CBD for autoimmune disorders: efficacy and safety



There are many claims regarding cannabidiol (CBD). People swear it helps just about everything, including chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and even autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system does not work as it should. Instead of fighting off invaders like bacteria and viruses, it attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation and other symptoms.

Some common autoimmune disorders include:

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

While there is promising research on the benefits of CBD, you shouldn’t rely on CBD to treat autoimmune disease. Traditional treatments are likely to give better results.

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

Immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties

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

Multiple sclerosis

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

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

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

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

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

SEC is made up of endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. By binding to endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids produce certain effects such as pain relief. Once the task is done and the endocannabinoids have served their purpose, the enzymes break them down.

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

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

There are three types of CBD:

  • Full spectrum. Full Spectrum CBD contains all of the compounds of the cannabis plant, including THC. Due to the entourage effect, which says CBD works better with THC than on its own, a full spectrum product is more likely to produce noticeable results.
  • Broad spectrum. Broad-spectrum CBD is THC-free, but it does contain compounds from cannabis plants like terpenes.
  • Isolate. CBD isolate is a good choice for those who want to avoid THC. It does not contain any other cannabis plant compounds, including THC. However, there is always a chance that traces could remain in the final product, so it is best to avoid CBD if you are tested for it.

CBD also comes in different forms, including

Products taken by mouth, such as capsules, tinctures, and gummies, are ideal if you are looking for full-body effects.

If you have an autoimmune disease that causes pain in specific areas, such as your joints, a cream or balm that you rub directly on the skin may be a good choice.

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

Oils, capsules and gums

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

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

Keep in mind that when you take CBD by mouth, it may take time for your body to metabolize it. Wait a few hours before taking more.


If you are applying a topical product, follow the manufacturer’s directions and apply more if you don’t feel a difference after a few hours. Topical CBD products are unlikely to cause any side effects throughout the body, as they are unlikely to be absorbed into your bloodstream. But they can still cause skin reactions.

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

With a wide choice of products, it can be difficult to make a decision. Here’s what to look for.

Third-party test results

A quality brand will have its products tested by a reputable third-party laboratory. Look for an up-to-date Certificate of Analysis (COA) showing CBD and THC levels and contaminant test results. Comprehensive testing for contaminants should include testing for mold, pesticides, and heavy metals.

Depending on the extraction method used by the brand, they may also provide residual solvent test results.


A good brand will be honest about how they make their products. Look for brands that clearly state where they get their hemp and how they make their CBD.

Brand reputation

One way to check if a brand is strong is to browse through the warning letters database. This database contains a record of letters sent to companies that have bypassed FDA rules.

Violations can include:

  • make fraudulent claims
  • mislabel products


If you are looking for a topical product for pain relief, you may prefer a cream or balm with cooling or warming properties. If so, 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:

  • tired
  • diarrhea
  • weight changes
  • appetite changes

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying CBD, especially if you are taking any medications or supplements. This is because CBD can interact with certain drugs that carry a grapefruit warning.

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

Finally, be aware that people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take CBD. And, with the exception of prescription Epidiolex – a drug prescribed for epilepsy – children should not take CBD.

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

While some people with autoimmune diseases may find CBD helpful in treating symptoms, traditional treatments are supported by much more research than CBD.

Do not stop your current treatment without talking to your doctor first.

CBD is not a cure for autoimmune diseases. But some people with autoimmune diseases report that it is helpful for their symptoms.

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

Is CBD Legal? CBD products derived from hemp (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal at the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. CBD products derived from marijuana are illegal at the federal level, but are legal under certain state laws. Check the laws of your state and those of any place you travel. Keep in mind that non-prescription CBD products are not approved by the FDA and may be labeled inaccurately.

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


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