Some studies suggest cannabis can help the immune system, while others imply the plant can suppress it. Learn more about the current research on how cannabis effects the immune system. CBD oil may have the potential to boost your immunity and manage your immune response. Those with autoimmune diseases may also find cannabidiol to be beneficial. For CBD and the immune system, this article covers four ways in which CBD oil may support immune health and help patients…
Does cannabis help or hurt the immune system?
Cannabis is celebrated for the benefits it offers in the management of certain medical conditions. As awareness around cannabis grows, consumers are becoming better versed in the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in the treatment of specific autoimmune diseases, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disorders.
But how does cannabis affect the immune system as a whole? If you’re a regular consumer, you may have pondered whether cannabis weakens or boosts your immune system. Can frequent cannabis use render you more prone to infections or contagious diseases?
As it turns out, research into cannabis and the immune system hasn’t historically piqued the interest of scientists. However, as our understanding of the effects of cannabis on the body becomes more sophisticated, we need to also broaden our knowledge of how cannabis influences the immune system.
Present evidence suggests that cannabis can suppress immune system function. While this can be helpful for individuals with autoimmune illnesses, it may not be so beneficial for those with functional immune systems.
Meet your immune system
The immune system is one of the body’s most sophisticated networks. A collection of specialized cells, endogenous chemicals, and organs work in concert to ward off pathogens and infections, protecting the health and homeostasis of the body.
The immune system is multifaceted, and its core components that actively combat infection include white blood cells, the complement system, antibodies, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and bone marrow, but we’ll mainly talk about white blood cells.
Memories of every microbe previously defeated by the immune system are logged in white blood cells. These memories enable the fast tracking and elimination of infections that have already been experienced. The immune system is also responsible for detecting and eradicating malfunctioning cells.
The knowledge we have about the interaction of cannabis with specific immune elements is limited. While there is some research exploring the effects of cannabinoids on white blood cell count and the lymphatic system, we know less about how cannabis impacts the thymus or the complement system.
Cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, and the immune system
An elegant connection exists between the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its immune system. The ECS is generally considered to be one of the gate-keepers of the immune system, preventing the onset of overwhelming inflammatory responses that may result in disease. The ECS can also influence the function of immune cells.
CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system mediate the effects of cannabis within the immune system. The two major cannabinoids, THC and CBD, appear to have distinctive effects on the immune system due to their unique interactions with cannabinoid receptors. Abundant literature suggests that cannabinoids affect the functions of most types of immune cells.
A 2020 review found robust evidence that CBD suppresses certain inflammatory responses in the immune system and may induce cellular death in immune cells. Immune cell death isn’t always a bad thing—it’s a normal part of the cellular life cycle, and helps to protect a person by alleviating inflammatory responses.
Like CBD, THC also suppresses immune activity, dialing down inflammatory responses. THC has also been shown to alter the function of immune cells responsible for antimicrobial activity.
How does cannabis affect the immune system?
When scientists discuss cannabis and the immune system, they often discuss its effects as immunomodulatory or immunosuppressive. Immunomodulation refers to any therapy that modifies the immune system response. When cannabis suppresses the expression of aspects of the immune system, this form of modulation is known as immunosuppression.
It’s vital to point out here that marijuana’s ability to subdue or suppress immune system cells can be useful if the immune system is dysregulated and in need of suppression. If not, immune suppression might not be helpful.
Research published in 2017 indicated that both CBD and THC have an immunomodulatory effect on the human intestinal lymphatic system, the major host of immune cells. The lymphatic system also contains more than half the body’s lymphocytes—white blood cells that play a critical role in finding and destroying foreign cells or substances that have infiltrated the body.
The study’s authors found that oral administration of CBD and THC with fats resulted in extremely high cannabinoid levels in the intestinal lymphatic system: CBD concentrations in lymph cells were 250 times higher than in plasma, while THC concentrations in lymph cells were 100 times higher than in plasma.
So, what’s the significance of this? For individuals with autoimmune diseases, cannabis can achieve higher concentrations in the lymphatic system and suppress unhealthy inflammatory immune responses more successfully.
The pros and cons of cannabis as an immunosuppressant
While the immunosuppressive properties of cannabis may be just what the doctor ordered for autoimmune patients, they can cause problems for other cannabis users.
Research carried out in 2003 on healthy volunteers suggests that regular cannabis may subdue immune function. Cannabis users were found to have fewer proinflammatory cells and more anti-inflammatory cells.
While less potential for inflammation may sound like a win, in this case, it was associated with a significant reduction in white cell functionality, and impaired white cells can mean a hindered ability to fight off infections. Regular cannabis users also had decreased amounts of natural killer cells, which limit the spread of tumors and microbial infections.
The study also indicated that there may be a dose-response relationship between cannabis use over an individual’s lifetime, and a decrease in certain immune system markers, meaning those who use cannabis regularly may be more susceptible to the progression of infectious disease.
What about the effects of cannabis on extremely immunocompromised individuals? Unfortunately, cannabis can substantially decrease infection-fighting cells in people undergoing chemotherapy. This suppressive response may further add to the detrimental effects of chemotherapy on immune systems of those with cancer.
Research on people with HIV+ and AIDS, who are particularly vulnerable to infections, however, indicates that there is no firm evidence that cannabis adversely affects immune function.
Instead, findings suggest cannabis use among HIV+ patients may enhance the immune system by producing a statistically significant decrease in viral load and an increase in CD4 cells. CD4 cells can be considered a marker that indicate the robustness of the immune system.
While existing research allows us to glean insights into cannabis and the immune system, we need more rigorous data to paint broad brushstrokes. According to the most recent 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), there’s insufficient research on the effects of cannabis or cannabinoid-based medicines on the human immune system to draw firm conclusions.
Cannabis in the time of coronavirus
Within the current global climate shaped by COVID-19, there’s an impulse among the research community to enhance our understanding of the impact of cannabis on the immune system. Some cannabis researchers are currently channeling their focus into investigating whether cannabis may be helpful or harmful in treating COVID-19.
More profound exploration into the effects of cannabinoids on the immune system is also being encouraged. Watch this space as new frontiers are forged.
CBD and the Immune System: Can Hemp Oil Boost Your Immunity?
Some suggest that CBD possesses immunomodulating properties, but what does this mean? What we do know is that individuals suffering from autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis often use cannabis as an alternative form of therapy.
Is using cannabis, specifically CBD, useful for decreasing inflammation in the body? Is it something generally healthy individuals could also benefit from? Is there a way it could potentially boost our overall immune health?
It’s no secret that the endocannabinoid system and the immune system are interrelated. Let’s explore some of the links between cannabidiol and immunity.
CBD For The Immune System
Before we dive deeper into the benefits of using CBD oil for the immune system, let’s get a good understanding of how our endocannabinoid system operates.
Our endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a network of receptors and cannabinoids that regulate many functions of the human body. One of the functions being its role as an “immuno-cannabinoid” modulator.
Communicative molecules in the ECS work as a signaling mechanism, which provides instructions for the immune response. These instructions provide information regarding the body’s immune system that tells it when to engage in defense, how strongly to engage, and where to engage.
Can CBD Boost Your Immune System?
Your body is exposed daily to hundreds of thousands of diseases, infections, viruses, and bacteria. If we had no immune system, even the common cold could become fatal. The cells, tissues, and organs that make up our immune system work together to eliminate foreign particles and invaders.
It’s responsible for keeping you healthy, and when you do fall ill, it helps you recover quickly if it’s working properly. This complex system is also tasked with identifying cells that are not functioning properly and eliminating them from your body. If your immune system wasn’t working, these undesirable cells could multiply.
CBD & Autoimmunity
Some suggest that the endocannabinoid system may also work to notify the body of incorrect autoimmune responses, where defense cells end up attacking otherwise healthy organs and tissues. This may be the reason why cannabinoids function so well when used for autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus.
Although cannabidiol shows promise regarding its part in helping the immune system function better, research is still speculative. We will require many more in-depth studies to have a more solid and thorough understanding of how they interact.
CBD & Inflammation
We know that cannabinoids may also be able to reduce painful inflammatory responses when taken in certain doses. This is especially true for anyone suffering from the autoimmune disorders we previously mentioned. We also know that compounds that stimulate our ECS can promote new nerve cell generation or neurogenesis. They may even be able to reduce cell degeneration. Something previously witnessed in animal studies.
If an individual were to suffer a serious traumatic event, such as a head injury, heart attack, or stroke, the lack of oxygen and the high levels of inflammation could severely damage nerve cells.
Some experts suggest that CBD could protect nerve cells and reduce neuropathic pain because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties .
The United States government holds a patent on cannabinoids for their many potential health benefits.
Symptoms of a Weakened Immune System
The following infections may recur with a high frequency. Common infections found in individuals with weak immune systems include:
- skin infections
You may also have a higher risk of experiencing the following if you have a weak immune system:
- autoimmune disorders
- inflammation of internal organs
- blood disorders and abnormalities, like anemia
- digestive problems, such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping
- growth or developmental delays in infants or children
A doctor can do a blood test to identify whether or not a person has a weak immune system. The test simply shows if an individual has antibodies in the normal range.
The bottom line is that CBD may be able to help boost your immune system. Some research has revealed its anti-inflammatory properties and that it can work as an immunosuppressant and an immunomodulator.
Inflammation is one of the most important processes managed by your immune system. This response helps isolate and target areas that are infected and prevent toxic components from spreading to other areas in the body. Cannabidiol may also be able to reduce your immune system’s inflammatory response.
How Does CBD Interact with the Immune System?
Cannabinoids have some degree of an influence on our immune response. However, we still are not completely sure how to manipulate or administer treatment to achieve the best result possible yet.
What we are aware of is that cannabidiol possesses some potential when it comes to balancing the two major elements of the immune system.
CB2 reception in the ECS is usually found in your immune system. CB1 receptors can also be found in your immune system; however, there are 10-100x more CB2 receptors than CB1 receptors in the immune system. CBD has also been found to work as an immunosuppressant and immunomodulator. Immunosuppressants are agents that can suppress the immune response. They can treat lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease as well.
Immunomodulators are agents which are used to regulate or normalize your immune system. Data is also overwhelmingly in favor of the notion that cannabidiol is an immune system regulator .
Immunosuppressants suppress the body’s immune system and ability to fight infections and other diseases. Immunosuppression may be deliberately induced in preparation for bone marrow or other organ transplants to ensure the prevention of rejection of the donor tissue.
Cannabidiol has also been shown to help modulate or suppress the secretion and functioning of cytokines .
These large groups of proteins are secreted in our body’s immune system. It helps regulate inflammation, immunity, and also the production of white blood cells. This allows your immune system to work smarter and keep you happy and healthy.
CBD can also effectively suppress chemokine production .
A chemokine is a group of cytokines that act as a chemoattractant, which works by inducing an organism or cell to migrate towards it. Chemokines are used to lead immune cells to an infected area; this way, white blood cells can destroy microbes that are invading the infected area.
CBD can suppress T-Cell function and production in addition to chemokines. This encourages suppression of the immune system’s ability to remember invaders.
CBD vs. Autoimmune Disease
Cannabidiol may have potential as a treatment for some autoimmune diseases. When it comes to autoimmune diseases, immunity becomes overactive and will begin attacking and trying to destroy healthy tissues, organs, and cells.
This can occur virtually anywhere in the body and may result in particular body functions weakening or failing, and sometimes in life-threatening conditions.
Three of the most common autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic skin conditions like psoriasis. Other autoimmune conditions include endometriosis (disorder in the womb’s lining), lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and type 1 diabetes.
Many users with these conditions have found success in using CBD. Inflammation plays a key role in autoimmune diseases, and as a potential anti-inflammatory, cannabidiol might be able to help your body manage the symptoms of the disease.
CBD’s immunosuppressive nature may also be able to help those with hyperactive immune systems that attack themselves instead of functioning properly.
Final Thoughts on CBD & the Immune System
If you have a compromised immune system or simply want to add something that will support your overall health, CBD could provide some much-needed relief.
When it comes to using CBD oil for boosting immunity or managing the immune response, the best method of ingestion is tinctures, taken sublingually.
Capsules are another option for using CBD for your immune system, as they are easy to take, bring with you, and they are discrete. This is great for anyone who travels a lot or who doesn’t want to taste the flavor of the oil.
If you currently have any serious health conditions or are taking certain medications, you should always speak to your doctor or physician first. You are also encouraged to do your research on the use, dosage, and different methods of ingestion.
- Ewa Kozela, Ana Juknat, Nathali Kaushansky, Neta Rimmerman, Avraham Ben-Nun, Zvi Vogel. Cannabinoids Decrease the Th17 Inflammatory Autoimmune Phenotype . Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology , 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s11481-013-9493-1 
- Katz, D., Katz, I., Porat‐Katz, B. S., & Shoenfeld, Y. (2017). Medical cannabis: Another piece in the mosaic of autoimmunity?. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 101(2), 230-238.
- Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem . 2009;1(7):1333-1349. doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93 
- Nichols, J. M., & Kaplan, B. L. (2020). Immune responses are regulated by cannabidiol. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 5(1), 12-31. 
- Tong-Rong Jan, Shu-Ting Su, Hsin-Ying Wu, Mei-Hsiu Liao, Suppressive effects of cannabidiol on antigen-specific antibody production and functional activity of splenocytes in ovalbumin-sensitized BALB/c mice, International Immunopharmacology, Volume 7, Issue 6, 2007, Pages 773-780, ISSN 1567-5769,
- Hongbo Li, Weimin Kong, Christina R. Chambers, Daohai Yu, Doina Ganea, Ronald F. Tuma, Sara Jane Ward, The non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) attenuates pro-inflammatory mediators, T cell infiltration, and thermal sensitivity following spinal cord injury in mice, Cellular Immunology, Volume 329, 2018, Pages 1-9, ISSN 0008-8749
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.
CBD and the immune system: 4 ways CBD oil provides a virus-season boost
For CBD and the immune system, this article covers four ways in which CBD oil may support immune health
The endocannabinoid system is known to play an important role in regulating immunity and scientists consider it to be one of the “gatekeepers” of the immune system. 1 The endocannabinoid system includes receptors known as cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2) as well as the endogenous cannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and enzymes that influence the production of these endocannabinoids.
There’s scientific evidence that cells of the immune system express both CB1 and CB2, although CB2 concentrations are higher than CB1. 2
How CBD and the immune system interact
Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa, is a phytocannabinoid that acts on the endocannabinoid system and may have the ability to maintain a balanced and healthy immune system.*
Transient receptor potential vanilloid 2 (TRPV2), a protein that facilitates the communication of cells with their extracellular environment, plays an important role in healthy immune system function. 3 CBD activates TRPV2 and also influences other transient receptor potential (TRP) channels involved in supporting immunity. 3*
Hemp-based CBD oil may have both direct and indirect mechanisms for maintaining immunity.* This article covers four ways in which pairing CBD and the immune system may support immune health.
Increasing natural killer cells*
In animal studies investigating autoimmune health, CBD oil from hemp has been shown to balance the immune system by reducing the activity of T cells, B cells, and both T helper and T cytotoxic lymphocyte subsets. 4* However, outside of an autoimmune arena, CBD supports the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell. 4*
NK cells are a major player in the body’s response to the presence of viruses.* CBD also supports the activity of natural killer T cells, which share properties of both NK cells and T cells.* In vitro studies have shown CBD has actions of interest to people who want to maintain immune health in the liver. 5 *
Supporting a healthy inflammatory response*
CBD is well known for its ability to maintain a healthy inflammatory response.* In animals, CBD supports a healthy inflammatory response in the lungs. 6* It also improves lung function in mice exposed to a lung irritant. *
In one study, CBD enhanced markers of healthy lungs such as decreased total lung resistance and elastance, leukocyte migration into the lungs, myeloperoxidase activity in the lung tissue, and protein concentration as well as maintenance of healthy levels of cytokines (TNF and IL-6) and chemokines (MCP-1 and MIP-2). * This could potentially assist with respiratory function.*
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiota*
A large proportion of the immune system is located in the GI tract, where there are large numbers of organized lymphoid tissue and scattered innate and adaptive effector cells. 7
The gut microbiota, the collection of organisms — good and bad — found in the intestines play an important role in helping the body have a balanced immune response. 8
Excessive inflammation in the gut can lead to intestinal permeability, gut microbiota dysbiosis, and an impaired intestinal immune response. 9,10 One way the body counteracts this is through the endocannabinoid system. 9,10
Like endogenous cannabinoids, CBD also has been found to support a healthy intestinal inflammatory response in human trials. 11* The key message here is that keeping the gut healthy supports overall immunity.*
A calming effect during everyday mild stress and frustration*
Ongoing psychological stress is linked to a decline in immunity. 12 CBD is involved in a healthy stress response.*
Unlike endogenous cannabinoids, which work on the CB1 receptor, CBD supplementation leads to direct activation of the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor.* 13,14 CBD stress-relieving properties are also related to its ability to modulate cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved in anxiety including the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and cingulate cortex. 15*
In human trials, CBD was found to reduce mild stress in people giving a speech.* For example, researchers observed the effects of different doses of CBD and placebo in 57 healthy male participants performing a simulated public speaking test. 16 * In this double-blind study, subjects were given oral CBD at doses of 150 mg, 300 mg, or 600 mg or a placebo prior to the public speaking test. Compared with the placebo, 300 mg of CBD led to the subjects being more calm and relaxed during the speech.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
CHRIS D. MELETIS, ND, is an educator, international author and lecturer. His mission is “Changing World’s Health, One Person at a Time.” He believes that when people become educated about their bodies is the moment positive change begins. He is widely recognized as a world-renowned expert on the science of CBD and has authored 16 books and over 200 national scientific articles in such journals and magazines as Natural Health, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Life Extension and The Journal of Restorative Medicine. He served as dean of naturopathic medicine and chief medical officer for seven years at NUNM, the oldest naturopathic medical school in North America. He has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Physician of the Year Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians; Excellence Award for his work in treating and advocating for the medically underserved; and most recently, the NUNM Hall of Fame Award. He represents TruGen3 and can be contacted at DrMeletis.com. “TruEase® is an ideal choice for people searching for a phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil. It’s encapsulated in VESIsorb®’s patented delivery system to optimize absorption. It uses a proprietary extraction process that eliminates solvents and impurities to produce non-detectible THC content. Clinically, I depend on bioavailability for my patients, and per a 2019 article, VESIsorb® CBD after a single oral administration of the SEDDS CBD led to 4.4-fold higher blood plasma levels of CBD compared to the control CBD formula.” 17