Millions of Americans suffer from allergies and, for many, antihistamines are the medication of choice. However, more and more people are now turning to CBD oil to relieve the symptoms of this common problem.
But is CBD an antihistamine or does it work in some other way? Here’s all you need to know.
What is an Antihistamine?
An antihistamine is a drug which is primarily used to reduce the symptoms of allergies. However, antihistamines are versatile medications and can also aid sleep and relieve motion sickness.
Antihistamines work by blocking the activity of a chemical called histamine. Histamine is produced by immune cells as a natural reaction to injury or infection.
When histamine is released, it binds with receptors known as H1, H2, or H3 receptors. These receptors are found throughout the cardiovascular system, nervous system, digestive system, and smooth muscle.
When histamine binds with these receptors, it triggers a variety of physiological responses. These responses include the following:
- Mucus production
- Erythema (redness)
Many of these reactions are signs of inflammation. Although inflammation can be uncomfortable, it is a natural response to a potential threat.
When a foreign substance such as a virus or toxin enters the body, it needs to be removed. Histamine helps to facilitate the entire process and is a vital element of the body’s defenses.
However, sometimes the immune system becomes overly sensitive to harmless substances such as pollen or certain foods. Inflammation is generated unnecessarily, and the symptoms of allergies occur.
This situation is where antihistamines come in. These medications work by blocking H1 receptors so that histamine itself cannot bind with them. They stop inflammation in its tracks and thus relieve many of the most common allergy symptoms.
Types of Antihistamine
There are many different antihistamines available. The first examples were developed as early as 1944, and these are known as first-generation antihistamines. First-generation antihistamines include:
These antihistamines are useful in the treatment of a wide range of conditions. However, they are known for causing side effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty passing urine
- Blurred vision
For this reason, many people prefer newer drugs known as second-generation antihistamines. Second-generation antihistamines include:
These more modern antihistamines may still cause side effects, but the risk is significantly reduced.
Although second-generation antihistamines are generally well-tolerated, many people would prefer not to take pharmaceuticals on a daily basis. This is why natural remedies such as CBD are now becoming so popular.
So, is CBD an antihistamine? Let’s take a look.
Is CBD an Antihistamine?
CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural compound produced by the cannabis plant. In recent years, it has become well known for its potential health benefits. These benefits include relieving pain and anxiety, preventing seizures, and decreasing oxidative stress, among others.
However, CBD is perhaps best known for its anti-inflammatory properties. This has led many people to wonder whether CBD can be used in a similar way to antihistamines. But while it is true that both substances can reduce inflammation, they work in very different ways.
While antihistamines directly influence the histamine receptors of the immune system, CBD acts on another system entirely. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of cell receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors) and chemicals called endocannabinoids.
The ECS is distributed throughout the entire body, including the immune system. The primary type of receptor found on immune cells is CB2. CBD can bind with CB2 receptors where it acts as an inverse agonist.
When an inverse agonist binds with cell receptors, it stabilizes them and decreases their activity. When CBD interacts with CB2 receptors in this way, it regulates the production of cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers which contribute to the inflammatory response.
CBD is also thought to increase the availability of anandamide, the most abundant endocannabinoid. Studies such as this one by Rettori et al., published in Neuroimmunomodulation, have shown anandamide to have anti-inflammatory properties of its own.
It appears that this dual action on the immune system is what gives CBD its powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
CBD for Allergies
There is little research available specifically on CBD for allergies, with most studies focusing on its general anti-inflammatory effects. However, one paper by Vuolo et al. for the European Journal of Pharmacology investigated CBD for the treatment of allergic asthma in mice.
The researchers found that CBD reduced airway hyperactivity in mice regardless of dose. However, a higher dosage was required to decrease static lung elastance.
Unfortunately, dosing CBD is not a straightforward process. While some people may see benefits after a relatively low dose, others will need to take more to find relief. When using CBD oil, it is generally recommended that you start with the lowest possible dose and increase your intake gradually until you experience relief.
For more on this, check out our article CBD Dosage [The Complete Guide].
CBD for Sleep
Although antihistamines are usually associated with allergies, they are also a common ingredient in sleep aids. First-generation antihistamines such as diphenhydramine cause drowsiness as a side effect and have become popular with insomniacs.
CBD may offer a viable alternative for those who prefer a more natural option. A 2014 review in Current Psychiatry Reports suggests that CBD “may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia.”
Unlike some other sleep aids, CBD should not be habit-forming or cause issues such as grogginess in the morning. In fact, CBD may hold promise for excessive daytime sleepiness in itself, another advantage over traditional sleeping tablets.
CBD for Motion Sickness
Another common use of antihistamines is preventing motion sickness. And this is another area where CBD may help. Although studies specifically on CBD for motion sickness are lacking, there is evidence that the endocannabinoid system can be manipulated to reduce nausea and vomiting.
As discussed in a review for the British Journal of Pharmacology, most of the studies to date have been on animals. However, it appears that CBD and other cannabinoids do have a positive effect on these symptoms in humans too. So, if you suffer from motion sickness, CBD may be worth a try.
How to Use CBD for Allergies
There are several different ways to take CBD, including sublingual oils, capsules, edibles, vapes, and topical creams.
Oils, capsules, and edibles tend to take longer to work, but the effects may also last for longer. Therefore, these products may be good choices for anyone trying to manage allergies on a daily basis.
Vapes are much faster acting and could potentially be useful if you need immediate relief. However, vaping is associated with some health risks and may not be the best choice for anyone with respiratory issues.
Topicals are a good option if you suffer from rashes as they deliver CBD directly to the area where it is needed most. They may also help to relieve insect bites or stings, another problem for which antihistamines are commonly used.
Finally, a modern innovation that may be of interest to allergy sufferers is CBD nasal spray. Like topical cream, a nasal spray can deliver CBD straight to the affected area. This product could potentially reduce inflammation of the nasal passages and relieve symptoms such as sneezing and mucus production.
To learn more, check out our related article CBD Therapy: Which Is Best for You?
Can You Use CBD and Antihistamines Together?
If you are seeking an effective way to manage allergies, you may be wondering whether it is safe to take CBD and antihistamines together.
Although CBD is generally considered safe, it can interact with other medications. You should discuss using CBD with your physician if you take any other medicines, including antihistamines.
They will confirm whether it is safe for you to use CBD and monitor your condition if necessary. It is also a good idea to consult your doctor if you intend to use CBD for any ongoing medical complaint.
Is CBD Oil an Antihistamine? Final Thoughts
Antihistamines and CBD oil both have the potential to relieve allergies thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects. They may also both benefit other conditions such as sleep disorders and nausea/motion sickness.
However, despite these similarities, the two substances work in very different ways. Antihistamines block the action of histamine, while CBD influences the endocannabinoid system of the body.
There is still plenty more research to be done regarding the specific benefits of CBD for allergies, sleep, and nausea. But what we have already discovered suggests that it holds great promise. So, while CBD is not an antihistamine as such, it could still be worth a try.