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CBD and Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases refer to hyperactivity in the immune system’s response, where antibodies and immune cells attack the body’s own tissue by mistake. The cause of autoimmune disease is not known, though it’s believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disease, and they can affect almost any part of the body. Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ; for example, type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like lupus, can target one specific area or organ, or can affect several.

The most common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Addison’s disease
  • Celiac disease (Celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy)
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Grave’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Type 1 diabetes

Autoimmune diseases may also have flare-ups, when they get worse, and remissions, when symptoms get better or disappear. Treatment depends on the disease, but in most cases one important goal is to reduce inflammation, making CBD a great therapeutic candidate.

Additionally, CBD has been shown to be effective in treating disorders affecting the overactivation of immune response and its associated oxidative stress.1 CB1 and CB2 receptors are present in the immune system, though CB2 receptors are more abundant. CBD stimulates these receptors to support regulation of the immune response.

A 2006 review supported research findings that cannabinoids are regulators of the immune system,2 and additional research suggests that they work to suppress immune response,3 which is helpful in many autoimmune diseases. Cannabinoids downregulate the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines.4 Additional research found that CBD specifically caused levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines to decrease, while levels of anti-inflammatory proteins increased.5

  1. George W. Booz, “Cannabidiol as an Emergent Therapeutic Strategy for Lessening the Impact of Inflammation on Oxidative Stress,” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 51, no. 5 (2011): 1054–61, doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.01.007.
  2. P. Pacher, S. Bátkai, and G. Kunos, “The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy,” Pharmacological Reviews 58, no. 3 (2008): 389–462, doi:10.1124/pr.58.3.2.
  3. G. A. Cabral and A. Staab, “Effects on the Immune System,” Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology Cannabinoids, no. 168 (2005): 385–423, doi:10.1007/3-540-26573-2_13.
  4. Prakash Nagarkatti et al., “Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs,” Future Medicinal Chemistry 1, no. 7 (2009): 1333–49, doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93.
  5. Lola Weiss et al., “Cannabidiol Arrests Onset of Autoimmune Diabetes in NOD Mice,” Neuropharmacology 54, no. 1 (2009): 244–49, doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2007.06.029.