CBD Oil for Autoimmune Diseases: Benefits, Dosage, & How to Use?

Woman Holding Battle Shield with Hemp Leaf Print Against Viruses
Written by Livvy Ashton | Last updated: July 22, 2021

Getting to the underlying cause of a chronic disease can be difficult despite advancements in science and a better understanding of our health. Autoimmune diseases are still largely misunderstood. Worse yet, there are over 80 registered autoimmune conditions (still counting), affecting various regions of the body.

According to medical researchers, the immune system is interconnected with the endocannabinoid system, which response to cannabis compounds such as CBD and THC. These two molecules have been identified as potent anti-inflammatories with the ability to modulate the communication of the immune system cells. There’s also a clear link between the onset of autoimmune diseases and a condition known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD).

Several clinical trials have investigated the efficacy of CBD in the treatment of chronic conditions, including chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, epilepsy, autism, and arthritis. Despite minor differences in the consistency of its effects, scientists agree that CBD is the potential therapeutic agent for the management of autoimmune diseases.

Today we explain the mechanism of action behind CBD’s benefits for autoimmune conditions.

Why People Are Turning to CBD for Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system gets triggered and mistakenly treats the body’s healthy tissues as the potential threat. The immune system is mediated by various cells — including T-cells, which are in charge of protecting our body against foreign invaders. When these cells go out of whack, they take action as if the body’s own cells were those invaders. This results in chronic inflammation, the root of any autoimmune condition.

Autoimmunity is both difficult to diagnose and treat. The reason why the self-attack happens is still unknown. Some researchers argue that autoimmunity derives from hereditary factors, while others turn to events like parasites, infection, traumatic experiences, and leaky gut syndrome. When it comes to treatment options, doctors typically go with immunosuppressants, which — in simple terms — shut down the immune system to prevent the auto-aggressive response.

However, immunosuppressants can weaken the immune system over time, making it more susceptible to infections, which can further deteriorate an autoimmune disease.

And the blind circle continues to spin.

This is where CBD steps in.

The Link Between the Endocannabinoid System and Immune System

How CBD Works with Immune Cell

Despite being a relatively new discovery, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been confirmed to play an important role in the regulation of many biological processes, including brain functions and immune response. Endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) are found throughout the central nervous system, as well as in the immune system and other organ systems. The ECS produces its own chemical messengers (endocannabinoids) that interact with these receptors (1).

The main role of the ECS is to help the body maintain homeostasis — the internal balance between the said functions. The ECS controls mood, emotions, pain perception, memory, appetite, reproduction, body temperature, and hormone secretion on top of other physiological and psychological processes.

The ECS works ‘on-demand,’ meaning it only gets activated when the body needs its assistance. The endocannabinoids are available for use only for a short span, and worse yet, the ECS doesn’t store them for later. The system depends on its own ability to produce more cannabinoids “here and now.”

At some point, the ECS becomes deficient in cannabinoids, compromising the activity of other systems and organs (2).

When you take CBD, it indirectly interacts with your endocannabinoid system, signaling it to produce more of its natural cannabinoids. It also inhibits the enzyme that breaks them down, so you end up with more endocannabinoids circulating in the body for a longer duration. Your body can use them more efficiently and return to homeostasis.

On top of that, CBD has over 65 molecular targets, which makes it a versatile tool for the management of many health concerns.

Let’s see how CBD may address the underlying cause of autoimmune conditions.

How Does CBD Help Manage Autoimmune Diseases?

illustration of autoimmune disease

The clinical endocannabinoid deficiency has been mentioned as the potential root cause of many chronic conditions, including chronic pain, migraines, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CBD can help the ECS fix these deficiencies by interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the affected parts of the body. Since cannabinoid receptors are present in the immune system, CBD can have a positive effect on its functioning.

Below we explain how CBD may correct your body’s immune response.

Immunomodulatory Effects of CBD

Clinical dieticians recommend herbs and foods that produce modulatory effects in the immune system for people with autoimmune diseases. Cannabis therapy and dietary changes appear to be less expensive, safer, and possibly more effective for treating the symptoms and addressing the root cause than pharmaceutical medications.

Cannabis compounds such as CBD are known to modulate the immune system. They act as regulators, bringing an over or under-reacting immune system back on track. However, it’s difficult to tell the difference between “immune-modulating” and “immune-boosting.” It’s commonly agreed that people with autoimmune conditions are better off without taking anything which boosts the immune system.

According to researchers from the National University of Natural Medicine, cannabinoids offer a beneficial strategy to treat autoimmune disorders. Immunomodulation is known for its biphasic nature. For example, if your immune system’s response is exaggerated, an immunomodulatory compound will downregulate it. On the other hand, if your immune system has problems identifying potential threats, it will increase immune activity to fix the deficient response (3).

Cannabinoid receptors type 2 (CB2) regulate many pathways of the immune system. CBD is the agonist of the CB2 receptors; studies have shown that activating CB2 receptors can suppress the immune response, which can be helpful for those with autoimmunity. CB2 can also block the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and boost the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines, balancing the immune system (4).

CBD has been found to modulate the immune system in autoimmunity disease models. CBD also suppresses immune system memory and slows down T-cell production, meaning that it could reduce the likelihood of future autoimmune flare-ups.

On top of that, CBD can increase the expression of genes that combat oxidative stress, reducing cell damage from autoimmune attacks. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t require high doses to produce immunosuppressive effects.

Terpenes found in CBD oil, such as beta-caryophyllene, decrease inflammation through its interaction with the CB2 receptor. Myrcene, another terpene, is known for anti-inflammatory effects (56).

Long story short, CBD can help the immune system return to homeostasis, provide protection against damage from AI attacks, slow down excess T-cell production, and prevent future attacks.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of CBD

Inflammation is the trigger of many illnesses, and autoimmunity falls into that bracket. Medical researchers have broadly described the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD and other cannabis ingredients. Regulating inflammation reduces the likelihood of an autoimmune attack. Cannabis therapies are known to assist people with autoimmune conditions by curbing inflammation with little to no adverse reactions. According to preclinical studies, CBD can attenuate autoimmune response on top of decreasing the gene transcription that promotes inflammation.

Although there’s a lack of specific human clinical trials, patients with autoimmune diseases report that they have been able to improve their condition by incorporating cannabis-based medicine into their regime. According to Dr. Bonni Goldstein, cannabinoids like CBD could be useful for people who demonstrate symptoms of arthritis and lupus. Goldstein reported that a two-month treatment with cannabis allowed her patients to participate in their life again, encouraging more people to try various CBD/THC ratios.

Cannabinoids are described in scientific literature as novel anti-inflammatory drugs based on preclinical evidence (7). But in order to benefit from cannabinoids, you need to choose a product from the right source.

Hemp vs Marijuana-derived CBD for Autoimmunity: Know the Difference

CBD is found both in hemp and marijuana. These two names refer to plants that are members of the Cannabis genus. Despite coming from the same family of plants, hemp and marijuana have a different chemical makeup.

Marijuana is known for its high THC content, ranging anywhere between 5–35%, and they’re bored with the intoxicating effects in mind. Hemp, on the other hand, contains only traces of THC (less than 0.3%) — nowhere near to get anybody high. It also has a higher concentration of CBD, the non-intoxicating compound.

If you’re looking for a federally legal CBD product for autoimmune conditions, hemp-derived CBD oil will be your best. But if you have the opportunity to try a medical-grade CBD from marijuana, feel free to experiment with different ratios under the supervision of your doctor.

You don’t need a prescription to buy hemp-derived CBD oil; it’s widely available over-the-counter in organic health stores, dispensaries, head shops, and online.

Keep in mind that CBD oil isn’t the same as hemp seed oil. The latter comes from the seeds and despite being a rich source of nutrients, it is devoid of cannabinoids. CBD oil should always be labeled as CBD oil, not ‘hemp oil’ or other umbrella terms.

CBD Dosage for Autoimmune Diseases

CBD Products with the Prescription Form and Stethoscope

Everybody is different, and considering the nature of autoimmune disorders, the effective dosage range varies greatly between individuals. It will take some experimenting to find the best dose for you. If you want to get a better understanding of CBD dosage, consult your doctor; doing so will also help you avoid potential interactions with other medications.

The general recommendation is to start low and slow. Take the minimum dose based on your weight — 2–6 mg per every 10 pounds of your body weight — and observe the effects over the course of one week. Adjust the dosage as needed and continue for another week. Once you’ve found the sweet spot, you can lock that dosage in and stick to it, as people don’t build a tolerance to CBD.

CBD is well tolerated in doses as high as 1,500 mg. That being said, there are a few mild side effects that might occur when you take too much of it at a time. These include dry mouth, appetite fluctuation, lowered blood pressure, fatigue, and diarrhea.

Fortunately, since cannabinoid receptors aren’t found in the brain stem area that controls respiratory function, it’s impossible to fatally overdose on CBD.

CBD Oil Options for Autoimmune Diseases

  • CBD Oil – most CBD is sold as a liquid extract suspended in an inert oil for better absorption. You take this sublingually, placing the desired dose under the tongue and holding them there for up to 60 seconds to enhance bioavailability.
  • CBD Capsules – if you dislike the flavor of CBD oil, capsules are a good alternative. They have no odor, no taste, and can be easily swallowed down with water. Most capsules come in the form of small, convenient soft gels, providing a fixed dose of CBD per serving. It will take longer to experience the effects of CBD when you take it this way, as capsules need to pass through the digestive system before they make it to the bloodstream.
  • CBD Edibles – CBD is infused into lots of foods and drinks to make the supplementation more enjoyable. The most popular formats are gummies and honey sticks which are often referred to as honey straws. When looking for the best CBD edibles for autoimmune disorders, make sure to carefully read the list of ingredients; adding CBD to food doesn’t make it healthy.
  • CBD Vape Pens – vaping provides the fastest way to feel the effects of CBD. It also delivers more CBD to your system than other forms, although studies have yet to analyze the safety of long-term vaping for the lungs.
  • Topicals – topical products such as CBD creams are formulated to address localized problems. If you suffer from an autoimmune skin condition, topicals combined with a sublingual or oral form of CBD should provide relief from flare-ups while modulating the activity of the immune system from within.

Always make sure to check the potency of your CBD oil. Look at the label to see the total amount of CBD and the amount you’re getting with each serving. A high-potency CBD product will contain more servings per container than a lower-potency option of the same size.

How to Find a Trustworthy CBD Brand?

  • Hemp farming methods – choose a brand that sources its hemp from local organic farms. This will greatly narrow down your options. Plants grown with natural methods contain higher levels of CBD and are free of common contaminants from the soil and the plant’s environment.
  • Extraction method – getting the CBD out of the plant involves some work. The most common technology is CO2 extraction due to the lack of additional heat and solvents involved in the process.
  • Ingredients – the best CBD products for autoimmune diseases should have a very short list of ingredients: CBD extract and a quality carrier oil such as MCT oil. Flavored CBD oils may contain natural terpenes or other flavorings. Steer clear of companies using artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or emulsifiers in their products.
  • Certificates of Analysis (COA) – the CBD market is booming and unregulated, which provides opportunities for many fly-by-night vendors to churn out poor-quality products and label them as “premium.” The best way to find out whether or not you’re buying from a trusted provider is to check if they provide third-party lab testing reports. The testing should be multifaceted, informing the user about potency and the lack of potential contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins.

CBD vs. Immunosuppressants for Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune Disease Words Surrounded by Pills and Tablets

The reason why people are turning to CBD for autoimmune diseases lies in its high safety profile. Unlike conventional immunosuppressants, CBD doesn’t shut down the immune system. Instead, it reduces inflammation while modulating the communication between the system’s cells. In other words, CBD helps the body fix the immune response without harming it — something which pharmaceutical medications fail to achieve.

Still, if you’re considering taking CBD for your autoimmune condition, consult the idea with a holistic doctor experienced in cannabis therapies. Only then will you be able to determine if CBD oil will be safe for your situation.

Does CBD Interact with Medications for Autoimmune Diseases?

CBD is known for interacting with a wide range of medications. It uses the same mechanism as grapefruit juice, so any medication with a grapefruit warning on it shouldn’t be taken along with CBD oil. CBD inhibits the cytochrome p450 system, a group of enzymes that metabolize active ingredients in drugs. Taking CBD with other medications can result in a subtherapeutic effect or, on the contrary, substance toxicity — none of which are good for your health.

Summarizing the use of CBD for Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmunity may be a challenging situation that requires a multifaceted approach due to its complex nature. Hopefully, there are holistic approaches you can take to address your symptoms and manage the condition. Coping with an autoimmune disease puts much burden on the sufferer, but it can also be a chance to get back in touch with your body.

On top of supplementation with CBD oil, you can incorporate some lifestyle changes, such as a nutrient-rich diet, exercise, sufficient sleep, herbal medicine, and probiotics to support your immune system from many angles.

More research is needed to confirm the preclinical findings on CBD and autoimmune conditions, but what we’ve learned so far is very promising. Again, we recommend that you consult a doctor before buying any CBD product to avoid potentially negative interactions with your medications and establish the right dosage.

Literature:

  1. Campbell, Andrew W. “Autoimmunity and the gut.” Autoimmune diseases vol. 2014 (2014): 152428. doi:10.1155/2014/152428
  2. Russo, Ethan B. “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 1,1 154-165. 1 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009
  3. Lee, Wen-Shin et al. “Cannabidiol Limits T Cell-Mediated Chronic Autoimmune Myocarditis: Implications to Autoimmune Disorders and Organ Transplantation.” Molecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.) vol. 22 (2016): 136-146. doi:10.2119/molmed.2016.00007
  4. Turcotte, Caroline et al. “The CB2 receptor and its role as a regulator of inflammation.” Cellular and molecular life sciences: CMLS vol. 73,23 (2016): 4449-4470. doi:10.1007/s00018-016-2300-4
  5. El-Sheikh, Sawsan M A et al. “Anti-arthritic effect of β-caryophyllene and its ameliorative role on methotrexate and/or leflunomide-induced side effects in arthritic rats.” Life sciences vol. 233 (2019): 116750. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2019.116750
  6. Rufino, Ana Teresa et al. “Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic and pro-anabolic effects of E-caryophyllene, myrcene, and limonene in a cell model of osteoarthritis.” European journal of pharmacology vol. 750 (2015): 141-50. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2015.01.018

Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.

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