CBD and the Immune System Explained


cbd and the immune system explained

The immune system is all the rage right now.  Finally!

We're going to touch base on the low hanging fruit around fighting infection but there's so much more to it across the entire body.

Unfortunately, it (and the liver) are the primary target for the sea of toxins we roll around in these days.

The immune system is a little like the three bears.

Not strong enough and you have infection, disease, and even cancer.  Yes, the immune system detects and kills faulty cells.

Too strong and you have the disease du jeur..auto-immune, all the way up to dementia (wait till you see what amyloid beta really is!!).

Every mental health issue bears this signature of an immune system run amok and we'll get into the mechanics below.

So…we need a bed (immune system) that's….just….right.


This is where CBD isolate comes into play as we'll see below.

Most tools either suppress immune response (hm hm…THC!!) or they boost it ( auto-immune drugs, etc).

CBD's effect is in the "just right" middle grounds as we'll see below.


We'll cover these topics:

  • A quick intro to the complex immune system
  • CBD and immune response
  • How CBD affects the immune system when running low
  • How CBD affects the immune system when running hot
  • CBD and infection
  • CBD and brain inflammation
  • CBD and cancer
  • CBD and sepsis
  • CBD and autoimmune
  • How much CBD to support immune response
  • What's the best CBD for immune response


Let's get started.  Lots to cover.


A quick intro to the complex immune system

We tend to think of the immune system as just there to deal with infections.  Viral or bacterial.

That is definitely a key role and the complexity (it's a rabbit hole if not 2 or 3) of the system speaks to the age old arm's race between our immune system and evolving bacteria and viral weapons.

We'll get into the details below but a few explanations will help as dig into the weeds below.

The immune system actually has 2 major separated functions.

  • Respond to foreign pathogens and destroy them (lots of collateral damage)
  • Rebuild, Repair, and grow after the battle

We're all familiar with the first part but the second part is really interesting.

For example, BDNF is our brain's fertilizer and it's front and center with mental health and addiction (growing over old learned pathways).

BDNF brain fertilizer mental health


The immune system controls this!


That's our first basic understanding.

Secondly, there are generally two main settings for the immune system in terms of status.

  • TH1 - pro-inflammatory response to infection, injury
  • TH2 - resolves inflammation and starts repair/rebuild process


This is really important to wrap your head around as imbalance or a persistent response one way or the other speaks to low immune response or auto-immune as we'll see below.

The states largely reflect two different parts of our immune system:

  • Innate - most of which you got from your mother during birth (hopefully)
  • Adaptive - learned along the way by interacting with bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens


Finally, you have a whole zoo of cytokines are which are specialized assassins (and sometimes medics) called to the scene by the immune system.  

IL6 is a big one…pro-inflammatory.  IL10 is another one…anti-inflammatory.

Don't worry, it will all be come clearer below but like we said, the immune system was built piece-meal over millions of years by all our ancestors!

It's gonna get messy.

Alright…those are basic building blocks but let's start to dig into practical details around CBD.

Come on…it's just marketing, right?

CBD and immune response

Before jumping into CBD, we have to introduce the system it works in.

The endocannabinoid system.


This system is tasked with balancing (so critical) every other key system in our body including:

  • Nervous system - neurotransmitters
  • Endocrine system - hormones both steroidal and otherwise
  • Immune system - ding ding ding!


Yes, the endocannabinoid system tries to right the immune system ship when it goes to far one way or the other.

Endocannabinoids are believed to control immune functions and play a role in immune homeostasis.



Our favorite word..homeostasis.  "Balance!"


In fact, the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is all over the immune system.

Immune cells express both CB1 and CB2 receptors, secrete endocannabinoids and have functional cannabinoid transport and breakdown mechanisms



Now, CBD isolate has a very special place in this natural system.

The problem with THC (its cousin), CBN, and other cannabinoids is that they are agonists.

They push the system in one direction.  Longer term, that's not great since we want the "Goldilocks" function.   Respond accordingly and then resolve back to balance.

THC suppresses immune response:

These findings led the authors to suggest that in vivo and in vitro exposure to THC can lead to a significant immuno-suppression effect by induction of immune cells apoptosis 



This isn't surprising as THC is like a big wet blanket on many pathways which is usually the point.

It imitates anandamide, our natural "brake pedal" across multiple pathways including the immune system (think inflammation).


The problem is that it hits the receptor (CB2) too hard and for too long compared to anandamide.

That's why you get the "high".  Anandamide is called our "bliss" molecule but it also calms immune response.

CBD doesn't interact this way (hence…no high!).

It supports the CB1 and CB2 systems…when exhausted!

These systems are constantly triggered and then almost immediately turned off.

Under states of intense stress (psychological or immune), they can temporarily "run low".

CBD can bolster this balancing system in these states!  But…the beauty is that it can also support the system when running too hot!

It's technically called an alosteric modulator.  A feedback mechanism.  This is why CBD doesn't build tolerance (the enemy of almost all meds/supplements).  Even at higher levels.  That's really important to us (and you).

The cancer example below will perfectly highlight this but let's look deeper at CBD and these different (opposing) effects.

We'll start with situations where the body's immune system is being over-run (think infection).

How CBD affects the immune system when running low

THC can actually impair our response to infection.  What about CBD?

First off, CBD isolate is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial which is why it can sit in the tinctures for 18 months with no decay.

This only applies to isolate..don't try that trick with full or broad spectrum (more on that below).

Cannabidiol’s antimicrobial activity also stands out—specifically, its activity against a wide range of Gram-positive bacteria, including a variety of drug-resistant strains such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), multidrug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae, Enterococcus faecalis, and the anaerobic bacteria Clostridioides (previously Clostridium) difficile and Cutibacterium (formerly Propionibacterium) acnes



Okay…did you catch some of the heavy hitters?

  • Staph
  • Strept (wait till you see the tie-in with psoriasis in the autoimmune section)
  • Pneumonia
  • MRSA!!  The nasty drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals


So inherently, CBD has a direct anti-microbial effect but that's not what we're after.

Let's look at situations where the body's immune system is being overwhelmed.  

Different serious, infection states.

First…look at CBD's effect on various immune system players:




Goodness.  It's a who's who of players.

Some are pro-inflammatory while others are anti-inflammatory.

There's so much research on CBD calming inflammation (immune response) but what about the other way?

On the other hand, other authors found a proinflammatory effect for CBD. In this regard, Muthumalage and Rahman found a proinflammatory effect for CBD in a U937 macrophage line, with a significant increase in IL-1 receptor, IL-8, IL-16, and IL-32 production.



Those are some heavy hitters in immune response ramp up..especially IL-1.  

We have a massive review on CBD and system inflammation.


So…CBD can push both ways!

The potential for CBD, and other cannabinoids, to produce immune enhancing effects has been attributed to differences in hormetic (i.e., biphasic) responses depending on CBD concentration/dose, cell culture conditions, including serum presence and/or percent, immune stimulant, and magnitude of cellular activation in response to the immune stimulant.



Let's decipher that please.  

The key word there is "biphasic" meaning…two different effects depending on the state of the system!

This really is the secret weapon of CBD isolate.

We'll see in the cancer section below how this varied response is so critical.

Let's turn to CBD's more famous effects…calming the immune system when hyperactivated.

How CBD affects the immune system when running hot

Think of inflammation run wild.  It's the issue of the day now.

  • Mental health
  • Autoimmune
  • Cytokine storm (the little assassins above)
  • Arterioschlerosis
  • The whole litany of gut issues from IBD to Colitis

Even aging is characterized by systemic inflammation…so-called "inflammaging".

No wonder…the poor immune system's primary role is to keep bad things out and that includes toxins and chemicals.

Histamine (the allergic response) is just a front-guard for the immune system to get bad things out!

More on the fascinating world of histamine.

histamine and CBD isolate


Here's the rub…you're swimming in toxins and the primary weak link for this is the liver (detox) and immune system.

  • PFOAs 
  • Glyphosate and other pesticides
  • Endocrine disrupters
  • Electromagnetic radiation from devices and bad light sources
  • Seed oils (see omega 6 to 3 ratio issues) and food additives


The immune system is literally Mickey with the water buckets.

Let's look at just a few examples.

Brain inflammation and mental health

We have a massive review on why the immune system is the future of mental health.

Microglia are the brain's immune general for things that past the blood brain barrier or "transmute" via the vagus nerve from the gut.

If they become hyperactivated (too many assaults), this is highly destructive to some of our most precious real estate.

Look to every mental health issue and you see the telltale signs of this and we dove deep into how early infection, stress, and trauma can set this whole train running.

As for CBD's effect?

CBD has the ability to restrain inflammatory responses mediated by activated microglia (Barata et al., 2019; Dos-Santos-Pereira et al., 2020; Martín-Moreno et al., 2011; Mecha et al., 2013), modulating many microglia genes involved in the regulation of stress responses and inflammation (Juknat et al., 2012).



Let's look at the worst case…a brain on fire after a stroke:

Cannabidiol reduces neuroinflammation and promotes neuroplasticity and functional recovery after brain ischemia



Check out the brain neuroinflammation and immune and mental health reviews for much more.  Powerful studies.

What about CBD and infection?

CBD and infection (viral or bacteria including that which shouldn't be named)

We know CBD is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial from the detail above.

In 2020, we published deep reviews of CBD and immune response around the biggest heath concern at the time.

We were told to take it down even though it referenced NIH studies. Even got a nasty statement on our brand from the whole ordeal.  It was strange times.

So…without comment, we'll provide the studies so you can review on your own without any commentary from us!


We'll leave it there.  Let's move on.

CBD and cancer

Most people don't realize that the immune system is judge, jury, and executioner for faulty cells, whether virally-infected or pre-cancerous.

The whole anti-oxidant craze may actually be counter-intuitively negative since oxidative stress is both a signal to the immune system that something's wrong and also it's primary weapon to take out back actors (like cancer).


We have a whole review on CBD and cancer but here the key takeaway:

  • Healthy cell with low inflammation:  CBD has no effect
  • Healthy cell with high inflammation:  CBD reduces inflammation
  • Virally-infected or cancerous cell:  CBD INCREASE inflammation (oxidative stress technically)


Goodness.  Three different responses depending on the state of the cell!

This is mainly due to immune-mediated effects since oxidative stress is under its control in this regard.

What gives the 3rd example?


The immune system ramps up oxidative stress to kill faulty cells!  Chemo and radiation are essentially massive doses of oxidative stress that kill indeterminantly.

CBD can increase this effect in faulty cells but NOT surrounding healthy cells!

As shown recently in breast cancer cell and lung cancer cells, CBD induced oxidative stress and caused cell death [49,50]. It is also shown in oral cancer cells that CBD-induced oxidative stress plays a major role in apoptotic cell death



Apotosis is cell death.  We want that for cancer.

Here's the kicker…

Primarily, most CBD-induced oxidative stress is reported in cancer cells whereas anti-oxidant properties were reported in normal cells


Read that back over.  We have a huge review on key tools for successfully fighting cancer with more detail on CBD or check out our CBD and oxidative stress review.

Oxidative stress and mental health


Lots more research there.

Let's turn our attention to an absolute firestorm of immune response where the response is probably more dangerous than the original disease!

CBD and sepsis

Sepsis is when the body is literally exploding with inflammation…usually in response to an infection.

Think cytokine storm (very familiar lately).


The immune response itself can kill you as there's plenty of collateral damage in such a situation.

Sepsis is a serious condition in which the body responds improperly to an infection. The infection-fighting processes turn on the body, causing the organs to work poorly. Sepsis may progress to septic shock. This is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs.



Okay…and CBD?

Cannabidiol Suppresses Cytokine Storm and Protects Against Cardiac and Renal Injury Associated with Sepsis





This is all about the resolving of an inflammatory state.  Remember…there's two pieces:

  • Pro-inflammatory - respond to infection or injury
  • Resolving - bring system back to normal after initial emergency


In sepsis and similar situations, the second part isn't happening correctly.  

It's a controlled burn that's gone out of control and can literally kill you.

The current data support the notion that the anti-inflammatory function of CBD may reduce cytokine storm and mitigate the effects of exaggerated inflammation.



Stroke is another example of this effect:

CBD administration after MCAO led to long-term functional recovery, reducing neuronal loss and astrogliosis, and modulating apoptosis, metabolic derangement, excitotoxicity and neuro-inflammation.



MCAO is where they cut off blood supply to part of the brain.  The ultimate goal there is "long term functional recovery".

Let's look at another situation directly tied to the immune system being out of balance.

CBD and autoimmune

We have a massive review on CBD and autoimmune including other breakouts (psoriasis, arthritis, dementia).

This is where the immune system becomes "confused" on what is other versus us.

It starts attacking our own tissue thinking it's a pathogen.

There are interesting drivers of this, the most promising being "protein mimicry" where bacteria, etc have proteins that are very similar to ones found in our body.

The strep infection behind the tonsils and psoriasis connection is one example of many.

As for dementia, the amyloid beta particles that build us are actually little attack spears of our brain's immune response designed to puncture…bacteria!

It seems that Aβ exhibits many characteristics of the other known antimicrobial peptides [162,163]. In vitro studies combined with experiments on mice show a protective role of Aβ in case of bacterial, viral as well as fungal infections. Microbes or viruses were found to be associated with Aβ plaques



Also, check out the info on CBD and Parkinson's.

So…some quick takes on CBD and immune function as it relates to autoimmune.

We'll hit the big ones.


First, (we'll translate):

CBD was found to be one of the main modulators of the immune response. This molecule decreased the number of Th1 and Th17 proinflammatory cells and the production of the proinflammatory cytokines, interleukin (IL)-1, IL-12, IL-17, interferon (IFN)-γ, and tumor necrosis factor alpha, in mouse models of MS and DMT1.



So it calms the inflammatory attack dogs in MS models.


And rheumatoid arthritis?

CBD possesses anti-arthritic activity and might ameliorate arthritis via targeting synovial fibroblasts under inflammatory conditions.



Check out CBD and rhuematoid arthritis.

What about Psoriasis (see CBD and Psoriasis)?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a promising natural agent for treating psoriasis. CBD activity is attributed to inhibition of NF-kB, IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-17A.



Remember how we said there's a "zoo" of immune agents?  We weren't exagerating and many are still not known or understood.

For more info, check out:

CBD and MCAS (mast cell's - think allergic reactions like asthma)
CBD and IBS or IBD (gut inflammation states)


Remember, autoimmune is characterized by a confused immune system that's mistaken a particular tissue in us for an outside pathogen.

Okay…that's our basic intro to CBD and the immune system.

Let's look at practical questions.

How much CBD to support immune response

There's not great research on this front.

We know that 300mg is peak dosage for neurogenesis which is also governed by the immune system.

This is the repair/rebuild process tied to BDNF, our brain's fertilizer.

BDNF brain fertilizer mental health

More acute situations are actually at 600-800mg in research (psychosis or public speaking anxiety).

This would match a more severe initial response for say…the first 10 days.

We can look to drug withdrawals for help with this since the first 10 days are the worst and research generally shows 600-800 daily during this time and then it drops to 300mg for day 20-30.

After 30 days, the receptors generally start to turn back on as the body rights the ship.

Everyone's chemistry is different so test and see how you feel and where you get benefit.

CBD isolate does not create a high or build tolerance.  There's no addiction or rebound.

Again, it's doesn't push in one direction like other cannabinoids (THC being the big one…huge immune suppressant).

Start at 50mg and see how you feel.  Adjust from there with 600-800mg daily being the max and then tapering down from there.

The type of CBD is super important because there's lots of junk on the market.

What's the best CBD for immune response

Two important pieces here.

First, the CBD should be of the highest quality…even the NIH studies reference this.

  • Organically grown in the US at FDA registered farms
  • 3rd party testing (essential)
  • No pesticides
  • No heavy metals
  • No solvents
  • No bacteria
  • No mold

That's just the baseline and any brand that doesn't have this is out!  Remember, the immune system will respond to all of these!

Secondly, there's the whole CBD isolate versus full or broad spectrum.

All the research is on CBD isolate and histamine (immune system) can respond strongly to all the plant material and/or other cannabinoids (many are suppressive).

Learn about CBD versus full spectrum for histamine to get a good glimpse of this.

Roughly 40-60% of the population has histamine issues and this number goes up as we get older and for women when progesterone leaves the scene (our natural immune suppressor).

That's a wrap!  We only covered a small smidgen of the research and avenues out there since the immune system is complex.  

The key take-away is that CBD can have both anti and pro-inflammatory (immune response) effects depending on the state of a given system.

This is critical in our current world with the tug-of-war going on!


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.