EducationIs CBD good for inflammation?

Is CBD good for inflammation?

11 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Is CBD good for inflammation?

Over the last few years, you may have heard CBD talked about a lot as a potential complementary medical cannabis treatment option. But you might not know exactly what CBD stands for, what it is and what it can be used for. The good news is, you’re not alone. There’s a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there about CBD, which might mean its potential benefits are not being accessed by those who most need them.


Let’s start with the basics. CBD stands for cannabidiol and is one of the most prevalent of the 110 or so main components of the cannabis sativa L plant, also known simply as cannabis or hemp. CBD is totally non-intoxicating. The other main cannabinoid is THC, which is the main ‘psychoactive’ ingredient. 

As such, CBD products are legal for ‘over the counter’ sales in the UK as long as they contain less than 0.2% THC, which is a controlled substance. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly popular as a potential medicinal remedy for a wide range of complaints and conditions, including mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as physiological issues such as epilepsy, chronic pain, and even diabetes. However, one of its most promising areas of potential use is in treating inflammation. This is a issue that contributes to around half of all global deaths each year and causes vast amounts of pain and suffering for tens of millions of people around the world.

The potential anti-inflammatory effects of CBD have been demonstrated in some early trials, although it’s worth noting that there is still a long way to go before it is overwhelmingly clinically accepted as a treatment. Nevertheless, the early signs and anecdotal evidence make a strong case for CBD as a powerful ally in the battle against inflammatory illness.

Understanding CBD

As mentioned above, there is still a lot of confusion about the differences between CBD and the other component parts of the cannabis plant, as well as further confusion about the different sources of CBD. 

It’s worth taking a little time to clarify exactly what CBD is, where it comes from, and how it works in the body. And just how does CBD reduce inflammation?

As discussed, CBD or cannabidiol comes from plants in the Cannabis sativa family. Within this plant family, there exist certain distinctions which need to be made. As we also pointed out earlier, another of the main component parts of the Cannabis sativa plant family is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in the illegal drug variant of cannabis and a controlled substance. Cannabis plants, often known as marijuana, are those that have a higher THC content – legally defined as containing more than 0.2% THC. 

The plants in the Cannabis sativa family that contain less than this amount are known as hemp. It’s from hemp that most CBD oil is extracted, which explains why it’s completely legal, whereas the cannabis plant is not (although this distinction differs from country to country).

CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body. This is the system that controls homeostasis or the process by which the body regulates itself to keep everything in a delicate balance. There are three parts to the endocannabinoid system:

  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors
  • Enzymes

The body creates two endocannabinoids known as Anandamide and 2AG. The first of these is known as the ‘bliss’ molecule and is thought to offer the ‘high’ you feel after exercise or when meditating. There are also two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, and there are thought to be more of these in the body than any other receptor. When there are issues in the body, the endocannabinoids move towards the receptors to help maintain homeostasis.

The presence of CBD means that the breakdown of existing cannabinoids is slowed, allowing your body to use them more efficiently. When CBD is administered, the body is better able to manage the nervous system and any inflammation or pain that is present. As well as influencing the cannabinoid receptors, CBD can also have an impact on dopamine, opioid and serotonin receptors, all of which help to regulate different functions in the body.

It's worth noting that research is still ongoing into how exactly CBD affects the endocannabinoid receptors and others. But it’s clear that CBD can potentially have a powerful effect on the body and has the ability to impact the way the body regulates itself and deals with disease and other health conditions.

Is CBD good for inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and infection. If you were to cut yourself, the area around the injury immediately swells up and turns red as the body’s immune system attempts to prevent infection. It directs millions of cytokine cells to the area to deal with the threat, helping to prevent infection and other long-term health issues. Usually, this inflammation recedes once the immediate threat is over. However, in some cases long-term or chronic inflammation can occur, often leading to further health complications.

These health issues can include abdominal pain, chest pain, fever, fatigue and more. If not treated, this kind of chronic inflammation can lead to serious health conditions and potentially even death. Common treatments for inflammation include supplements like vitamins A, C and D or natural ingredients such as turmeric and ginger. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including over-the-counter pain relief like aspirin and ibuprofen, can be used. As can more serious anti-inflammatory treatments like steroid injections in the specific area of issue.

Now, however, CBD is being added to the list of potentially effective anti-inflammatory treatments. We have seen how CBD can impact the endocannabinoid system, slowing the breakdown of endocannabinoids and allowing the body greater control over inflammation and pain. 

CBD works by increasing cannabinoid signalling. This helps to control the body’s cytokines, which are those cells primarily responsible for inflammation, and which rush to the site of an injury or infection as soon as it happens. Greater control and regulation of cytokine production has been shown to help reduce unnecessary inflammation and reduce pain. It can potentially also help to reduce the levels of oxidative stress in the body. However, we should again point out that more research is required to understand exactly how and why this happens. But studies have been carried out that show positive results (as you can see below) and more are currently being carried out.

CBD for inflammatory conditions

Is CBD good for inflammation?

According to a 2020 study called “Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidioland published in the National Library of Medicine the answer is ‘yes’. It states: 

“It has been suggested that CBD may indirectly improve anti-inflammatory effects. Clinical studies have confirmed that CBD reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, inhibits T cell proliferation, induces T cell apoptosis and reduces migration and adhesion of immune cells.”

Further clinical studies have been able to demonstrate CBD’s effectiveness in combating inflammation. For example, a 2016 animal study seemed to suggest that CBD was able to reduce joint swelling in lab rats with no notable side effects. The study claimed: “Transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling, limb posture scores as a rating of spontaneous pain, immune cell infiltration and thickening of the synovial membrane in a dose-dependent manner.”

Another 2017 study also indicates that CBD may have beneficial effects on conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, MS, Alzheimer’s and more.

A more recent 2021 study carried out by the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University and called “The Effects of Cannabinoids on Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Cytokines: A Systematic Review of In Vivo Studies” showed that: 

“CBD, CBG, and CBD+THC combination exert a predominantly anti-inflammatory effect in vivo, whereas THC alone does not reduce proinflammatory or increase anti-inflammatory cytokines.”

As you can see, a body of evidence is building and while there may not yet be a clinical consensus about the efficacy of CBD, this is how the process works. Scientists and clinicians need to be very careful about what they prescribe to patients, and any medicines need to be rigorously tested and peer-reviewed over a long period before they can be approved for general use. But the early signs look good. In addition, what almost every study and clinician seems to be in agreement with so far is the relative safety of CBD.

CBD dosage, safety and considerations

One of the key lessons that have been taken from all the existing CBD anti-inflammatory study results is that dosage can vary over quite a wide range, depending on the participant and their individual circumstances. This does present a slight issue for anyone wanting to try CBD, as working out the correct dose can be difficult. However, as pointed out, the relative safety and mild side effects of CBD make this less of an issue than with many other supplements and medicines.

The factors to consider when applying any dosage level are:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Physical condition
  • Symptoms

The individual body’s response to CBD can also vary, as does the concentration of the CBD you are planning on taking. It’s always a good idea to start with a small dose of between 20 to 40 mg per day. This can then be increased by 5 mg each week that passes until you start to notice the positive effects of CBD..

You also need to think about the level of bioavailability. This is the amount of any substance which makes it to your bloodstream. As a general rule, the levels of bioavailability of some popular CBD products are:

  • Topical CBD <1%
  • CBD edibles and capsules 5 - 15%
  • CBD oil 30%
  • CBD vapes >50%

As always, you need to thoroughly read the information about any product you plan on using, and always consult your doctor or healthcare provider about its suitability before use.

Other considerations

As alluded to above, not all CBD products are taken in the same way. And not all are prepared in the same way either. The three main types of CBD oil are full spectrum, broad spectrum and isolate. The difference between the three is essentially the chemical compound percentages that is found in each. 

Full-spectrum products contains all the cannabinoids and other plant compounds found in hemp. Broad spectrum is all the compounds and cannabinoids other than THC, and isolate is pure CBD, often presented in powder or crystal form.

Each of the various forms of CBD have their own potential health benefits. Isolate may be most suitable for first-time users who wish to explore the health benefits without the other cannabinoid compounds, however, the effects may be less notable than using broad or full-spectrum products. Isolate also contains no trace of CBD so may be more useful for athletes or anyone else who wants to avoid any chance of THC registering in the blood.

Full spectrum may have a more powerful effect than isolate due to something scientists call the "entourage effect”. Full-spectrum CBD is generally shown to have more effect on a wider range of conditions, including inflammation, stress, pain relief, anxiety and more.

Broad spectrum is largely the same as full, but without the presence of trace THC elements, so again it may be suited to athletes or anyone who wants to avoid any levels of THC.

The wrap up

The potential for CBD to assist in the battle against one of the world’s primary healthcare challenges - inflammation - is clear. It has to be said, its efficacy is not 100% proven just yet and we are still awaiting wider clinical approval, but the initial studies and results indicate a positive future for CBD. With further investment and continued testing, hopefully, CBD will prove to be an integral part of every battle with inflammation, chronic conditions, pain and more.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to threat but sometimes it is the very system that protects us that lets us down. CBD has been shown to positively impact homeostasis and allow the body to reassert regulation and control. And with relatively few and mild side effects, unlike some of the more severe anti-inflammation treatments, this could be even better news for sufferers.

If you would like to try CBD products to treat inflammation or pain, then consult your doctor first to discuss your needs, risks, and dosage requirements.

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you need without worrying about the stigma. 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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