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There are many claims out there about cannabidiol (CBD). People swear that it helps with just about anything, including chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and even autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system doesn’t work as it should. Instead of working to fight invaders like bacteria and viruses, it attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation and other symptoms.

Some common autoimmune disorders include:

In this article, we look at whether CBD can treat symptoms of autoimmune diseases, as well as how to shop for a CBD product and what safety information to keep in mind.

While there’s some promising research out there on the benefits of CBD, you shouldn’t rely on CBD to treat an autoimmune disease. Traditional treatments will likely provide better results.

Still, some research suggests CBD may be useful for autoimmune diseases.

Immune suppressive and anti-inflammatory properties

Research reviews from 2020 and 2021 suggest that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, and that it may help control immune responses. Both of these properties would make it useful for people with autoimmune diseases. However, the reviews were based mainly on experimental animal studies.

Multiple sclerosis

Research into the effects of CBD on specific conditions, like MS, reveals that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive qualities may help with MS symptoms, but human evidence is limited. Anecdotally, some people with MS say cannabis and cannabinoids help them with symptoms like pain and spasticity.

There’s even a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Sativex, a 1-to-1 combination of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD that doctors prescribe to treat spasticity in people with MS. Research suggests that a 1-to-1 combination of CBD and THC is almost as effective as current treatments for MS, with fewer side effects. Cannabis may also help treat neuropathy-related pain in people with MS.

It should be noted, though, that THC has psychoactive properties and can cause cognitive impairment.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is something all humans have.

Experts think it plays a role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body but there’s a lot they still don’t know about how it works.

The ECS consists of endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. By binding to endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids produce certain effects like pain relief. Once the task is complete, and the endocannabinoids have served their purpose, enzymes break them down.

Research suggests that endocannabinoids also control immune system functions and that cannabinoids like THC and CBD may inhibit immune system responses by suppressing the activation of specific immune cells.

Additionally, the theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency suggests that conditions like fibromyalgia, migraine, and MS may occur because a person lacks endocannabinoids. This is why cannabis or CBD may help with symptoms of these inflammatory disorders.

There are three types of CBD:

  • Full-spectrum. Full-spectrum CBD contains all the compounds from the cannabis plant, THC included. Due to the entourage effect, which says that CBD works better with THC than alone, a full-spectrum product is more likely to produce noticeable results.
  • Broad-spectrum. Broad-spectrum CBD is THC-free, but it contains some cannabis plant compounds like terpenes.
  • Isolate. CBD isolate is a good choice for those who want to avoid THC. It contains no additional cannabis plant compounds, including THC. However, there’s always a chance that trace levels could remain in the final product, so it’s best to avoid CBD if you are drug-tested.

CBD also comes in different forms, including

Products taken by mouth, like capsules, tinctures, and gummies, are ideal if you’re searching for full-body effects.

If you have an autoimmune condition that causes pain in specific areas, like your joints, a cream or balm that you rub directly onto the skin may be a good choice.

Even though CBD is unlikely to cause significant side effects, beginners should start with a small dose.

Oils, capsules, and gummies

Choose a low-potency product with no more than 15 milligrams (mg) of CBD per gummy or capsule, or per milliliter (mL) of oil.

From there, if needed, you can work your way up to a high-potency product that meets your needs. High potency CBD oils have at least 50 mg of CBD per mL, while high-potency gummies and capsules will have at least 30 mg of CBD per piece.

Remember that when taking CBD orally, it can take time for your body to metabolize it. Wait a few hours before taking more.

Topicals

If you’re applying a topical product, follow manufacturer guidelines and apply more if you’re not feeling a difference after a few hours. Topical CBD products are unlikely to cause full-body side effects since they’re unlikely to get absorbed into your bloodstream. But they can still cause skin reactions.

Make sure to do a patch test before applying CBD topicals to a large area. To do this, apply a small amount of product and wait 24 hours to check for signs of irritation. Also be sure to check the ingredient list for potential allergens that may irritate your skin.

With plenty of products to choose from, it can be tough to make a decision. Here’s what to look for.

Third-party testing results

A quality brand will get its products tested by a reputable third-party lab. Look for an up-to-date certificate of analysis (COA) that shows CBD and THC levels and contaminant testing results. Comprehensive contaminant testing should include testing for mold, pesticides, and heavy metals.

Depending on the extraction method the brand uses, they may also provide residual solvent testing results.

Transparency

A good brand will be honest about how it makes its products. Look for brands that clearly outline where they get their hemp and how they manufacture their CBD.

Brand reputation

One way to check if a brand is solid is to browse the FDA’s warning letter database. This database contains a record of letters sent to companies that have been skirting the FDA’s rules.

Infractions may include:

  • making fraudulent claims
  • mislabeling products

Ingredients

If you’re looking for a topical product to help with pain, you may prefer a cream or balm with cooling or warming properties. If that’s the case, look for ingredients like arnica or menthol.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers CBD safe. But some people may experience mild side effects such as:

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • weight changes
  • appetite changes

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying CBD, especially if you’re taking any medications or supplements. That’s because CBD may interact with certain medications that carry a grapefruit warning.

Also, be careful when taking CBD with a high-fat meal. Research suggests that high-fat foods and meals can significantly increase CBD blood concentrations, increasing the likelihood of side effects.

Lastly, know that people who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t take CBD. And, with the exception of prescription Epidiolex — a medication prescribed for epilepsy — children shouldn’t take CBD.

Treatments for autoimmune diseases depend on the type of condition you have. Treatment may include:

While some people with autoimmune diseases may find CBD helpful for treating symptoms, traditional treatments are backed by a lot more research than CBD.

Don’t stop your current treatment without talking with your doctor first.

CBD isn’t a cure for autoimmune diseases. But some people with autoimmune conditions report it’s helpful for their symptoms.

As long as you talk with your doctor first, it’s probably OK to try CBD. Just be sure to start with a small dose and pay attention to how you feel when taking it.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.