For many of us, fall means the onset of runny noses and scratchy throats; occasionally, it even means getting knocked down by the common cold and spending days in bed. Despite the lovely crisp air and beautiful red and orange foliage, this time of year can definitely give our immune system a run for its money.
This compound has such a long list of benefits we can’t help but ask: Could it be used to boost the immune system in preparation for winter? To find out, we sat down with Dr. Heather Moday, an integrative immunologist and founder of the Moday Center to talk about how, exactly, CBD interacts with our immune system.
How does CBD impact the immune system?
It’s hard to say for sure all the ways CBD interacts with the immune system because there are so many different components to it,” says Dr. Moday. This is especially true in the case of full-spectrum hemp oil, which contains a wide variety of cannabinoids and terpenes that all have their own unique properties and benefits.
That said, “We know that there are receptors for cannabinoids on all the immune cells throughout the whole body,” says Dr. Moday. “So, it’s obviously modulating the immune system in some way,” she explains. The majority of the research that’s been done on CBD and the immune system has been related to chronic inflammation. For example, CBD has been studied as a possible treatment for arthritis, which is characterized by an overactive immune response that causes excessive inflammation.
And although there’s still a lot to learn, Moday explains that CBD also shows promise for certain autoimmune conditions, which occur when the immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues. “CBD seems to turn off some of the chemicals that would cause a flare in autoimmune diseases,” she says. And it’s true, a 2016 study concluded that CBD has immunosuppressive activity under certain conditions.
Can CBD help treat the common cold?
Raise your hand if you think “immunosuppressive activity” sounds like a bad thing, especially when it comes to the common cold. It makes sense that you’d want your immune system to be fully active to fight off a cold. In fact, at first glance it sounds like CBD might actually put us at risk for the common cold by suppressing our immune system.
But not so fast. According to Dr. Moday, CBD could still be helpful—just not in the ways you might suspect. For starters, it could help keep cold symptoms in check. As she explains, “When it comes to the cold and flu, a lot of the symptoms we get are actually due to access inflammation instead of the germ itself.”
Wait, what? It’s a little counterintuitive, but Moday goes on to explain that when a virus enters our body, our immune system typically does a great job at recognizing it and secreting pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines to kill it. But long after the germ is gone, symptoms like a runny nose, cough, and asthma or bronchitis can continue. In fact, “most of the time bronchitis is actually residual collateral damage that our own immune system creates when it's trying to defend you,” she says.
And that, according to Mody, is where CBD may be most helpful for a cold. It can help prevent your body from overreacting to a regular old germ.
Can CBD help prevent the common cold?
“In terms of prevention, it’s hard to say,” says Moday. That said, it may help boost the body’s defenses indirectly by reducing stress. Chronic stress is a well-known immune system saboteur; in fact, cortisol can directly suppress the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of white blood cells. According to Moday, CBD works against stress almost like an adaptogenic herb, helping to bring the body back into a state of balance and calm.
CBD may also help us fend off germs in other ways. According to Moday, “if it helps improve your sleep or reduce pain, your body is more likely to be able to fend off the germs it encounters every day without you experiencing any symptoms.”
The take home? If you’re struggling to keep your immune system in fighting shape during the colder months, CBD may offer some support. Other than that, the best ways to prevent the common cold and flu are eating well, exercising, drinking plenty of fluids, and washing your hands.