CBD and Autoimmune Diseases

In the last decade, a treatment has emerged for several autoimmune diseases: CBD.

In many of these cases, traditional medications and treatments have failed in suppressing the symptoms that a patient suffers.

When a person suffers from an autoimmune disease, the person’s body is, in essence, reacting to a disease or damage that doesn’t exist.

Over 150 autoimmune diseases exist but treatments for these diseases are few and far between. The most common treatment for these conditions is the use of an NSAID or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This class of drug includes both aspirin and ibuprofen.

CBD, the Endocannabinoid System, and the Immune System

CBD, also known as cannabinol, is one of 113 known chemical compounds that’s found in the cannabis family of plants. For thousands of years, people have used cannabis as medicine, food, building supplies, rope, clothing, and much more. In fact, cannabis, in hemp form, has over 50,000 separate uses.

As a medicine and a nutritional supplement, CBD works with some of the body’s natural neurotransmitters and receptor proteins that are found in the brain and in both the peripheral and central nervous systems. These neurotransmitters and receptor proteins are known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system is found in humans and most vertebrate animals. The ECS is responsible for many physiological and cognitive processes in the body. Among these processes are:

  • appetite
  • effects of exercise on the body
  • fertility
  • memory
  • mood
  • pain
  • post-natal development
  • pregnancy
  • pre-natal development

In studies of the ECS, both genetic and pharmacological effects have been observed. The results are that cannabinoids, such as CBD act as neuromodulators. Neuromodulators are neurotransmitters that spread out through neural tissue to affect slow-acting receptors of many neurons.

Among the most common neuromodulators are:

  • acetylcholine
  • dopamine
  • histamine
  • norepinephrine
  • serotonin

Neuromodulators control such processes as learning, appetite, and pain sensation, as well as other mental and physical activities.

The endocannabinoid system has 2 known receptors. These receptors are known as CB1 (cannabinoid receptor 1) and CB2 (cannabinoid receptor 2). The CB1 receptor is the primary receptor in the ECS can affect brain and motor function as well as the lungs, kidneys, liver, thyroid, the digestive tract, the adrenal glands, fat cells, and muscle cells.

The CB2 receptors are less extensive than the CB1 receptors but still, play an important role in the ECS and in overall health. CB2 receptors are found in the brain, the gastrointestinal system, the central and peripheral nervous systems, and can control activities within the immune system.

Most cannabinoids bind or attach to these one or both of these receptors to allow them to distribute the cannabinoid throughout the body. But CBD works a bit differently.

CBD actually activates both receptors without binding to them. This is advantageous in that it allows CBD to prevent some substances from being absorbed too quickly into the brain. An example would be serotonin. Serotonin is known to most as a supplement that can be purchased at most health food stores to help a person with sleep issues. But in actuality. Serotonin is a naturally produced neurotransmitter that can regulate cognition, reward, learning, memory, and numerous other physiological processes. Many times when someone is having issues with one or more of these functions, serotonin is being absorbed too quickly and then depleted. CBD helps activate these receptors but doesn’t bind with them to prevent the quick absorption, allowing the serotonin to remain where it is needed throughout the nervous system.

CBD does bind to a protein receptor known as TRPV1 or transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 also known as vanilloid receptor 1. This protein receptor is known for regulating body temperature, as well as pain and inflammation.

CBD works with the ECS and other proteins in the body to help develop homeostasis or equilibrium. It does this by regulating the activity that occurs rather than suppressing it as would be the case with an NSAID.

An autoimmune disease is when the immune system becomes hyperactive. So it is overproducing natural immune responses and chemicals in the body. CBD can act in a manner that can reduce the immune response when the immune system overreacts. It can also increase immune responses when needed if the response is insufficient.

Studies have found that the CB2 receptors in the ECS can suppress immunoresponse in the body. This has been shown by CBD’s ability to trigger and not bind with the receptor. When activated by CBD, the CB2 receptor diminish the production of inflammatory cytokine peptides (amino acid bonds) in the body and increase the anti-inflammatory cytokine peptides. As a result, any inflammation in the body is reduced or eliminated as the ECS uses the CBD to restore homeostasis within the immune system.

In addition to working with the CB2 receptor to regulate the cytokine peptides, CBD also works to slow down T cell production. A T cell is a type of white blood cell that is created in the thymus (part of the lymphatic system of the body). The T cell plays a central role in immune system response. In addition to slowing down T cell production, CBD helps suppress immune system cell memory, which reduces the chances of further autoimmune attacks. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3062638/)

While it does suppress these immune functions, it’s not an inhibitor. It’s a regulator. CBD still allows immune system functions, so while it stops overactivity, it doesn’t stop it. This allows injuries to properly heal and reduce the inflammation of the injury.

One study published in 2009, stated “It is becoming increasingly clear that cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands play a crucial role in the regulation of the immune system. Exogenous cannabinoids have been shown to suppress T-cell-mediated immune responses by primarily inducing apoptosis and suppressing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Such observations indicate that targeting cannabinoid receptor-ligand interactions may constitute a novel window of opportunity to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/)

Autoimmune Disease

Over 150 autoimmune diseases exist. These diseases can affect any part of the body and can be systemic or localized. These diseases can be chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening.

Among some of the many autoimmune diseases that exist include:

  • Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM)
  • Acute motor axonal neuropathy
  • Addison’s disease
  • Alopecia Areata
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Autoimmune Angioedema
  • Autoimmune enteropathy
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)
  • Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome
  • Autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP)
  • Autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome (APS)
  • Autoimmune progesterone dermatitis
  • Autoimmune retinopathy
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Coeliac disease
  • CREST syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes mellitus type 1 (Type 1 diabetes)
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus
  • Drug-induced lupus
  • Endometriosis
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis
  • Evans syndrome
  • Felty syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Graves’ disease
  • Guillain–Barré syndrome
  • Hashimoto’s encephalopathy
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Kawasaki’s disease
  • Lupus nephritis
  • Lupus vasculitis
  • Lyme disease
  • Microscopic colitis
  • Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD)
  • Postmyocardial infarction syndrome
  • Primary Immune Deficiency
  • Progressive inflammatory neuropathy
  • Psoriasis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rheumatoid vasculitis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE)
  • Transverse myelitis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD)
  • Vasculitis
  • Vitiligo

The effects of an autoimmune disease can affect a person differently depending on the type. But as a rule, they include one of the following characteristics:

  • Altered organ function
  • Altered organ growth
  • Damage to or destruction of tissues

The causes of many autoimmune diseases are generally unknown. Some autoimmune diseases have genetic predispositions and some may be triggered by infections or other environmental factors.

About CBD

CBD, or cannabinol, is one of many chemical compounds that are found in cannabis. CBD can be derived from all cannabis plants, but in most cases, it is derived from the cannabis species that are associated with hemp.

Cannabis is comprised of 3 species:

  • Cannabis Indica (also known as C. Indica or simply Indica) – This species of cannabis is traditionally associated with marijuana and hashish. Marijuana, unlike hemp, has a high concentration of the cannabinoid THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. Indica can contain up to 35% THC. Indica does contain CBD, but in most jurisdictions, Indica can’t be used to process CBD as the law limits THC content (usually to less than 0.3%). In states where marijuana is legal, CBD can be made from Indica under state law, however, it’s still a banned substance under federal law as THC is banned federally.
  • Cannabis Ruderalis (also known as C. Ruderalis or simply Ruderalis) – Ruderalis, or Russian hemp is a lesser known species of cannabis that was originally found in Russia and Mongolia. For thousands of years, Russians and Mongols have used Ruderalis as both food and medicine. It isn’t as versatile as the other species of hemp as it only grows to be about 2 feet high. However, it has an auto-flowering feature that allows for faster harvesting than other cannabis species. For that reason, the last few decades have seen hemp and marijuana growers successfully crossbreed Ruderalis with hemp and marijuana to speed up cultivation time.
  • Cannabis Sativa (also known as C. Sativa or simply Sativa) – Sativa is more commonly known as hemp. It’s the most versatile crop every cultivated and has over 50,000 uses. Among them are:
    • Food
    • Clothing
    • Medicine
    • Building supplies
    • Paper
    • Rope
    • An erosion prevention crop along rivers
    • Plastic alternative

Some of the reasons for the versatility of the crop is that it contains a dense and strong network of fibers in the plant and it can grow up to 20 feet tall. It also is very adaptive to many different climates, so it makes growing it very easy in most areas of the world.

In the US, most CBD comes from the Sativa species. When manufacturers look to extract CBD from the Sativa plant, they can use a few different methods.

The first method is known as the carbon dioxide method. This method requires the manufacturer to “blast” the plant with carbon dioxide (CO2) to extract the CBD. This process occurs in pressurized chambers that as the CO2 is penetrating the plant, the CBD oils are collected in chambers below. The CO2 forces a chemical reaction that separates CBD for the other cannabinoids and substances in the hemp plant. Manufacturers can use this same method to extract any cannabinoid in the plant.

The second method is the solvent method. This involves soaking the entire hemp plant and even seeds in a solvent. The most commonly used solvent in this process is grain alcohol. The plant soaks for several days until the solvent completely evaporates, leaving only CBD.

Both of these methods will provide 99% pure CBD in most cases, but some manufacturers strive to remove the remaining 1%. With the above methods, plant resins and other plant materials can remain. To completely remove these, some manufacturers will enlist a process called “winterization”. Winterization removes these resins and plant materials to create a pure CBD product known as an isolate. Many argue that regular CBD is better than the isolate because the trace amounts of other cannabinoids that are left in that 1% of the processed oils are beneficial and help the CBD metabolize better in the ECS. However, there’s no scientific evidence yet to back this claim up.

CBD use for autoimmune diseases are a natural fit as it has been found to have the following properties:

CBD has been found to have the following properties:

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Antibacterial
  • Antidepressant
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-psychotic
  • Neuroprotective

With the issues of autoimmune diseases crossing broad spectrums of these properties, CBD can produce results in reducing the symptoms related to the autoimmune disease.


Over the past 2 decades, attitudes and laws have changed that has allowed science to move forward with the study of cannabis in the treatment of disease.

CBD has played an important role in this research as science looked for a way to harness the known health benefits that cannabis has provided humankind for thousands of years without the psychoactive intoxicating effects that cannabis has been known for.

By focusing on CBD instead of other cannabinoids or cannabis as a whole, scientists have found that people who suffer from issues like autoimmune diseases can benefit the natural properties that CBD provides without having to sacrifice mental functionality or turn to a synthetic drug that may or may not cause more issues for the sufferer in the form of addiction, organ damage, or even harsh side effects.