CBD is a non-psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants, such as industrial hemp. As research on CBD keeps expanding, more uses and health benefits are discovered. One of these benefits is the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD oil. This ability to act as an anti-inflammatory makes CBD a useful treatment for a variety of illnesses where inflammation is a problem.
What is Inflammation?
While everyone tends to think of inflammation as a negative thing, it’s actually a necessary part of our immune system. Inflammation is simply an immune response where our bodies try to fight off infections, heal wounds and get rid of intruders.
Some of the most common signs of inflammation include:
- Edema (swelling)
- Loss of function
When considering the process of inflammation, it becomes apparent why the body reacts in this way.
The Process of Inflammation
Acute inflammation is localized to one area of the body. Normally the injured area. Inflammation normally starts as a result of an injury or infection. For example, when you have a sore throat or if you fall and scratch your knee.
In the case of an injury, the process of inflammation starts with vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels. By allowing less blood to pass through vessels, vasoconstriction prevents blood loss. After this, platelets block off the damaged area of the blood vessel so that blood is no longer able to escape through the injured vessel.
After the initial vasoconstriction, local cells give off chemicals such as histamines and prostaglandin, which cause blood vessels to dilate again, once again increasing blood flow to the area. The increased blood flow to the area helps immune cells and other chemicals reach the site of injury more rapidly. Vasodilation is also responsible for the redness and swelling seen during inflammation.
Apart from vasodilation, chemicals released by cells at the site of injury also cause the cells that make up the walls of the blood vessels to contract in order to create spaces between the cells. The tiny spaces between the cells allow for fluids, proteins and other substances to pass through the capillary walls. This is essential in allowing white blood cells and other immune cells to reach the site of injury or infection.
Once immune cells penetrate the capillary walls, they move to the site of infection or injury and destroy bacteria and other foreign microbes at the site. Cells responsible for repairing damaged tissue also penetrate capillary walls to access the site of injury.
Without the inflammatory response, the body would have no way to defend itself properly against infections and injuries. This regular process of inflammation where the body is targeting a specific problem is called acute inflammation.
Cytokines and Inflammation
Cytokines are an important part of the inflammatory immune response. The word cytokine comes from the Greek words cyto (meaning cell) and kinesis (meaning movement).
Cytokines are responsible for cell signaling and up-regulating (or initiating) immune responses. Once an immune response is no longer necessary, cytokines are also responsible for down-regulating (or stopping) the processes involved in an immune response.
In inflammation, a special group of cytokines called inflammatory cytokines regulate the inflammatory response. Cytokines are excreted mainly by immune special regulatory cells called T helper cells.
Chronic Inflammation – Inflammatory Problems
Unlike acute inflammation, which doesn’t last long, chronic inflammation is a response in the body where inflammation is ongoing for weeks, months or even years. This chronic inflammation could be caused by an ongoing response to an infection that’s not clearing up, or an injury that takes a long time to heal. However, chronic inflammation can also be present in the body for no reason at all.
So while acute inflammation is good, chronic inflammation is often harmful and bad. The presence of chronic inflammation in the body can lead to various health problems.
Chronic inflammation can be localized in the same way as acute inflammation, but it can also occur as low-level inflammation throughout the entire body.
To understand what causes chronic inflammation, it’s important to know about cytokines. As already stated, cytokines are responsible for initiating and stopping immune responses, such as inflammation. When cytokines no longer function correctly, the inflammatory immune response won’t ever stop, leading to chronic inflammation.
Research suggests that chronic inflammation is at least somewhat responsible for the onset of various diseases such as:
Irritable bowel syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
While the involvement of chronic inflammation in the onset of some diseases is more direct than others, chronic inflammation is known to health problems and tissue deterioration.
Unfortunately, all adults have chronic inflammation to a greater to lesser extent. The effects of inflammation become more apparent as you age, hence age-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis occur. For most people their level of inflammation can only be detected through a blood test, but as they age, the chronic inflammation will take its toll.
Treating Inflammation with Conventional Drugs
Various anti-inflammatory drugs are available on the market. However, the most popular over-the-counter options are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories drugs (NSAID’s) such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Drugs like ibuprofen work by inhibiting certain chemicals involved in immune responses that lead to inflammation and pain. This is a non-selective process, meaning these drugs can’t target the site of the injury. As a result, the effects of NSAID’s are felt across the whole body, not just the site of injury.
NSAID’s are effective in treating temporary pain and inflammation. However, some of the side effects of these drugs make them a less attractive option for using in large doses on an ongoing basis. Some of the side effects of NSAID’s such as ibuprofen and aspirin include:
- Internal bleeding
- Stomach ulcers
- Stomach upset
- Decreased appetite
If too much of these drugs are consumed, patients also risk liver failure and other serious complications. Because of this, patients are advised to be careful about self-medicating on these drugs, especially if large doses are taken daily. These medications should only be used chronically for inflammation if prescribed by a doctor.
When not prescribed chronically, it’s best to restrict the intake of NSAID’s to the doses provided on the packaging and to consult a healthcare practitioner if you need to persist taking the recommended dose of NSAID’s for more than a week.
CBD Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
CBD, also called cannabidiol, has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory benefits. The good thing about CBD is that long-term use hasn’t been shown to have serious side effects.
When compared to NSAID’s, CBD functions in a completely different way. Instead of working by blocking natural chemicals in the body, CBD functions by affecting the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (or ECS for short) is part of the nervous system. It’s responsible for a wide variety of bodily functions such as pain control, memory formation and appetite stimulation. Within the ECS, chemical substances known as endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.
CBD is similar to endocannabinoids found within the ECS. The similarity between CBD and endocannabinoids is what allows CBD to work on the endocannabinoid system to control pain. Currently, research suggests that CBD is effective in treating chronic pain and inflammation.
CBD’s method of action for controlling pain and inflammation is not yet known, but it seems as if CBD is effective in lowering the amount of cytokines in the immune system. Seeing as cytokines are responsible for causing inflammation, it’s clear why lowering the amount of cytokines present in the body could reduce chronic inflammation.
The fact that CBD has been removed from the list of substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, also opens up doors for athletes to use the CBD products as an alternative to conventional painkillers. As many athletes previously used ibuprofen, the use of a natural substance like CBD is a welcome alternative.
Who Should Use CBD as an Anti-Inflammatory?
Seeing as all adults have some chronic inflammation, anyone can benefit from CBD treatment to control inflammation. Those suffering with inflammation-related disease are most likely to see real benefits – this would include people with arthritis or irritable bowel syndrome, for instance.
However, there are also people who should rather avoid the use of CBD. Particularly, pregnant women, seeing as CBD hasn’t been tested for use during pregnancy, so it’s still uncertain whether use during pregnancy is safe.
Research on pregnancy and CBD use is limited to more general studies that pertain specifically to the use of cannabis during pregnancy. These studies indicate that the use of cannabis during pregnancy have a negative effect on the unborn child. However, CBD isolated from cannabis plants can’t be labeled in under these results and more research is necessary before CBD can be seen as either safe or unsafe during pregnancy.
In the meantime, CBD remains a promising alternative to many conventional drugs and health treatments. The use of CBD can be beneficial in both treating inflammatory diseases and preventing their onset.