Mechanism behind CBD’s potent anti-inflammatory effects identified

A new study has identified the mechanism that makes all cannabinoids, but particularly CBD, effective at reducing inflammation. The discovery could lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases like asthma.

In recent years, cannabis has swiftly moved from being an outright illicit drug to one whose use has been sanctioned to treat a number of medical conditions. The plant contains bioactive terpenoids, collectively referred to as cannabinoids, which include cannabidiol (CBD), delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabigerol (CBG).

While the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids have been shown in previous studies, exactly how they exerted those effects remained unclear. Now, researchers from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, have identified the mechanism by which cannabinoids counter inflammation.

The researchers tested eight bioactive cannabinoids, including CBD, THC and CBG, to see how they interacted with key pro-inflammatory enzymes, and their effect on the production of lipid mediators (LMs), which regulate all stages of inflammation and can produce detrimental effects if they’re chronically produced.

“We found that all eight cannabinoids we studied had anti-inflammatory effects,” said Lukas Peltner, the study’s lead author. “All the compounds we studied were found to inhibit the formation of pro-inflammatory messenger substances in cells while enhancing the formation of inflammation-resolving substances.”

But the researchers found that, of all the cannabinoids tested, CBD was the most potent immune response regulator. They determined that it activated the 15-lipoxygenase (15-LOX) enzyme to produce specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), whose role is to terminate the inflammatory process and promote tissue regeneration and a return to homeostasis. It also suppressed the production of inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes.

These results were seen in cell cultures before being confirmed in experiments on mice with induced peritonitis.

“CBD thus induces a switch in the affected cells, so to speak, which steers the inflammatory process from the promoting to the inhibiting side,” said Paul Jordan, one of the study’s corresponding authors.

In addition to being a more potent anti-inflammatory than other cannabinoids, CBD does not produce a psychoactive effect like THC does. The researchers say their study could lead to new therapeutic strategies using CBD to treat inflammatory diseases such as asthma.