Can CBD help you fight the CoronaVirus and support the Immune System?
The Corona Virus, CBD & the Immune System
The coronavirus is a new respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan, China, at the beginning of December 2019. Now officially named Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by the World Health Organization (WHO), it has since then spread to over 100 countries with Europe now being the epicentre and the outbreak now being declared a pandemic.
Those who are infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms, with many not even knowing they are carrying the disease because symptoms are so similar to a cold or flu. Symptoms include fever, dry coughs and shortness of breath, however, the WHO warned that less common symptoms may also include aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.
Public health officials around the world still trying to understand how to deal with the situation, but for now, the most they can do is provide recommendations and updates as they learn more. These constant updates, news reports and alerts are necessary and well-intentioned. However, constantly hearing how bad the coronavirus is and how much worse the COVID-19 pandemic can get leaves many people concerned, even fearful.
This leaves many people asking if there is more they can do than just follow the general safety guidelines and common sense? And does CBD have the potential to help support immune function and immune response? In this article, we investigate the connection between the endocannabinoid system and the immune system and how cannabidiol (CBD) can potentially support immune function.
The Immune System and How It Works
The immune system is the body’s built-in defence system that fights a constant onslaught of pathogens like bacteria, fungi and viruses intent on invading the body. Once inside, they can wreak havoc on a range of biological and physiological systems, and cause a range of symptoms, diseases and conditions that can range from mild and uncomfortable, to deadly.
White blood cells, or leukocytes, are one important component of the immune system, and they play a key role in helping defend the body against infection. They do this by detecting and destroying foreign bodies and organisms. White blood cells come in two different types;
1. Lymphocytes, of which there are two types: B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. Lymphocytes destroy pathogens and modulate immunity by creating antibodies that will trigger future immune responses against future infections.
2. Phagocytes come in several types including neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages and mast cells. Phagocytes ingest and digest foreign particles, pathogens, and dead or dying cells, thus fighting off infections.
However, the immune system is also made up of a complex network of other components. These include:
- Other types of immune cells including dendritic cells, granulocytes and lymphoid cells
- Organs such as the spleen and thymus
- A range of biological and physiological systems like the lymphatic system and the endocannabinoid system
These all work together to keep the body healthy.
The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in the Immune System
As mentioned, one physiological system that is intricately intertwined with and plays a vital role in the functioning of the immune system, is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is primarily made up of endogenous ligands and protein receptors but also involve other proteins and metabolic enzymes that play a role in signalling and metabolic synthesis.
The ECS’s endogenous protein ligands are called endocannabinoids and consist of anandamide and 2-AG. Endocannabinoids are a type of retrograde neurotransmitter that has the ability to travel backwards across the synapses of receptors, thereby modulating cell activity. Because of this, the ECS is considered a homeostatic regulator that modulates and controls various physiological processes and continually works to maintain a state of homeostasis.
The ECS also contains cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 receptors that are the two primary receptor proteins in the ECS. Although CB-1 receptors are mainly located in the brain and central nervous system. However, CB1 receptors have also been found in immune cells, with several studies indicating that activation of CB1 receptors may also be linked to CB-mediated alterations of immune cell reactivity. However, when it comes to the immune system, CB-2 receptors are the primary cannabinoid receptor. They are most abundantly found in the immune system and are also present in the spleen, tonsils, and thymus glands. Similarly, CB2 receptors are also present in immune cells, including macrophages and leucocytes.
The Role of Endocannabinoids and CB2 Receptors in the Immune System
Scientists believe that the immediate effective action of endocannabinoids on immune functions is due to immune cells and CB2 receptors being located throughout the body at localized sites, but also in the peripheral (PNS) and central nervous systems (CNS).
For instance, endocannabinoids have been identified in immune cells such as monocytes, macrophages, basophils, lymphocytes, and dendritic cells. Likewise, 2-AG is considered being the functionally relevant endocannabinoid linked to CB2, while anandamide has been linked to the modulation of immune function. More specifically, both endocannabinoids do this in a biphasic manner, meaning that they could have both an immunosuppressant as well as an immunopotentiating effect.
Endocannabinoids can also act directly on immune cells via the CB2 receptors that scientist believe are a primary therapeutic target for immune system disorders and when activated, creates an immunomodulatory effect.
Similarly, CB2 receptors are thought to be involved with immune function and response, cell death, cell migration during tissue development as well as the regulating inflammatory responses. Several studies have now shown that CB2 receptors have an effect on immune responses via activation of immune cells including the T-cells, B-cells, macrophages and dendritic cells responsible for recognizing, destroying and processing of antigen material.
This is highly suggestive of a complex and intricate interplay between the ECS and the immune system in which endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors play a key role in maintaining the overall balance and “fine tuning” of immune function and response.
How CBD influence the Immune System
Although the research is limited, scientists know that plant cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) can impact disease resistance by interacting the endocannabinoid system. Some studies suggest that THC, in particular, may actually be harmful in certain viral infections because it binds to CB2 receptors, diminishing immune responses.
However, unlike THC that has a strong binding affinity on both CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD does not. Instead, CBD’s interactions with the ECS are through indirect actions, including activating the activation of TRPV1 Receptors as well as FAAH inhibition.
FAAH inhibition results in higher levels of anandamide and 2-AG, both of which have been implicated in maintaining homeostasis and healthy immune function via the modulation of the ECS. Similarly, TRPV1 receptors have an extensive expression in the neuro-immune axis, especially in the central immune cells. Scientists think that activation of TRPV1 receptors enhances immune response to pathogenic and other challenges through cytokines and chemokines in the CNS.
The implications are that CBD has the potential to support immune system function in two main ways. Firstly, by supporting the homeostatic regulatory function of the ECS and maintaining healthy immune function. And secondly, by activating TRPV1 receptors and thus enhancing immune response to pathophysiological challenges.
Can CBD help for COVID-19
What does all of this mean in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic? Can CBD potentially help support immune function, thus increasing the odds in helping to fight off infection? Or once infected, can CBD aid with, and maybe even speed up recovery?
The answer is simple that we don’t know. Because it is so new, COVID-19 is largely unstudied and we just don’t know that much about the disease itself, its progression, the various risk factors and what can be done to treat it.
Similarly, more research is needed to fully understand how cannabinoids like CBD interact with the body, the ECS and the immune system. And just like endocannabinoids, CBD also presents with biphasic effects, with different dosages eliciting different physiological responses.
However, from what is understood scientists know that CBD interacts with the ECS that will also have a direct effect on the immune system. There is a body of new research as well as mounting anecdotal evidence that indicates that CBD has an adaptive and immune system and response modulating effect that can potentially be helpful in immune system support.
CBD might also potentially be helpful in aiding with symptom relief. CBD is well known for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties that may help reduce body aches, ease inflammation of the airways, and help induce sleep to help during recovery. Likewise, CBD may also have anti-viral properties, although definitive clinical evidence is still lacking.