Can CBD stop pain and inflammation? To answer this question, we need to explore the mechanisms behind these biological responses. Pain and inflammation is simply a response to any kind of trauma in your body where your body exhibits an immune or survival response. We have two different kinds of inflammation – acute and chronic.
Acute is the kind that you probably know about when you bump your elbow or when you get a scratch or a cut and it gets swollen and red. Swelling and redness is simple inflammation, i.e. cytokine activity is triggering immune cells to fight a given trauma.
Then, we have chronic inflammation. It’s the key inflammation that’s occurring in our body all the time. It’s constantly happening, sometimes worse than other times. This has to do with the fact that our cells become sick and we trigger an immune response and then it cascades into this vicious circle where the immune system responds even more… and more… and more yielding to chronic inflammation.
Some inflammation is beneficial
Now normally when we think of fighting inflammation, we think of an anti-inflammatory. Or when we talk about anti-inflammatory processes in the body we think about something known as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Aspirin or ibuprofen are things like that. These act upon something known as cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2). By inhibiting these cyclooxygenase enzymes, we can bring about some relief from inflammation.
The problem is, as you probably already know, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are hard on the gut. The reason they’re hard on the gut is, because they stop the production of both COX-1 and COX-2 of those cyclooxygenase enzymes we need to protect our gut. We actually need a little bit of inflammation in our gut.
CBD is a gut-friendly anti-inflammatory
So, how does CBD directly affect inflammatory responses within the body? We have these things in our body called endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells in our body. A lot of times when we think of cannabinoids, we think of only that’s coming from cannabis. Endocannabinoids however are cannabinoids that our body naturally produces. (CBD is an exogenous phytocannabinoid – a plant-derived cannabinoid that comes from outside, in.)
Endocannabinoids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They’re a very natural thing and they’re a natural byproduct of fatty acid metabolism, believe it or not. Endocannabinoids are derived from long-chain fatty acids. They are a byproduct of the breakdown of long-chain fatty acids. Meaning, it’s a very natural process to have cannabinoids in our system.
These endocannabinoids are naturally-occurring members of a superfamily of fatty acids (Eicosatetraenoic acid), an anti-inflammatory fat that modulates inflammation and does a multitude of other things within the body. These endocannabinoids do a lot of different things that modulate inflammation.
So, what ends up happening is these endocannabinoids are produced by fat and when they’re actually needed they’re released by neurons. We have these fats that are broken down and we end up with these cannabinoids in our body but they don’t get released until the neurons say so. The neurons will release endocannabinoids when they detect inflammation. So, it’s this natural progression of fats communicating with neurons to ultimately release these endocannabinoids.
CBD helps your body modulate the inflammation response
Let’s take it a little bit further to understand how this release mechanism works and now that means we have to understand cytokines.
Cytokines are signalling proteins that ultimately recruit inflammation to happen. Cytokines will trigger specific immune cells to trigger inflammation or actually even reduce inflammation when given the right circumstances. Cytokine activity is not always bad. We do need some cytokine activity. If we got rid of all the cytokines, we wouldn’t ever have inflammation or it wouldn’t ever be able to be modulated up or down, leaving us in a really sticky situation.
So, CBD modulates the cytokine production for very specific cells. Whilst we do want to get rid of all cytokine activity there are sometimes specific immune cells that are overactive that are causing chronic inflammation in our joints or brain.
CBD helps regulate the immune system
There’s one specific area of the body where reduced cytokine activity is exceptionally important and that’s when it comes down to T helper cells. If you have ever heard of T cells before then, you know that there are two kinds. There are helper cells and there are killer cells. The helper cells travel around the body and they slap a label on anything that is potentially bad. That label allows the killer T cells to come by later and designate that to be killed. So, basically it has a label and the killer T cell goes ahead and it kills it. They work in tandem.
What CBD does is it limits the cytokine activity of these helper T cells meaning they are not as activated in a bad way. If you have overactive T helper cells, they’re going to run around your body running rampant and slapping a label on everything triggering inflammation and triggering killer T cells to come around and start an attack on things that don’t need to be attacked. This can lead to a massive amount of chronic inflammation leading to joint pain, brain fog, digestive discomfort and all kinds of different things.
CBD increases anandamide production and longevity
So, to help this get in really clear, we’ll break down one specific kind of endocannabinoid. There are a multitude of them but this particular one is very common and it’s one of the most well researched. It’s called anandamide. Anandamide is a naturally occurring cannabinoid. It’s an endocannabinoid that by using CBD oil, your body naturally creates more of. Anandamide has been nicknamed the “bliss molecule” as it produces feelings of euphoria and contentment. CBD allows your body to naturally create more of the good endocannabinoids, like anandamide.
Anandamide can be seen as the body’s natural anti-depressant. Not only does CBD help your body create more of it, it is also an anandamide reuptake inhibitor, i.e. it makes anandamide available for your body to use for longer periods.
So, not only does CBD naturally increase anandamide, it also reduces cytokine activity. We are allowing endocannabinoids to do their job better and we are allowing anandamide to come into fruition and we create more of it.
CBD increases anandamide and reduces inflammation and pain
Anandamide is one of the keys to actually getting rid of this problem where our bodies are getting so accustomed to inflammation that we’re just adapting to become these inflamed creatures. It truly is allowing our body to turn off that master switch when it comes down to inflammation. Anandamide is doing this all without ever activating CBD 1 or CBD 2 receptors within the body. (A lot of marketing collateral out there will tell you that CBD oil does directly affect one of the CBD receptors. Not the case at all. All CBD oils do the same thing. They naturally increase the production of our pre-existing endocannabinoids.)
So, we know this was very in-depth. It’s important that you know that at the end of the day there is a solid way to modulate and reduce inflammation in the body without acting upon the cyclooxygenase enzymes (which your gut needs). CBD offers a way to reduce inflammation without damaging your gut (which would only lead to other problems).