CBD | Science

Is CBD Anti-Inflammatory? Cannabinoids & Inflammation

Dr Shane Jackson


Dr Shane Jackson

Medical Doctor

CBD oil is rapidly growing in popularity, being taken in a wide range of forms such as gummies, edibles and lotions, and being used for a broad range of reasons. 

Anecdotal reports of using CBD oil for inflammation is becoming more and more common globally, but anecdotal reports are not subject to the same scrutiny as clinical research. 

We are here to dive into the literature and see what science says about the relationship between CBD and inflammation.

In this guide, we will break down the scientific evidence versus the hype. But first – why is inflammation such a huge deal?

CBD and Inflammation

Inflammation is behind a wide range of illnesses, health complaints, and forms of pain.

When we think of conditions caused by or exacerbated by inflammation, it’s easy to think of the obvious such as arthritis or joint pain.

However, chronic inflammation can lead to conditions you might have assumed had no connection with inflammatory changes, including but not limited to:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Some cancers
  • Asthma
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus

Of course, many conditions can also cause inflammation, leading to symptoms that are sore or uncomfortable, meaning this immune response is perhaps a lot more common and troublesome than you’d think.

But what is inflammation and why is it even an issue?

Let’s take a look:

Why Should I Worry About Inflammation?

x-ray of a broken shoulder indicating inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response to injury and infection. It’s used as a signal to the immune system in order to repair and protect damaged tissue, in addition to battling infection and foreign bodies; such as viruses or bacteria. 

Most of the time our body orders the immune system to produce an inflammatory response for good reason, such as to protect us from allergens or other foreign bodies. 

Other times, our body may produce inflammation when there is no need to do so, for example in the absence of any injury or infection that would benefit from it. 

This is the main cause behind a group of conditions known as autoimmune diseases

The most common forms of chronic inflammation include:

  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS). 

Additionally, inflammation is interlinked with other diseases including cancer. 

Current evidence suggests that 20% of all cancers are caused by chronic infection or other types of chronic inflammation. It’s also implicated as a complicator of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Even for people without any chronic medical conditions, it’s possible you’re battling inflammation right now. 

This is because even the most healthy of bodies are constantly under a barrage of environmental factors that are capable of causing an inflammatory response, such as pollution, allergens, or even stress.

These reactions in the correct situation and at the correct time are beneficial – while they may result in some damage to bodily tissue, this is beneficial for the improvements we experience in healing and combating infections or bacteria.

However, when bodily responses are enacted for the wrong reasons, this tissue damage happens for no reason and the immune system can become harmful.

This can be a real issue if somebody is suffering from a chronic condition that causes constant immune response, that interferes with the immune system’s natural processes, or that encourages a response that isn’t necessarily beneficial.

However if this is continuously happening, it can go beyond what’s necessary and spill into harmful behaviour. Free radicals can begin to attack healthy cells, something which leads to oxidative stress – which is thought to be a potential cause of cancer.

Eating a natural, healthy diet that’s full of antioxidants can help to prevent this, but many people look to supplements to help manage their immune response, which is where CBD could potentially support balance through the endocannabinoid system, also known as the ECS.

first aid for inflammation

Is There Evidence Cannabinoids Can Help With Inflammation?

A growing body of evidence suggests that the compounds found in cannabis, known as cannabinoids, are powerful anti-inflammatories. 

Cannabinoids have been found to improve pain management without the associated side effects usually felt from non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

It is thought that these results are explained by the endocannabinoid system and its interactions with the immune system. The ECS helps to maintain homeostasis and support immune function by interacting with cannabinoids around the body.

Methods of Action

Cannabis (including hemp) contains over 100 different cannabinoids, of which THC and CBD are the most well studied. 

Cannabinoids interact with the two receptors in the human body CB1 and CB2. Whilst the CB1 receptors in the central nervous system regulate the psychotropic effects of THC and overall perception, the CB2 receptors play a crucial role in inhibiting inflammation, and are found abundantly in immune tissue.

CBD for Inflammation

CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, which is gathering momentum in preclinical research analysing its use as an anti-inflammatory. 

While there is little in terms of robust randomised control trials the pre-clinical evidence is a driving force behind an increased level of funding into the research of CBD for this purpose.

CBD Anti-Inflammatory Studies

  1. Researchers in 2016 applied a variety of doses of topical CBD gel on rats suffering from arthritis for 4 days, noticing a significant improvement in symptoms of pain. This provided a strong indication that CBD has therapeutic potential for the treatment of arthritis, via an anti-inflammatory effect.
  2. 2017 study in the journal of pain focused on osteoarthritis in rats and the use of CBD to reduce pain and inflammation. This found that CBD reduced osteoarthritis pain and joint neuropathy, by acting as an anti-inflammatory agent and due to its neuroprotective properties.

How Does CBD Help with Inflammation?

In addition to the way in which research suggests CBD inhibits prostaglandin production (discussed above), and the way in which it promotes homeostasis via the endocannabinoid system.  There are a couple of other research points discussing CBD for inflammation:

This range of interactions gives a broad insight into how cannabinoids are thought to work within the body, although the pre-clinical studies above associated to CBD for joint pain are still relatively elementary.

What Else Can I Do To Reduce Inflammation?

While more research is needed to fully understand how CBD interacts with inflammation, the evidence so far is very positive and shows a strong connection between CBD use and reduced inflammatory symptoms.

Nonetheless, holistic approaches are often coined as the best in terms of variety and functionality. 

The most common of these associated to inflammation are:

  • Regular, low impact exercise such as swimming, walking, yoga.
  • The consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, either through diet or supplements.
  • Healthy diets that are high in vegetation and antioxidants.

The diet is perhaps the most important aspect as if you are constantly eating foods that are known to cause or exacerbate inflammation, you may be undoing some of the benefits you are achieving through other methods.

In the same way, eating a good, clean diet can improve the results you get from your wider holistic approach by keeping your body free of inflammation-causing compounds and keep it full of antioxidants.

The basic rules to follow here are:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Avoid refined sugars
  • Don’t overdo it with dairy
  • Eat as many leafy greens as possible (kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc)
  • Eat as much alkaline foods as possible (apple, banana, watermelon, etc)

Terpenes and Inflammation

Hemp also naturally contains other compounds outside of cannabinoids, including terpenes.

These essential oils are what gives cannabis its strong aroma and flavour, but they are also found in other plants and vegetables such as citrus fruits or mint. 

Research suggests that terpenes can partner with cannabinoids and influence the overall effect(s) felt by users of cannabinoids via the entourage effect. For example:

  1. Caryophyllene, has a peppery flavor profile and can be found in cloves and hopes. A 2011 research paper studied inflammation of the colon and suggested Caryophyllene had anti-inflammatory effects in mice with colitis. Another study focused on arthritis in rats and found the terpene significantly decreased arthritis and thus reduced inflammation.
  2. Pinene, found in pine trees and citrus fruits. Research in 2014 analyzed the effects of pinene in human cells found in healthy cartilage, finding that the compound had selective anti-inflammatory properties. Another study focused on deriving inflammatory and neuropathic pain models in mice, suggesting “pinene may be of potential interest for the management of inflammatory and neuropathic pain”.

The Best CBD Oil for Inflammation

If you’ve decided you want to try CBD oil, your next question is likely which type do I buy?

It’s a good question because there are countless CBD oil products available, and the lack of regulation around CBD products means they are not at all created equal.

The most important thing is to find a brand you can trust to create a high quality product, and to do this, you should look out for:

  • Third-party test results. A company that doesn’t provide this likely has something to hide.
  • CBD oil that is full or broad spectrum. This simply means it contains all of the other beneficial ingredients of the hemp plant such as omega-3, vitamins, minerals, terpenes, and flavonoids, many of which are beneficial for general well-being in their own right. 
  • Organic CBD oil or ingredients where possible, as pesticides and herbicides can be toxic or even inflammatory.

As long as you be sure to look out for the above you should be able to find a CBD oil right for you.