During these uncertain times, many of us are looking for ways to boost our immune systems. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the nation, staying healthy and safe has become more critical than ever. But aside from the usual approaches – plenty of water and rest, a healthy diet, and Vitamin C supplementation, what are some other options? You may be surprised to hear that some cannabis proponents believe CBD can enhance and support the immune system naturally.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Immune System and How Does it Work?
The immune system is a network of cells, organs, and tissues that work collaboratively to fend off foreign cells, and bacteria that left unchecked would ultimately lead to our body’s malfunction and ultimate death. The lead participant in this ongoing fight against illness and disease is the white blood cell.
There are two types of white blood cells: Lymphocytes and Phagocytes.
Lymphocytes are formed from stem cells in the bone marrow and reside in blood and lymph tissue. There are two categories of Lymphocytes: B lymphocytes (commonly referred to as B cells) and T lymphocytes (commonly referred to as T cells). There are different type B cells but collectively their main job is to produce antibodies that fight off foreign substances. Likewise, there are several variations of T cells and collectively they work to destroy cancer cells and marshal the immune system response to foreign substances. They also help your body remember and identify foreign substances so that the immune system can respond swiftly to any follow-on attacks that may occur.
Phagocytes are also formed in the bone marrow before entering the bloodstream are tasked with absorbing and neutralizing harmful foreign cells to prevent them from spreading and causing further damage. They also engage in a process called apoptosis (cell death). In this process, the phagocytes work to detect and eliminate cells in the body that may have reached the end of their usefulness and aren’t working properly anymore so that they can’t multiply and eventually form tumors.
What Can Cause the Immune System to be Compromised?
Assuming we are starting from a position of good health, your immune system will generally work most efficiently if you take proper care of your body by eating well, getting exercise, taking time outdoors, and getting a good night’s rest. Of course, if you are doing these things, then chances are you are also probably functioning with a good mindset as well.
So, what are some of the things that can compromise the immune system?
Lack of sleep is a big contributor to weakened immune systems. This is because the body only releases cytokines during sleep. Cytokines are an important protein produced for fights against inflammation and disease.
Anxiety also has a profound impact on weakening the immune system. This is because the body is forced to tackle problems derived from anxiety including headaches, depression, breathing problems, heart complications, and fatigue amongst other things.
Living a life full of vices (smoking and drinking) will clearly have a negative impact on the immune system as both habits establish a foundation for various organ-related diseases.
Immune system disorders can also cause the immune system to suffer from abnormally low or abnormally high activity. In cases of overactivity, the body produces cells that attack and damage its own tissues. This negatively impacts the body’s ability to fend off foreign cells and leaves it vulnerable to infections. Examples of such conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and vasculitis.
What is CBD and How Does It Impact the Immune System?
CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found within the cannabis plant. A phytocannabinoid (plant-based cannabinoid), CBD works in conjunction with our endocannabinoid system (ECS) by inhibiting the breakdown of our own body’s naturally produced cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids) are neurotransmitters produced within our bodies that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, immune system, and elsewhere. This molecular system is responsible for regulating and balancing communication between body cells as well as various processes within the body including appetite, metabolism, memory, motor skills, sleep, and immune system response. When the body’s internal operations are running smoothly, it is said to be in a state of homeostasis.
The endocannabinoid system maintains homeostasis by utilizing endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors (CB1and CB2) found throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as the immune system. In practice what happens is as soon as the body detects an imbalance with one of the processes regulated by the ECS, it begins to naturally produce cannabinoids that interact with the receptors and allow for communication between affected cells. This leads to the creation of a chemical response that works to fix the imbalance and return the body back to a state of homeostasis. CBD also works to increase the endocannabinoid Anandamide (sometimes referred to as the bliss molecule because of the role it plays in the neural generation of pleasure and motivation). It does this by inhibiting the production of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down and degrades the endocannabinoid.
While our body does naturally produce cannabinoids when called upon, some researchers subscribe to the theory that situations occur whereby insufficient amounts of cannabinoids are created to enable homeostasis. This condition referred to as ‘clinical endocannabinoid deficiency’ (CECD) has been linked to several health issues. Some scientists believe that supplementing the ECS with CBD might help the system function more effectively and lead to improved health.
In addition to supporting the body’s natural production of neurotransmitters, studies show that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties and functions as an immunosuppressant and immunomodulator. It performs as immunosuppressive when there is an excessive immune response, but otherwise, it maintains the immune system, bringing equilibrium to the body. This is particularly relevant for autoimmune diseases and conditions involving inflammation.
CBD can also modulate or suppress cytokines, as referenced above, cytokines are a class of proteins our body produces that are normally crucial to fighting off infections and a wide array of diseases. However, when overproduced, they can become pathological in inflammation and the adverse effects have been linked to everything from depression to cancer. CBD can also suppress rapid cell growth production and promote apoptosis.
In addition to playing an activating role with the body’s cannabinoid receptors, CBD also interacts and binds with several other non-cannabinoid receptors in the body including TRPV1 and 5-HT. TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid 1) is also known as the Capsaicin Receptor or Vanilloid Receptor. In plain speak, TRPV1 plays a role in regulating body temperature, pain, and inflammation and notifying us of feelings of pain and discomfort. CBD acts as the antagonist against TRPV1 receptors to help block these feelings of discomfort associated with various ailments. CBD also activates the 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine) receptors. Known as the serotonin receptor, 5-HT influences various biological and neurological processes such as anxiety, nausea, sleep, memory, and appetite.
So, is CBD Effective in Boosting the Immune System?
While there is still much research to be done and studies to be performed before any full-throated, fact-based declarative statements can be made, we can point to certain attributes and effects associated with CBD that are relevant to enhancing immune systems.
We have spoken to CBD’s role as an immunosuppressant and immunomodulator and how CBD may be an effective tool for people contending with autoimmune disease. It may also play a role in promoting apoptosis and preventing the rapid growth of foreign cells that are dangerous to our bodies.
We addressed how CBD’s interaction with our endocannabinoid system may contribute to reductions in stress, pain, anxiety, and inflammation (all of which weigh negatively on the immune system). We also know that reductions in the aforementioned can lead to improvement in rest and that getting a great night’s sleep is particularly important to powering the immune system.
Does CBD Help Keep Minor and Major “Bugs” Away?
If you are looking for a way to support your immune function and stay healthy in the face of COVID-19 and other more common viruses, proactivity is your best friend. The immune system is complex, after all, and it’s wise to take a multi-faceted approach to support it. In addition to lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, prioritizing restful sleep, and drinking enough water, supplementation may also be helpful.
For years, doctors and other medical professionals have recommended a variety of immune-boosting supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin E, all of which help the body regulate itself and fight off infection. But if you are interested in adding a new tool to your arsenal, you might want to consider CBD as a means for regulating stress responses, decreasing inflammation, and supporting vital cell receptors.
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