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Can CBD Help With Acute Inflammation?

Jessica McKeil
this young woman has a sore wrist

Studies show cannabis can help various types of inflammation including acute inflammation, but more human studies need to be done

The number of monthly Google searches for “CBD and Inflammation” has risen one hundred percent since 2013. This remarkable trajectory demonstrates just how popular cannabidiol has become among patients of all sorts. But, the information we have about CBD and inflammation is still quite preliminary.

For example, can the research explain whether it’s best for acute inflammation or chronic? Is it best ingested or applied topically? CBD oil companies spend big to convince you that CBD is the cure-all for inflammatory diseases. But what do we really know?

A Note on the Study of CBD and Inflammation

Before reviewing the research, it’s worth mentioning something about the subjects of early research. In a 2015 piece, Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation, the authors summarized the phase of research quite concisely. In a table presented within the publication, the authors reviewed sixteen studies. Zero were on humans, two were on cultured cells (in-vitro), and the remaining fourteen were in rat or mouse models.

It’s worth remembering that “mice are not men,” and while these phases of research lay the groundwork for advanced phases of clinical studies, they might not always pan out the way patients hope.

With that important note out of the way, what has the research found through these preliminary phases of in-vivo and in-vitro studies?

acute inflammation isn't stopping this healthy older adult

How Does CBD Fight Inflammation?

To understand why scientists are pursuing CBD for the treatment of both chronic and acute inflammation, we must first understand the role inflammation plays in disease. As per a report published by the European Molecular Biology Organization (2012), “An increasing body of evidence shows that chronic inflammation causes and advances many common diseases.” This inflammatory theory of disease is gaining traction, and a new wave of pharmaceuticals targeting inflammation is under development. Scientists are exploring how anti-inflammatories may benefit a wide range of diseases like cancer, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, and infectious diseases.

Then there is the physiological mechanism of action for CBD. As a cannabinoid, CBD can influence the activity of the endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for many critical processes, one of which is the regulation of inflammation. Through an ability to communicate with the endocannabinoid receptors, CBD (at least in theory) can regulate inflammation.

According to early research, CBD lacks an affinity to either the CB1 receptor or the CB2 receptor. Instead, it is what researchers call “an inverse agonist at both CB1 and CB2 receptors.” If an agonist describes activation, then an inverse agonist describes inactivation.

Cannabidiol also influences the inner workings of the endocannabinoid system by impacting different biological chemicals and enzymes. These compounds then communicate with the endocannabinoid system. CBD either up-regulates or down-regulates these various compounds, which then impact the level of inflammatory response. CBD is essentially one (or two or three) steps removed from the two primary endocannabinoid receptors but still has an impact.

young woman nursing an injured wrist

How Does CBD Affect Acute Inflammation Specifically?

Acute inflammation is an immediate and short term response by the body to tissue damage, either external or internal. It has five key signs:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Loss of function
  • Swelling
  • Heat

If this acute inflammation continues long past the initial injury, it transforms into chronic inflammation. Long term, chronic inflammation is “a prolonged inflammatory response that involves a progressive change in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation. It is characterized by the simultaneous destruction and repair of the tissue from the inflammatory process.” Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases such as arthritis (including gout), asthma, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and more.

While there is an intense discussion about the benefits of CBD for chronic inflammation, what can CBD’s therapeutic value do for acute inflammation?

CBD For Acute Inflammation

Referring back to the study review Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation, the authors only detail a few studies which investigate CBD for acute inflammation.

The first study explored CBD and an analog in a mouse model of cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis. In this study, both compounds showed anti-inflammatory activity for the acute inflammation in the disease. In another study, researchers found CBD useful for the treatment of an acute lung injury in a mouse model. Both of these studies administered CBD via injections.

In a more recent paper, published by International Association for the Study of Pain (2017) scientists delivered topical applications of CBD to rats with a murine model of osteoporosis. After fourteen days of study, they concluded that CBD effectively reduced acute inflammation in the rat model of the disease.

acute inflammation might be slowing down this older adult, but she's in a medical professional's hands

What is the Best CBD Option for Acute Inflammation?

It’s still too soon to effectively translate these rat and mouse models of acute inflammation into similar results for humans. Plus, two out of the three studies detailed above were based on injecting CBD. This is a delivery method which is unheard of within the medicinal cannabis space today.

That said, there is a world of CBD capsules, CBD oils, CBD topicals, and just about any other formulation available today. Furthermore, despite the early stage of the research, many companies market their products as anti-inflammatories.

Several CBD brands have sponsored patient surveys about CBD use, including one by Care by Design in 2015. In this survey, close to twenty percent of respondents reported using CBD for inflammation. Between CBD brands and patients, there is no shortage of people claiming CBD does provide therapeutic relief for a variety of inflammatory systems.

Although there may not be any clinical study of CBD for acute inflammation, at least the research can confirm CBD is safe. A recent literature review published by the International Cannabinoid Research Society (2017), concluded CBD had a better safety profile than many pharmaceuticals. If patients choose to try CBD for chronic or acute inflammation, it seems relatively safe to experiment with.

acute inflammation hurting this young man as he grabs his back

Finding the Right CBD Product to Treat Acute Inflammation

Since acute inflammation is a symptom of many different health issues, not all CBD products will be appropriate. For example, topical CBD products like oils, balms, and creams may be best for skin irritations. Or possibly for acute inflammation within joints and muscles (as triggered by arthritis). Capsules, oils, and edibles might be better suited to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and other internal issues.

With where the research stands on CBD for inflammatory issues, it’s hard to say whether it’s best for chronic or acute inflammation. The focus of the preliminary work on the subject appears to be on inflammation as a symptom of chronic disease. In the few studies published so far on animal models of acute inflammation, the early results are positive. More research is needed to clarify CBD’s role as a future of treatment of both chronic and acute inflammation. So stay tuned.

Jessica McKeil
Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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