Come the spring months, you’ll meet two types of people: those who get enthusiastic about the heat, the upcoming holidays, flowers in the trees—and those who can’t stop complaining about their allergies. If you belong to the second group, this is a perfectly understandable reaction. Seasonal allergies can make it hard to go outside and enjoy the warmer months without sneezing and blowing your nose all the time. The good news is that CBD may be able to ease your allergic symptoms through its effect on the immune system. This article explores everything you need to know about how it works, and what it could do for you.
Understanding seasonal allergies
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, are a group of allergies that affect up to 8% of the U.S population and millions more across the globe. They happen when your immune system reacts to pollen from trees or flowers, triggering an allergic reaction. These allergies are a lot more likely to occur during spring and summer, or at any time when pollen is released into the air.
The common symptoms of seasonal allergies
If you suffer from hay fever, you’ll probably be aware of it straight away. Symptoms of this condition can manifest as sneezing when you go outside, having a stuffy nose or blocked sinuses, and feelings of itchiness around your eyes and nose.
In some people, symptoms can be more severe. For example, those who also suffer from asthma can suffer from coughing fits, wheezing and shortness of breath as a result of seasonal allergies.
Why do we get seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies don’t seem to make a lot of sense; pollen is a natural, harmless substance, so why would our bodies react to it so negatively?
Scientists believe that seasonal allergies may have a genetic component and that having a relative with hay fever can make you more likely to get it as well. Environmental factors certainly play a role as well. For example, the allergens that you’ve been exposed to in early childhood could predispose you to develop hay fever in adulthood. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about what causes the condition. What we do know is why our bodies react that way they do when we have hay fever.
People with hay fever or seasonal allergies have a slight malfunction in their immune system that makes it react to pollen as if it was a dangerous substance. When pollen particles enter their body, the immune system reacts by creating histamines, chemicals that help the body get rid of unwanted substances. Histamines are what make you itch, sneeze and cough. Their goal is to get that substance out of your body fast. The problem is that in the case of seasonal allergies, this reaction is completely disproportionate.
Treatment options for hay fever and seasonal allergies
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your first priority should be to avoid the substances that are causing an allergic reaction. This means staying indoors as much as possible, avoiding mowing grass or walking in nature, and washing your clothes thoroughly whenever you come back home from being outside.
However, because this strategy can be very limiting, there are also other ways to deal with hay fever. Depending on your condition, your doctor will be able to prescribe medication that helps to relieve your symptoms, such as antihistamine medication. Decongestant medication can help with your blocked sinuses. Nasal corticosteroids in the form of a spray can help with itchiness and a runny nose.
Seasonal allergies can be cured, but this often involves a long and difficult process.
The most common way to cure seasonal allergies is to desensitize yourself to the allergen by exposing yourself to tiny amounts of it. Treatment options include receiving injections of the allergen or taking very small amounts of the allergen in pill form each day. You have to keep doing this regularly for at least three years to see results. Some people find that their allergies go away completely following that course of treatment, but for many, it just makes their reaction lightly less harsh.
Can CBD help?
Yes, CBD has a couple of health benefits that can make it very useful for people with seasonal allergies. In particular, it can help to relieve pain in your sinuses and lessen your allergic reaction. But research on the topic shows that CBD may not be wholly responsible for the benefits of cannabis on allergies. Other cannabinoids and terpenes play an important role too.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the molecules found in the cannabis plant that we call “cannabinoids.” These molecules have a lot of benefits for our bodies and minds. By binding with receptors called CB1 and CB2, they can affect the working of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system regulates things like pain, inflammation, appetite, stress, mood, sleep and blood pressure.
In the case of CBD, it gives a boost to the whole endocannabinoid system when consumed. This gives it the ability to lower our levels of inflammation and lessen pain, as well as improve our mood and overall well-being.
As a result, CBD can be used to treat conditions as diverse as:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
- Social anxiety
Non-prescription CBD products are not currently approved by the FDA. However, research suggests that this molecule is effective in treating a number of conditions. We recommend consulting with a medical professional to see if prescription CBD could help your condition.
Thanks to a few of its properties, CBD could also be used to help people with seasonal allergies.
Is CBD an antihistamine?
Strictly speaking, CBD is not an antihistamine—or at least there isn’t enough research to show that it works as one.
However, there are a couple of ways in which it could reduce your allergic reactions. For example, CBD can decrease the body’s production of mast cells, as this 2005 study showed. And since mast cells are responsible for the release of histamines, the odds that CBD could lower your allergic reaction are high.
But CBD may not be the only cannabis molecule that reduces allergic reactions. A 2009 study found that a cannabis terpene called α-pinene improved allergic symptoms in mice with the equivalent of hay fever. Terpenes are the molecules in cannabis that give it its flavor and aroma. But, as we’re starting to find out, they also do a lot more than that. This study found that treating mice with pinene decreased irritation in their nose and eyes, as well as overall allergic symptoms. The scientists behind the experiment concluded that pinene showed promise as an anti-allergic agent and should be the subject of further research.
Can CBD clear your sinuses?
Research on the connection between CBD and histamine release is still severely limited. But this isn’t the only way CBD could help with the symptoms of hay fever.
At the root of seasonal allergy symptoms like an itchy nose and watery eyes is inflammation. When we have an allergic reaction, our immune system starts to work too hard, producing inflammation in different parts of the body.
As an anti-inflammatory substance, CBD can counterbalance the immune system’s reaction. This could give you relief from itchy eyes and nose and irritated sinuses.
How to use CBD for seasonal allergies
If you’re dealing with seasonal allergies and want to give CBD a try, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
The first is that you should avoid smoking CBD, as smoking has been shown to make allergic symptoms worse. Instead, you could use CBD edibles, CBD oil drops or even a CBD patch.
The second thing to keep in mind is that cannabis products with a broad spectrum of cannabis compounds will work best. As we’ve seen, certain terpenes show a lot of potential in decreasing allergic symptoms. But you won’t benefit from them if you choose a CBD isolate. Instead, choose a product that contains broad-spectrum CBD, like a tincture or certain edibles. To learn more about the difference between CBD isolate and broad-spectrum CBD, we encourage you to check out our guide .
When it comes to dosage, we recommend starting out with a low dose (below 10 mg / day) and working your way up. That’s because people with allergies can sometimes be more sensitive and are be more likely to have a negative reaction to CBD. If you want more precise information and advice on finding a dose that works for you, we encourage you to consult with a health professional who has a background in CBD or medical cannabis.
Seasonal allergies can make your life very difficult. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways you can treat them, or at least make them more manageable. CBD may be one of them. Although research on its benefits for allergies is still limited, we do know that its properties could help lower histamine and inflammation levels. More interestingly, certain cannabis terpenes found alongside CBD have been shown to reduce allergic symptoms in an animal model of hay fever. All these results are very promising and show a need for more studies on the effects of cannabis compounds on seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies facts and figures
Cannabis and allergic reactions
2005 study on the effects of CBD on mast cell production
2009 study on the effects of the terpene pinene on allergic symptoms
2003 study on the anti-inflammatory effects of topical CBD on mice
2010 review of studies on cannabinoids for inflammation