By: Elements of Green

The silhouette of a man with outstretched arms agains the sun.

CBD reacts with the body in a variety of ways to help people with their sleep, their pain, their energy levels, stress and anxiety, and athletic recovery.

One of the most important ways that CBD works in the body is to regulate inflammation, but what does that mean?  In this article we explore CBD’s role in inflammation, how it can help with general well-being and some everyday symptoms of inflammation, and the research which over time may make CBD an approved treatment for some diseases.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis and hemp plants. Hemp and cannabis are technically the same plant, but the cannabis plants commonly known as marijuana have significant amounts of the psychoactive compound THC, whereas hemp plants have only small amounts of THC, allowing the CBD to shine. Hemp-derived CBD will not make the user high or impaired.

CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system.  That is a huge, complex system in the body of every human (and most animals, by the way!).  The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is recent.  In fact, it is called the endocannabinoid system because the cannabinoids were discovered in plants before the system to receive them was discovered in humans. [i]

CBD endocannabinoid System Infographic

Why would humans and other animals have receptors for compounds produced by plants like hemp?  It turns out that humans make their own cannabinoids.  There are at least four cannabinoids in humans. One is called Anandamide, and to give you an idea of the effect these compounds have on the body, Anandamide is named for the Sanskrit word for joy and it works with endorphins to produce the “runner’s high.”[ii]

Because they endocannabinoid system is relatively newly discovered, scientists are still learning a lot about it, and much is not yet known. But scientists do know that the endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating a variety of physiological and cognitive processes, affects pain sensation, it helps our memories, and it has a role in regulating the immune system.

CBD operates by chemically binding to receptors on the surface of your cells.  The two receptors which are important for CBD are called CB1 and CB2.  CB1 receptors are found primarily in nerve cells, especially in the brain. CB2 receptors are mostly in immune cells. These receptors normally receive Anandamide and 2-Arachidonolgycerol but when plant cannabinoids are introduced into the body the receptors are happy to bind to them, too.

What is Inflammation?

When we see the word “inflammation,” we think about pain, itching, or a rash.  Those are all possible outcomes of inflammation, but inflammation itself is really just the process of white blood cells protecting the body from possible threats like bacteria, a foreign particle like a splinter, or viruses.

Illustration of a human body, indicating joints.

Sometimes inflammation is obvious to the person experiencing it.  If you get a cut on your finger, you can see the white blood cells go to work, creating a sensitive red area around the wound and causing pain or itching.  Other times you may not be specifically aware of inflammation, as when it occurs inside the body.

In most cases, inflammation is a good thing – it is your body fighting against a threat.  But occasionally the immune system overreacts to a threat and causes more inflammation than is good for you. Other times, the immune system makes a mistake – it attacks things which it sees as threats, but which are not.

Sometimes, we cause the immune system to make those mistakes.  A variety of environmental factors can induce inflammation, and scientists are looking at causes like stress, poor diet or the additives in processed foods, chemicals in the environment and more as potential triggers of inappropriate inflammation. Sugar, alcohol, processed meat products, common cooking oils and refined carbohydrates are all associated with excess inflammation.[iii]

Other known causes of excess inflammation are obesity and smoking.

Inflammation also causes side effects.  Pain or itching, swelling, redness, body heat, and more can result from inflammation.  It can also cause exhaustion, a general feeling of being sick, and fever.  It is in this area in particular that CBD may be able to help many users.

Infographic of CBD inflammation

More seriously, chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many diseases.  It is associated with heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer.[iv]

So inflammation is a double-edged sword.  You need inflammation to fight infections and disease.  It is an important process in your body.  But it can cause side effects which you may wish to counteract and in some cases inflammation can hurt the body more than it helps.

CBD and Inflammation for General Well Being

With a better understanding of CBD and of inflammation, we can move on to how CBD interacts with the body to help with inappropriate inflammation.

CBD fights inflammation by binding to the CB2 receptors in immune cells and in other cells. Once it does so, the CBD instructs the cell to moderate some of its inflammatory activity.  Some studies indicate that CBD also helps with vascular dilation.  This helps the immune system to work better by increasing the natural effect of the immune system’s efforts to widen small blood vessels to get more white cells to the affected area.[v] The vasodilation effects of CBD help the immune system to do its job.

In turn, you may see relief from some of the side effects of inflammation.  Specifically, you may find reduced pain, less swelling, and less inflammation-related stress.  The stress relief can combine with other interactions with CBD in the body, specifically the signals which CBD gives to nerve cells which are more directly stress-related.

What common conditions might CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties help?

Many common skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, or sensitive skin react well to CBD.  The pain, redness, swelling, and rashes are all artifacts of your immune system doing its job in fighting a threat. Some users prefer to use a cream, lotion, or balm to apply CBD directly to the affected area. Other people prefer to take CBD orally as a tincture or edible product and let the CBD find its way to the affected area over time.  And still others choose a CBD vape to get a faster effect and a wider use than the lotions.  It all depends on what you as a customer are looking for.

CBD Back Pain Illustration.

CBD also gets good reports from many users for treating back or joint pain and early research backs up their experiences.  Much of that pain is a result of inflammation.  Again, some users apply a CBD balm or lotion directly to the affected area if possible, while others prefer to use a tincture, edible, or vape product.

Some CBD users even report that it has helped them with visceral pain.  Visceral pain is a difficult-to-locate pain in the abdominal area.  In those cases, a cream or balm is unlikely to be effective and an internally taken CBD product is more likely to produce a good result.

 A lady putting cbd cream on her arm.

An important aspect of all of this is that many of the symptoms which CBD might alleviate have underlying causes and those causes can sometime be very serious.  If you experience severe or ongoing pain, you should see a doctor.  In fact, a recent study pointed out that CBD can sometimes effectively mask the symptoms of some serious conditions, so if you are taking CBD be sure to tell your doctor about it so she can make a better diagnosis.

CBD and Inflammation for Disease

CBD is not currently an approved treatment for any disease or for the symptoms of any disease, except for a rare form of childhood epilepsy.  The widespread use of CBD is recent, and research associated with specific disease treatment is also in its early stages.

There are several older studies which indicate the direction research might take toward using CBD for specific diseases or their symptoms and some clinical trials are beginning right now.

A recent review article in the journal Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry recounted studies which reported positive results for CBD used on the inflammatory effects of no fewer than 15 conditions. Some of those conditions included:

  • Collagen-induced arthritis
  • Edema
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colitis
  • Cardiomyopathy associated with Type I diabetes
  • Sepsis-related encephalitis
  • Lung diseases

Another diabetes-related study found that CBD reduces early pancreatic inflammation in Type 1 diabetes.[vi] Still another focused on CBD as a treatment for pain and nerve damage associated with osteoarthritis in laboratory animals.[vii]

A man smiling, and holding a jar of cbd cream.

Again, it’s important to recognize that these are early-stage research projects and that CBD is not an approved treatment for any of the conditions above.  All of the studies were small, and several did not involve humans.  You should not begin using CBD for any of these serious conditions without talking to a doctor first, and if you are using CBD for more general reasons but have one of these or any other serious condition you should discuss your CBD use with your physician.

The point is that CBD can go to many areas of the body and it can reduce inflammation in a wide range or circumstances with little or no adverse reaction.

Choosing your CBD

The CBD product you choose is one which is personal to you and will vary depending on what effect you are seeking.  When using CBD for skin pain or other symptoms associated with inflammation, many CBD users like a cream or a balm because it can be applied directly to the source of the pain. Other users prefer a tincture or an edible product.  An increasing number of users are using CBD as a vape product for a faster, more direct effect.

The most important thing when choosing a CBD product is to make sure you are getting what you want.  There are many substandard CBD products on the market today, and some products labeled as CBD have no active ingredient at all!  When you purchase CBD, you should insist on a product which has been lab tested.  The testing ensures that you are getting the amount of CBD on the label.

The next thing is to choose between “full spectrum” CBD and purified product.  Most of the high-quality CBD products in the market today also have trace amounts of other cannabinoids from the hemp plant.  These other cannabinoids include CBG, CBN, and more. They even trace amounts of THC, though not nearly enough to cause a psychoactive effect. You will never get high from a properly tested CBD product.  Many users prefer these full spectrum formulations because of something called the entourage effect.  The other cannabinoids work with the CBD to increase its the effectiveness.  Other people prefer a purified CBD product – one from which other cannabinoids have been removed.

Most people in the CBD industry believe in the full spectrum product, but the research on which is preferable is scant.  You may want to start with a full-spectrum product and switch to a purified CBD formulation if the full-spectrum is not giving you the results you want.

The bottom line is that there is clear emerging evidence that CBD has a positive effect on the symptoms of inflammation, and it may reduce inflammation in some instances.  Scientists are still studying what CBD might do for any specific condition or the inflammation associated with that condition, so it is not a medical product for any inflammation condition.  However, many people find that CBD helps them with inflammation-related conditions which are not caused by a specific treatable medical condition.