How CBD and Hemp Might Help Autoimmune Disorders
Updated: 4 days ago
You’ve probably heard of autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s Disease, psoriasis and lupus. Maybe you know someone, a friend or family member that suffers from IBS or rheumatoid arthritis. If you experience the painful side effects of an autoimmune disease, read on… we’ll discuss how CBD and Hemp may be incredibly helpful in treating symptoms. If you don’t know anything about autoimmune diseases, read on!
Autoimmune diseases have been on sharp rise since the end of WWII. With many more toxic contaminants in water, food and other products, human bodies have begun reacting in more extreme defense of themselves. Unfortunately, this defense causes reactions in which the immune system, normally guarding against viruses and bacteria, begins mistaking healthy cells for foreign “invader” cells.
A healthy immune system functions at equilibrium, responding to foreign cells when needed. Autoimmune diseases cause the body to under or overreact to stimulants. The body cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and foreign cells. This creates an imbalance in the body resulting in a number of different diseases:
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Type I diabetes
• Guillain-Barre Syndrome
• Graves’ Disease
• Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Each of these diseases are offset in different ways, but many react in the body through similar misfires and inflammatory responses. Cells attack the hair, muscles, joints, skin and other organs. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how these immune responses are produced. There are commonalities that show up though: women are 2x more likely to be affected than men, some ethnic groups experience higher rates of diseases and some run in family gene lines.
Many theories are pointing to environmental factors including most prevalently, the western diet. Foods higher in saturated fats, salts and other pathogens have the increased potential to cause unequaled stress on the body’s cells. Research also points to autoimmune diseases being caused by the body’s reaction to fighting off cancerous cells and repeated use of damaged tendons or tissues. These are not conclusive causes, but there is some research to support them. Ultimately, autoimmune diseases have a root of acute inflammation. Whether that inflammation is perpetuated by diet, activity, genetic or something else, nearly all autoimmune disorders stem from and are exacerbated by bodily inflammation.
Gluten is a protein that has been warped and modified in the US industrial food system. In the past 30 years it has become so prolific in foods and other products that many individuals have begun suffering from gluten intolerances and more severe allergies. Research has pointed to gluten’s correlation with causing leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes permeable, and begins leaking toxins, microbes and proteins into the body. When these cells enter your bloodstream, it can lead to an increase of symptoms over time including brain fog, exhaustion, hair loss, extreme gut irregularities, and more. As these symptoms grow more regular, they can lead to the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease.
In response to the growing number of autoimmune disorder diagnoeses, there have been a few different conventional treatments utilized by doctors. These treatments are known as immunosuppressive - attempting to shut down immune response altogether to quell symptoms. Prescription medication acts as an “off” switch for receptor cells, These drugs tend to create a host of unsavory side effects… including causing cancer. Steroids are another treatment to lower inflammation levels. While they are effective in the short term, steroids can also cause longer term issues if overused.
Many medical professionals believe that once autoimmunity is “triggered” in the body, there is no reversal. This is where cannabis comes in. Alternative medical doctors believe autoimmune diseases have the potential to be greatly quieted and even reversed completely. As traditional drugs produce such intense and unpleasant side effects, many individuals have turned to alternative medicines, including cannabis.
For the purposes of this blog, we are going to refer to CBD and hemp and cannabis simultaneously. Full spectrum hemp refers to a cannabis plant that has been bred to express its medicinal compounds. Hemp plants have 113+ cannabinoids in them, including CBD and THC. Though CBD and THC are only two cannabinoids, they are the most proliferate compounds in medical research at this time. Hemp and CBD products do have THC in them, but in order to be sold legally, they must have less than 0.3%. Check out this blog post explaining the synergistic effect of full spectrum hemp compared to a CBD isolate.
Getting to the root of the issue with autoimmune disorders is seemingly safer and more effective than utilizing the bandaid of conventional drugs. Plants can offer an alternative method of medical self-discovery and treatment. Herbal medicine has long been utilized as an adaptogen - entering the body and responding where and how it is needed. Adaptogenic herbs like cannabis are known as immune-modulating plants, which means that can bring an immune system back to homeostasis.
As humans, we have extremely complex networks of response cells in our bodies called the endocannabinoid system. These cells, which are neurotransmitters, and their responders are all over our body, found in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Two receptors have been identified and researched most predominantly — CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain, nervous system, body tissues and in peripheral organs. CB2 cells are mostly found in immune cells.
Cannabis has cannabinoids like CBD and THC that can actually change molecules in the epigenome. The epigenome is a collection of outside molecules that create responses within DNA. The molecules that cannabis has been shown to affect are histones. Researchers are discovering that cannabis is capable of changing gene expressions through “epigenetic pathways”. When cannabis compounds interact with these histones, they have the capability of suppressing inflammation, which is a root cause of many autoimmune disorders. Cannabis has also been shown to modulate cytokines, another inflammatory protein. Check out this excerpt from a 2014 study on Crohn’s Disease:
“In a 2014 placebo-controlled trial, researchers treated 21 Crohn’s patients with either cannabis or a placebo. 11 patients were given cannabis. Out of the 11, five patients were in full remission by the end of the trial. 10 of the 11 patients showed improvements in their Crohn’s symptoms, compared to only 4 of 10 placebo controls.”
Cannabis therapies have the potential to affect autoimmune diseases in three major ways:
regulating the immune system
aiding the digestive system
Not unlike steroids and other pharmaceuticals, cannabis has been found to produce immunomodulating effects, meaning that cannabis is able to suppress certain immune system responses. The difference here is that cannabis is less likely to carry the price of extreme side effects. Other drugs can produce side effects that may be comparable, if not worse, than the malady they are attempting to cure. Cannabis is able to modulate side effects to a comfortable degree through its anti-inflammatory, calming and easing of headache and nausea properties.
There are many other ways that autoimmune disorders can be soothed in addition to cannabis use. Of course, as with any medicine, people are different and what works best will always vary. In this article by Sarah Russo, it is stressed that other lifestyle changes can also really help with inflammation. These recommendations include:
“A nutrient rich diet: a whole food diet, devoid of processed foods, will naturally decrease inflammation.
Exercise: active movement increases circulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines from the skeletal muscles.
Sufficient sleep: your body naturally lowers inflammation while you get shut eye.
Herbal medicine: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nettle, and various medicinal mushrooms can help decrease inflammation throughout the body.
Probiotics & Prebiotics: these supplements promote healthy bacteria in the gut, which lowers inflammation and promotes healthy immune response.”
Though human trials are still fairly limited, there has been promising research supporting CBD and hemp as effective treatments for autoimmune disorders. More so, research is pointing to the exponential possibilities of cannabis as general plant medicine. The way cannabinoids interact with human bodies and brains is slowly being unraveled through science, and the potential benefits are extremely promising.
The scientific community is moving quickly to research cannabis more thoroughly. As CBD and hemp use becomes more prevalent across the country and world, research will continue vying to answer and support this plant. As farmers, we have long believed in the healing possibilities of hemp. Our bodies exist as an extension of the natural world — they regulate alongside plants, animals, dirt, sunshine and air. By integrating pieces of the natural world in our lives, we have more potential to understand the synergy and power of plant medicine.