Inflammation is part of the body’s complex response to harm, such as invasion by pathogens, cell damage, or irritants. Inflammation is supposed to be a protective response which involves immune cells, blood vessels, and various chemical messengers. Most of us associate inflammation with its external manifestations – heat, pain, redness, and swelling – but inflammation can also occur inside the body without overt symptoms. Acute inflammation is the type associated with an injury like a sprained ankle. It is generally beneficial and short-lived. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is an altogether different monster.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
There is an increasing understanding in the scientific and medical communities that chronic inflammation in an underlying cause of many medical disorders. But what are some of the things that can cause chronic inflammation? Many lifestyle factors – such as alcohol use, infections, obesity, radiation exposure, stress, tobacco use, and exposure to toxins – can activate chronic inflammatory pathways. Diet can also play a big role. The consumption of high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause inflammation of the arteries. Even Omega-6 essential fatty acids can trigger inflammation (an effect offset by Omega-3 fatty acids, which is why the proper Omega 6/Omega 3 balance is critical to a healthy diet). In some individuals dairy proteins (such as casein) or wheat proteins (such as gluten) can also trigger an inflammatory response. Environmental toxicants such as adhesives, air fresheners, cleaning products, glues, latex, plastic, and synthetic fibers can also trigger inflammation. In truth, we are surrounded on a daily basis to inflammatory triggers, making the consumption of anti-inflammatory compounds such as CBD all the more important.
There is an increasing acknowledgement of the role of chronic internal inflammation in many disorders and diseases. Long-term, low level, chronic inflammation has now been linked to cancer, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological diseases. Many of the chemical signals involved in chronic inflammation – such as cytokines, COX-2, and C-reactive protein among others – have been determined to be the molecular links between inflammation and chronic disease.
What Is CBD’s Role?
CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory molecule. Thus, it has the potential to help prevent and treat many of the diseases that have been linked to inflammatory processes. CBD appears to exert its strongest anti-inflammatory actions through its actions at the CB2 receptor and the TRP family of receptors.
CBD also exerts strong anti-inflammatory actions by blocking the activity of two enzymes that play a role in inflammation – cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX-5). COX-2 is an enzyme that results in the production of prostaglandins, pro-inflammatory molecules. COX-2 is tha target of many NSAIDs, including aspirin. LOX-5 is an enzyme that results in the production of leukotrienes, also pro-inflammatory molecules. CBD is able to inhibit both COX-2 and LOX-5, giving it powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, CBD is several hundred times more potent than aspirin at reducing inflammation.
CBD has also been shown to be able reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines, most notably IL-1beta, IL-6, and IFN-beta. The continued circulation of cytokines during chronic inflammation is a major contributor to the pathology of many disorders, which is why CBD’s ability to reduce cytokine levels gives it so much therapeutic potential.
CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to modulate cytokine levels underlie its effectiveness in treating several disorders as demonstrated in animal models, including autoimmune encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, diabetes, and psoriasis. It has also been suggested by some scientists that CBD may also be effective in treating autoimmune myocarditis and organ rejection following an organ transplant.
What Is Some of the Evidence?
CBD’s powerful anti-inflammatory effect has been studied thoroughly in the eye, particularly the retina. Thus, it has been suggested that CBD could be a potential treatment for retinal inflammatory disorders such as uveitis, age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, and glaucoma.
CBD has also been shown to drastically reduce inflammation in the intestines. These results make CBD also a promising potential treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), especially Crohn’s disease. In one experiment on human-derived intestinal biopsies from patients with ulcerative colitis, CBD was able to strongly inhibit mast cell and macrophage recruitment to the intestine and also to reduce secretion of a cytokine called TNF-alpha. It seems that this particular result was mediated by CBD’s action at PPAR receptors.
CBD has also been suggested as a promising therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic neuroinflammatory disorder, a perfect target for CBD’s anti-inflammatory actions. In one experiment with a mouse model of MS, CBD was able to reduce the clinical disease score and helped with recovery of hind limb paralysis.
CBD also appears to have the ability to have a general suppressive effect on normal T cell functional activities. T cells are lymphocytes of the immune system and play a key role in cell-mediated immunity. They also help B cells (which make antibodies) to perform their functions. Since T cells are part of the immune system, CBD’s ability to suppress T cell actions is part of its anti-inflammatory properties. This ability of CBD to suppress T cell action has the potential to help people with pathological memory T cell conditions and with autoimmune problems, in which T cells attack and kill normal body cells.
There is one important caveat that must be mentioned when discussing the anti-inflammatory actions of CBD. As mentioned at the beginning, inflammation is part of the body’s normal response to injury and invasion. While CBD has the potential to treat a host of disorders and conditions related to chronic inflammation, there has not been many studies into how CBD’s dampening of the immune system may reduce a person’s defense against invading pathogens like bacteria and viruses. In other words, it’s not well known how CBD may affect the acute inflammatory response.