CBD & Your Immune System


Recent events have made humans acutely aware of their immune system, microbes in the environment, and the importance of having a healthy immune system. There is a complex interplay between our circadian rhythm, hormonal balance, and immune system that needs a healthy balanced system to thrive. When one of these systems gets thrown out of balance the others may falter and fail to operate at their full potential, leading to a domino effect where their overall function continues to decline.  Unfortunately, many people with chronic conditions or chronic exposure to sources of inflammation may have compromised immune systems.

Fortunately, there are lots of great, natural ways to bolster or regulate the immune system and fight of microbes in the environment. CBD provides a great option as a CBD receptor modulator, meaning that it can provide either a balancing or dampening effect for an overactive response by the immune system. But, before we dive into the specifics of how CBD affects the immune system, we must first get a good idea of what the immune system is.


What is the Immune System?

The immune system protects organisms from infectious agents in the environment that are able to breach the physical barriers of the body such as the skin, mucosal lining of the digestive tract, or the mucosal lining of the airways.  It is composed mainly of white blood cells, the thymus, the spleen, the lymphatic system, and all the chemical signalers which work in cohesion to properly defend the body. There are a number of different types of white blood cells and phagocytic cells that will be activated in response to different types of chemicals or infections in the body, but that is a whole other story. The most important aspect here is that essentially all immune system “communication” is based upon inflammatory messengers or signals, meaning that immune responses themselves are inherently inflammatory in nature. The importance of this will become apparent later.

The immune system has two distinct systems, the innate and adaptive immune systems, respectively providing immediate responses to microbes and long term protection from infectious agents that the body has previously been exposed too. They communicate and work in unison to continuously thwart the efforts of any microbes that may be trying to find a new home in the body.

The innate immune system will provide an immediate nonspecific response to an infectious agent that may make its way into the body and will, in turn, activate the adaptive immune system which takes a bit longer to kick in. The nonspecific aspect means that regardless of what pathogen is presented to the immune system, it will launch a massive inflammatory chemical cascade activating white blood cells (T cells) and further immune-related chemical responses, bringing all the attention of the immune system to the area under assault.

Our innate immune system will eventually present components of this infectious agent to receptors on B cells as part of the adaptive immune system triggering a pattern recognition throughout the body, allowing it to develop a cellular memory of the infectious agent. Pattern recognition in B cells is what allows the immune system to distinguish the body’s cells against any foreign cells and chemicals. Over time it allows the adaptive immune system to be building itself up, over time becoming more effective and specific in its ability to produce a response against the same microbes the next time the may get into the system. This is how immunity is established naturally against things like chickenpox and even the flue or via vaccines, which in turn will lead the virus to evolve in an effort to get past the adaptive immune response that has been built up against it. Sometimes it can go a bit haywire and the body will start recognizing itself as a threat or it may even begin to miss infectious agents that have hid inside cells leading to autoimmune disease and immunodeficiency.

Thankfully, the development of hygiene and modern medicine throughout history has prevented many people from being as susceptible to infectious diseases as humans once where, yet it still takes a great deal of work and mindfulness to keep the immune system in a healthy, balanced state.  This is why providing proper immune support into your daily routine is extremely important. Things, like eating a balanced diet rich in organic vegetables, drinking lots of water, getting adequate amounts of sunshine, lots of sleep, and some exercise, will do wonders for one’s immune system.

Of course with the advance of medical care and access to alternative forms of treatment, people now have a wide range of types of herbs and protocols to choose from. Luckily for everyone, the scientific evidence supporting herbs as a safe and effective treatment for various diseases continues to grow. With this growth, CBD has now become one of the most scrutinized plant molecules with the explosion of the CBD marketplace and legalization throughout the United States and the world and it is becoming clear that it may offer a powerful tool for addressing the immune system.


How does CBD affect the immune system?

As mentioned above CBD provides an effective tool in combatting a lot of chronic inflammatory patterns and overactive signaling that is present in many disease processes and immune dysfunction. It is able to achieve this by upregulating the endocannabinoid system which is meant to regulate cellular function and decreasing inflammatory signaling, bringing the body closer to homeostasis. With the immune system being a vital and intricate part of the human body, it is easy to see how CBD may help regulate innate and adaptive immune responses and bring peace to the system as a whole.

Yet, we want to get into the specifics of how CBD really interacts with the immune system.


CBD acts as an immunosuppressive agent, tied closely with its anti-inflammatory activity, which helps downregulate overactive immune or autoimmune responses that play prominent roles in disease processes such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and many cancers or malignant conditions( 5). CBD is able to achieve immunosuppression, by binding CB2 receptors which are found on many cells throughout the immune system, directly causing cell death, inhibiting proliferation/recreations, decreasing immune chemical signalers, and upregulating T regulating cells.

CBD has also been shown to act as a modulator for the immune system by allowing proper migration, enhanced chemical messaging, and normalized maturation of immune cells shifting the balance from inflammatory cells to anti-inflammatory cells. This is known as the Th-1 to Th-2 balance, with Th-1 being anti-inflammatory, and when it is unbalanced it leads to chronic over-reactivity to the environment and also prevents individuals from properly combatting chronic infections that may be present in the body (4).

All this may not mean much to the average person, so let’s have a quick look at the specific disease process and immune responses in the body that are affected by CBD: (all information is in reference to Nichols and Kaplan’s article, “Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol”, 2020)

  • Alters lipid metabolism increasing anandamide (an endocannabinoid).
    • Enhanced endocannabinoid tone will achieve much of the immunosuppressive and immune regulating aspects related to CBD use. Calming down those overactive signals will allow the system to function optimally.
  • Immune regulation
    • Another mechanism by which CBD controls immune function is the induction of regulatory cells or T-reg cells by activating MDSC cells which suppress the function or response of T-cells involved in the immediate innate immune response.
  • Cell death/Apoptosis
    • Apoptosis otherwise known as normal programmed cell death is necessary from the proper function of the human body. If cells do not die when they are supposed to, old damaged malfunctioning cells begin to accumulate. This process can become uncontrolled without proper cell death signaling leading to the development of tumors or cancers. CBD has been shown as an effective agent in stimulating cell death via multiple pathways linked to white blood cells, spleen, and chemical messengers released in relation to harmful agents in mice and human models.
  • Asthma
    • Asthma can essentially be described as an overreactive immune system in the airways, that causes dramatic responses to potentially dangerous agents that make their way into the airway. This can include pollen, pollution, or actually microbes that pose a threat to the body. Regardless of the agent, the body mounts a massive response to the trigger that it experiences, and releases tons of inflammatory chemicals in the lungs causing them to swell making it difficult for individuals to breathe.
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis
    • Autoimmune hepatitis is, like all other diseases, and inflammatory process. CBD decreased over 8 major inflammatory messengers related to hepatitis and also suppresses the response of other white blood cells traveling to the liver to cause further inflammation. This means that the cyclical nature of further inflammation and immune activation can be halted, giving the body a break to heal itself.
  • Colitis
    • Known as inflammation of the colon, this is a highly inflammatory condition in the gut that can result from an imbalanced microbiome, decreased gut immune function, and many dietary factors. CBD has shown to decrease chemical messengers such as iNOS and IL-1B which as directly related to Colitis while increasing IL-10 known as more of an anti-inflammatory messenger. Colitis is a tough condition to treat and can wreak havoc on many individuals, CBD may offer a powerful tool in mitigating disease severity and duration.
  • HIV/Human Immuno-deficiency Virus
    • HIV is a virus that encodes itself into normal cells DNA, including white blood cells, changing the DNA of the which causes them to go into cell death eventually leading to an insufficiency in the number of white blood cells in the body. Then the disease comes to be known as AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. CBD has shown to decrease the amount of immune activation via HIV by suppressing a surface protein, CD38, and reducing the amount of inflammatory cell death occurring in white blood cells population. This may allow for white blood cell populations and immune function to be preserved over time.
  • Diabetes
    • Diabetes type 1 is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s own immune system destroys pancreatic cells that are responsible for the production of insulin. Without these cells, the body can longer bring sugar into its cells in order to metabolize it for use as energy leading to various long term tissue damage throughout the body over time. There have been a number of studies showing that CBD can benefit diabetes and its complications, much of that having to do with the reduction of IL-6 production, an inflammatory chemical messenger, in the pancreas.


Is CBD really good for immune function?

As one could surmise from the information in this article, CBD is not the best way to fight off an infection, or prevent someone from getting the bug that’s going around. There are of course tons of other natural agents that provide powerful immune-stimulating, immune-modulating, anti-microbial, and anti-viral properties but unfortunately, CBD is not in that category of herbal derived medicinal components. CBD is, however, a potent immunosuppressive and immune-modulating compound that shows therapeutic promise for many misunderstood and tough to treat disease processes.

Again, all immune system responses can be classified as inflammation, chronic inflammation means chronic disease and chronic disease means chronic inflammation. CBD combats these over-reactive, autoimmune, or inflammatory patterns related to immune dysfunction by directly affecting an enormous list of chemical messengers and cells.

Much like it calms the mind and the body, CBD allows the immune system to go from an overreactive supersensitive state to a more calm and regulated state. These breaks from constant inflammatory signals and immune activation allow the body to turn its attention to repairing the damage caused by the long-standing inflammation and activation. When the body has time to heal and repair its damaged systems it can further bolster its protection against infectious agents trying to get into the body, potentially preventing infections.

This does not mean CBD should be taken to prevent getting sick, as getting sick is a normal and necessary part of life. Allowing the body to build up its immune “memory” while fighting off a wide variety of microbes will further prepare it to fight off anything serious that may get into the body. What it does mean is that CBD can help treat chronic immune dysfunction that is leading to serious disease in the body.

Now more than ever, humans need a properly regulated immune system but our environments, food, and mental health have all caused shifts in immune function. With this, we see increased rates of chronic infections, gut microbiome imbalances, and widespread pandemics of new diseases. Yet, if humans being to live more in tune with nature and its natural processes the incidence of these diseases will surely decrease over time and our immune systems will thank us for the preventative measures that have been taken.



  1. Weiss, L., Zeira, M., Reich, S., Har-Noy, M., Mechoulam, R., Slavin, S., & Gallily, R. (2006). Cannabidiol lowers incidence of diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice. Autoimmunity, 39(2), 143-151.
  2. Kaplan, B. L., Springs, A. E., & Kaminski, N. E. (2008). The profile of immune modulation by cannabidiol (CBD) involves deregulation of nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT). Biochemical pharmacology, 76(6), 726-737.
  3. Nichols, J. M., & Kaplan, B. L. (2019). Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
  4. Weiss, L., Zeira, M., Reich, S., Har-Noy, M., Mechoulam, R., Slavin, S., & Gallily, R. (2006). Cannabidiol lowers incidence of diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice. Autoimmunity, 39(2), 143-151.
  5. Rieder, S. A., Chauhan, A., Singh, U., Nagarkatti, M., & Nagarkatti, P. (2010). Cannabinoid-induced apoptosis in immune cells as a pathway to immunosuppression. Immunobiology, 215(8), 598-605.


This article was contributed by Dr. Thomas Macsay

Dr. Thomas Macsay is a Naturopathic Doctor located in San Diego, CA with expertise in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), regenerative medicine, and a multitude of bodywork modalities . Thomas is passionate about herbalism and plant extraction, currently setting his sights on the sustainability, development, and execution of holistic products. You can find him @drmacsay on Instagram or send him an email with any inquiries at drm@orianwellness.com