of the immune system and ease autoimmune conditions associated with it, such as inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.(15)
Most available evidence indicates that CBD is an immunosuppressant. In this capacity, it helps modulate immune function to fend off or help treat immune conditions.(16) You can expect more in-depth studies and new information on CBD (including any potential side effects and/or drug interactions) and the immune system in the coming years — it’s a hot topic!
While preliminary evidence suggests CBD may have immune-modulating effects, the scientific proof regarding CBD's direct impact on the immune system is limited and requires more research. Human studies in this area are few and far between, and more research is needed to determine the specific effects of CBD on the immune system.
It's also important to note that the endocannabinoid system is complex, and the effects of CBD on immune function may be influenced by other factors, including dosage, method of consumption, and individual genetic and physiologic differences.
Indirect immune support may come from getting better sleep or enhancing your overall health and wellness.
You might even say they’re “swell.”
As someone who has been using cannabis to manage chronic pain for over five years, learning about CBD’s verified anti-inflammatory status was not only validating but hope-inspiring. This is a stepping stone toward a better understanding of how cannabis can fit into care plans and wellness routines.
Based on the existing research, CBD’s potential to cut inflammation might, in turn, be able to help ease certain inflammatory conditions and symptoms like pain, arthritis, and more. Additionally, CBD’s purported anti-inflammatory effects may support brain health and immune response. Studies and clinical trials for CBD’s impact on inflammation and immune health continue.
As with all cannabis research, there are still some stones that need turning over, but what we know so far helps lead us toward making more informed choices on the road to new information and more definitive answers.
While I have had good results using CBD as an alternative or complementary therapy for my chronic back pain, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before incorporating CBD into your care plan. CBD can interact with certain medications, and its safety and efficacy have not yet been fully established in clinical trials for various autoimmune diseases.
CBD has exhibited significant anti-inflammatory effects. There’s a lot of high-quality research supporting CBD’s ability to combat inflammation.
Many high-quality studies have shown that CBD is effective at decreasing both pain and inflammation. However, everyone’s body responds differently, so keep in mind that your results may vary.
A lot goes into finding the right CBD dosage for your inflammation. As such, it’s suggested to start with the guidelines on your CBD oil product package or with the amount/frequency recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Carvalho, A. C. A,. et al. (2020). Cannabis and Canabidinoids on the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Going Beyond Misuse. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(8), 2940.
- Frane, N. et al. (2022). Cannabidiol as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain: an exploratory cross-sectional study. Journal of cannabis research, 4(1), 47.
- Herrington, A.J. (2021). Study Finds CBD Is An Effective Treatment For Migraine. Forbes.
- Pahwa, R., et al. (2023). Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls Publishing.
- Santos-Longhurst, Adrienne. (2023). Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation. Healthline.
- Iffland, K., et al. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
- Pandey, R., et al. (2009). Endocannabinoids and immune regulation. Pharmacological Research.
- Atalay, S., et al. (2019). Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(1), 21.
- Mlost, J., et al. (2020). Cannabidiol for Pain Treatment: Focus on Pharmacology and Mechanism of Action. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. MDPI AG.
- Corroon, J., et al. (2018). A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
- Shmerling, R.H. (2020). Does CBD help with arthritis pain? Harvard Health Blog.
- Malfait, A.M., et al. (2000). The nonpsychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an oral anti-arthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induced arthritis. Biological Sciences.
- (2003). Patients Tell Us About CBD Use. Arthritis Foundation.
- (2021). CBD for arthritis: What the research shows. Open Access Government.
- Ferguson, S. (2022). Can CBD Benefit Your Immune System? Healthline.
- Julia, N. (2022). CBD and the Immune System: Can Hemp Oil Boost Your Immunity? CFAH.