Full Spectrum Hemp for Inflammation: How Does It Work?
CBD is known to possess potent anti-inflammatory properties (1). But, does it really work?
Science points to several mechanisms by which not only CBD but the many other components of the hemp plant lower inflammation in the body.
This article will go in-depth on what inflammation is, why its problematic, and how full spectrum hemp oil lowers inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the innate immune response of the body. Think: increased blood flow, swelling, and redness.
It involves the secretion of pro-inflammatory molecules that kill pathogenic invaders, heal wounds, and initiate allergic responses.
The immune system can be generally characterized as three arms working together. These arms are called Th1, Th2, and Th17 (2). Each arm has its own unique influence on the production of pro-inflammatory mediators.
Specifically, the Th1 and Th17 arms produce more pro-inflammatory molecules designed to destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other invaders. Conversely, the Th2 arm produces more anti-inflammatory molecules and is responsible for initiating wound healing.
When balanced, the Th1 and Th17 arms get rid of invaders and then downregulate to allow Th2 to come in and heal the wounds. This is called acute inflammation — inflammation does its job and then resolves itself.
When things go awry is when the immune responses polarize towards one specific arm. For example, a polarization to Th1 or Th17 can lead to unhealthy, dysfunctional immune responses whereas a Th2 polarization can impair your ability to fight infections.
Th1 and Th17 polarization might also be termed as chronic inflammation, where Th2 cannot effectively counteract the inflammatory response. This leads to sustained inflammatory responses.
The production of inflammatory molecules is also regulated by other molecular signaling pathways in the body. We’ll discuss the details of full spectrum hemp for inflammation below.
Why Is Inflammation Bad?
So, why is inflammation so bad, then?
Acute inflammation is necessary for fighting infections, however, chronic inflammation leads to uncontrolled cell damage.
Cumulative cell damage leads to tissue damage, which can cause the development of adverse downstream issues. For example, conditions like cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney injury, liver cell damage, and lung fibrosis are mediated by inflammation (3).
In an effort to prolong our life, prevent disease, and improve overall health, research suggests it’s paramount that we avoid inflammation and actively use tools to reduce it.
How to Lower Inflammation Naturally: Full Spectrum Hemp Cannabinoids and More
In the body, there are a group of receptors called the endocannabinoid system, distributed throughout many types of cells and various tissues (4). This system is made up predominantly of two receptors: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system (CNS). A smaller amount of CB2 receptors can also be found in the CNS, but, most CB2 receptors are concentrated in the immune system. Although, it should be noted that CB1 does influence the immune system in specific ways. (More on this later.)
The body makes two of its own cannabinoids called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), along with other fatty substances that bind to and modulate these endocannabinoid system receptors. These naturally-produced cannabinoids help protect against inflammation.
However, it’s likely that the levels of anandamide and 2-AG aren’t concentrated enough to have therapeutic effects in the presence of chronic inflammation.
Enter: phytocannabinoids (i.e. CBD) and other compounds from the industrial hemp plant.
The hemp plant, contrastingly to marijuana, is bred to have extremely low levels of THC. The resulting hemp extracts contain less than 0.3% THC, as per the legal limits set by the US government.
Extraction of this hemp plant allows us to concentrate hemp’s phytocannabinoids, namely CBD (undeniably the most well-known), CBG, CBV, CBN, and CBC. These compounds, each with their own unique, powerful properties, bind to and regulate the activity of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They lower inflammation synergistically, working more powerfully when present with hemp’s natural terpenes, lipids, antioxidants, and sterols in a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect (5).
The regulation of these CB1 and CB2 receptors can have different effects on the body depending on the type of cell environment they are in. Scientists have begun to connect the dots between these receptors and how they interact with cannabinoids found in hemp to lower inflammation. Cannabinoids may also lower inflammation in ways that don’t involve the endocannabinoid receptors.
These are explained in the sections below.
How Cannabinoids Lower Inflammation
There are various signaling pathways that can trigger the downregulating of inflammatory molecule production.
Each hemp cannabinoid has its own unique effect on the endocannabinoid receptors, leading to an overall beneficial effect on inflammation levels when used together in a hemp extract.
Inhibition of COX Enzymes
COX enzymes are probably one of the most widely known enzymes that contribute to levels of inflammation.
COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes interact with a fatty acid in the body called arachidonic acid (AA). These enzymes convert AA into the precursor for every prostaglandin in the body, a pro-inflammatory molecule (6).
You might have heard of these enzymes before. They’re the target of a class of drugs called NSAIDs, OTC drugs that block the activity of COX enzymes and are commonly used for mild to moderate pain.
Like NSAIDs, CBD and the other cannabinoids in full spectrum hemp for inflammation has been shown to target these enzymes, too.
In one cell culture study, researchers observed the effects of hemp cannabinoids on the activity of COX enzymes (7). All of the cannabinoids inhibited COX-1 more effectively than COX-2, many with 100% inhibition. The COX-2 inhibition followed closely behind with most cannabinoids.
These results indicate that phytocannabinoids may lower inflammation by reducing COX activity.
Interestingly, CBD activated COX-2 enzymes instead of downregulating their activity. However, it should be noted that this might not translate to how it interacts in the setting of a human body.
Here’s why: CBD actually has a weak affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, scientists have attributed CBD’s beneficial effects to its ability to upregulate the activity of the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide (8). This means that while CBD may have a seemingly negative effect on COX-2 enzymes within cell cultures that don’t produce anandamide, this may not be true in the human body.
Like AA, anandamide interacts with COX enzymes. As a result, they produce novel prostaglandin-like molecules called prostamides (9). They have much lower activity than the standard prostaglandins derived from AA.
This suggests that, by increasing anandamide activity, CBD may not directly inhibit COX enzymes to reduce prostaglandin production. Instead, it may increase the propensity of the COX enzymes to replace some of its pro-inflammatory prostaglandin production with less-inflammatory prostamides.
Because other cannabinoids besides CBD seem to reduce COX activity more effectively, it’s best to use a full spectrum hemp extract for inflammation that includes all the hemp cannabinoids.
Prevention of NF-κB Activation
NF-κB is a transcription factor found inside cells. It is responsible for regulating DNA production.
When activated, NF-κB influences DNA production to favor the expression of genes that are responsible for creating inflammatory molecules (10).
Essentially, NF-κB activation means more inflammation. So, preventing the activation of NF-κB reduces inflammation.
This is also enhanced by the ability of an anti-inflammatory hemp sterol, β-Sitosterol, to prevent its activation. This has been observed in both animal models and human cell culture studies (14, 15, 16).
Additionally, apigenin, a flavonoid in hemp, inhibits NF-κB activity (17).
Considering these observations in research, it’s clear that utilizing all the components of the hemp plant, as in full spectrum hemp for inflammation, is the most effective when down-regulating NF-κB activity.
Cannabinoid Receptors, Th1/Th2 Balance, and Stabilization of Mast Cells
CB2 receptors are concentrated within the immune system. CB1 receptors also play a smaller role in immune system regulation.
Research indicates that activation of both CB1 and CB2 receptors leads to the suppression of the Th1 immune response (21). Studies propose that these receptors instead shift the immune response to favor the anti-inflammatory Th2 arm.
Beyond the general anti-inflammatory nature of the Th2 immune response, Th2 molecules specifically stabilize mast cells (22). Mast cells are cells of the immune system that are responsible for releasing multiple pro-inflammatory mediators. They are well-known contributors to chronic inflammation.
Stabilizing mast cells is an integral part of promoting healthy inflammatory responses.
By activating endocannabinoid receptors that shift the immune response to Th2, hemp cannabinoids may promote mast cell stabilization.
Interestingly, mast cells also express CB1 and CB2 receptors (23). When activated by hemp cannabinoids, it initiates signaling that suppresses mast cell activation.
Cannabinoids might also impact mast cell activation through another receptor: PPARγ. CBD is an agonist of the PPARγ receptor, meaning it enhances its activity (24). PPARγ agonists have been shown to suppress mast cell activation in animal cell culture studies (25).
These findings were mirrored by an animal model study of sickle cell anemia, where activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors resulted in suppression of mast cell activation (26).
The synergistic activity of hemp cannabinoids in activating CB1, CB2, and PPARγ receptors to shift the immune response to Th2 and simultaneously suppress mast cell activation is a promising contributor to lowered inflammation.
Putting the Pieces Together: Opt for Full Spectrum Hemp Products for Reducing Inflammation
The full spectrum of hemp cannabinoids along with its other beneficial terpenes, lipids, antioxidants, and sterols work together to effectively lower inflammation. They accomplish this via a myriad of molecular signaling pathways.
Specifically, full spectrum hemp extracts for inflammation provide a concentrated dosage that includes all of these beneficial compounds as opposed to isolating just CBD. For this reason, full spectrum hemp oil high in CBD is the most beneficial tool to use to promote healthy inflammatory responses.
We are only just beginning to understand the many medicinal properties on the hemp plant, but certainly, its powerful anti-inflammatory mechanisms are one of its shining stars.
At Phytologica, we take the utmost care to provide pure full spectrum hemp products free of toxic additives, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, and other residues that are harmful to your body. Our concentrated CBD products are extracted from the industrial hemp plant using Supercritical CO2 extraction, chromatography, and cold purification to provide THC-free, CBD-rich products. These methods preserve the full spectrum of beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes, lipids, antioxidants, and sterols that result in the most anti-inflammatory effect.