What to Know About CBD for Allergies
Cory Martin is the author of seven books including “Love Sick” a memoir about dating, life in Hollywood and dealing with MS. Her essays have appeared online with CNN, HuffPost, Everyday Health, Psychology Today, Folks, The Mighty, and more.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Jurairat J. Molina, MD, is a board-certified allergist who has been practicing in field of allergy and clinical immunology for the past two decades. She owns Corpus Christi Allergy Associates in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Allergies can greatly affect a person’s quality of life, causing symptoms like sneezing, congestion, rash, and swelling. These symptoms can disrupt your daily life, by causing discomfort, sleep loss, and lower productivity at work. If you experience any or all of these symptoms, it’s natural to want to seek relief.
People with allergies may consider CBD (cannabidiol) to help relieve their symptoms. While research into the effects of CBD on allergies is limited, there is evidence that the compound can help relieve pain and inflammation, and mitigate some of the body’s immune responses to allergens.
This article will discuss how CBD can help with allergies, the best types of CBD to use, and any side effects.
Verywell / Danie Drankwalter
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a role in many of the body’s systems and processes, including metabolism, immunity, and the central and peripheral nervous systems. The body produces cannabinoids that are received by cannabinoid receptors to keep the body functioning normally.
Cannabinoids help regulate the immune system by lowering inflammation in the body. When the body’s cannabinoid system is not working properly, inflammatory and immune-related disorders, such as allergies, can occur.
Because it’s a cannabinoid, CBD may be helpful in relieving allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, congestion, and runny nose.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD oil is derived from the cannabis sativa plant, otherwise known as marijuana. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the other cannabinoid compound derived from the cannabis plant, CBD is non-psychoactive.
While CBD and THC are the most commonly discussed compounds from the cannabis plant, more than 100 other cannabinoids have been identified.
CBD vs. Hemp Seed Oil
The cannabis sativa plant has been cultivated in two different ways: “drug hemp” (marijuana) and “industrial hemp” (hemp). Drug hemp contains high levels of THC, whereas industrial hemp has a THC level less than 0.3%.
Hemp plants grown for recreational or medicinal use have high THC and high CBD levels.
Industrial hemp is legal throughout the United States and is grown for fiber, paper, hemp seeds, construction materials, textiles, and hempseed oil.
Like CBD oil, hempseed oil has been touted for its health benefits. Hempseed oil is known for its nutritional value, as it contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hempseed oil also contains polyphenols, tocopherols, proteins, and carbohydrates, which have nutritional benefits.
While you may seek CBD or hemp to treat your allergies, be aware it’s possible to develop an allergy to cannabis itself. Hemp allergy is similar to other allergies, like pollen allergies. Symptoms can range from skin irritations, like rashes or hives, to respiratory afflictions such as asthma, congestion, and runny nose.
Though more research needs to be done, smoking marijuana or hemp may increase the likelihood of developing asthma and other allergic diseases. If you have allergic asthma, you may want to avoid smoking the compound.
Allergy Symptoms and Triggers
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance that is normally harmless in most people. Common allergens include, but are not limited to:
- Dust mites
- Pets and farm animals
- Insect stings and bites
- Contact allergens, such as metals for fragrance ingredients
Many allergies are triggered by situations and environmental factors, such as a bee sting or eating certain foods.
Seasonal allergies can be triggered by pollen in the air when plants are blooming. Pet allergies can be triggered upon entering someone’s home where there is pet dander in the air.
Any of these types of triggers can cause symptoms. Common allergy symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Runny nose, coughing, and sneezing
- Breathing problems
- Watery or swollen eyes
- Rash or hives
- Stomach or bowel problems
When to Seek Emergency Help
If you experience difficulty breathing or your throat begins to close or swell, call 911 immediately. This can be a sign of a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
CBD for Allergies
While research into the effects of CBD on allergies has been limited mainly to small studies and animal studies, there is promise that CBD can help mitigate or eliminate allergic symptoms and reactions.
CBD is known to work on one of the pathways of the ECS that produces histamine-activating cells in the body. There is some evidence that CBD could greatly reduce the amount of histamine produced in an allergic reaction, which would reduce congestion.
The ECS helps regulate and control immune function in the body, and more recent research suggests that the ECS also plays a role in maintaining skin health.
Some studies suggest that CBD applied directly to the skin can help with rashes and other inflammatory conditions of the skin, such as eczema, but further research is still needed.
What Are the Side Effects of CBD?
Studies have shown that CBD is relatively safe to consume, however these studies are limited. Further research is needed to determine the effects of CBD on the entire body and its effects over long-term consumption.
The most common side effects of CBD are:
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Mood changes and irritability
- Lower appetite and weight loss
Best CBD for Allergies
The most common methods for consuming CBD for allergies and inflammation are topical treatments, herbal extracts, and edibles. Choosing a method depends on the type of allergy symptom being treated.
For rashes and skin inflammation, a topical cream or ointment may be best. For hay fever and other full-body symptoms, an herbal extract, edible, or nasal spray might work best. A nasal CBD spray may be beneficial, as the lining of the nose is thin, and CBD can pass directly into the blood, which produces faster effects.
The other factor to consider is the type of CBD: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or an isolate.
- Full-spectrum CBDuses all extracts of the cannabis plant, which includes CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, and other cannabinoids. The THC concentration in full-spectrum is 0.3% or less.
- Broad-spectrum CBD contains CBD and other cannabinoids, but it has no THC.
- A CBD isolate is pure CBD with no other parts of the cannabis plant.
The “Entourage Effect”
Some evidence suggests that broad- or full-spectrum CBD produces better benefits, due to the synergistic effects of the other compounds within the spectrum, including THC. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
CBD dosage will depend on the delivery method chosen and what symptom is being treated.
Doses ranging from 300 mg to 600 mg have been shown to help treat anxiety disorders. Another study showed that a dosage of 25 mg helped improve poor sleep.
There is very little regulation on the dosing of CBD, so you may need to experiment until you find the right dose for your body and symptoms. You can also talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate dosing.
How to Buy CBD
Buying CBD will depend on where you live. In states where marijuana, and thus CBD derived from the “drug hemp,” is legal, you can find CBD at a dispensary. In states where marijuana is not legal, you will have to buy CBD that is derived from “industrial hemp.” As with all supplements, it is best to research the product to make sure it’s good quality.
A Word From Verywell
While much research still needs to be done on CBD and its effects, there is promise that it could be useful for treating allergy symptoms. If you are considering taking CBD to help alleviate symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider to discuss the best options. In the meantime, remember that there are many over-the-counter antihistamines that can help with seasonal and year-round allergies.
Frequently Asked Questions
CBD is not a decongestant, but it is theorized to work on the endocannabinoid system, which can reduce inflammation and congestion.
Using CBD for allergy treatment can be used the same way as other allergy medications, though it is important to note that the FDA has not approved CBD use for allergies. If you choose to try CBD to help manage your allergy symptoms, you can use a nasal spray, edible, or topical treatment.
Allergic asthma can worsen in people who are allergic to CBD, or the marijuana/hemp plants and their seeds. A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur.
Terpenes are compounds in plants that cause their fragrance. Cannabis is known for its fragrance and therefore its terpenes. Terpenes are found in full- and broad-spectrum CBD. In one study on the effects of CBD for epilepsy, it was discovered that the full- and broad-spectrum versions had better outcomes, thus suggesting that terpenes play an important part in CBD’s effectiveness.
CBD Allergies: Can You Have Allergic Reaction to CBD Oil (Itching & Rash)?
Allergies are adverse reactions of the immune system that are not triggered in healthy people. Symptoms of allergies include sniffling, watery eyes, itching, or asthma.
According to official statistics, allergies are the No. 6 cause of chronic illnesses in the United States. Hay fever affects roughly 19.9 adults, as reported in 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CBD is a phytochemical. In other words, it comes from plants — specifically, from cannabis plants.
Given this, it’s natural to wonder whether CBD oil, a product that contains over 400 phytochemicals aside from CBD, can trigger allergies.
Though there’s not much research regarding allergic reactions to CBD oil, the cannabis plant itself has been linked to allergies.
Today, we’ll elaborate on potential allergies to CBD oil, why they happen, what researchers are saying, and whether you can still use CBD if the full-spectrum oil causes you to experience the aforementioned pesky symptoms.
Allergies in the United States in Numbers
Over 50% of the U.S. population has allergies to at least one thing. Hay fever — allergic rhinitis — is the most common allergy, affecting between 10 and 30% of all American adults, and may affect up to 40% of children.
While there’s no cure for allergies, they can be effectively managed with proper nutrition, supplementation, and a healthy lifestyle. Of course, avoiding triggers is also a good strategy.
Some allergies are more severe than others and may require a complex treatment
Below we break down the mechanism of allergies.
A Brief Overview of Allergies and How They Work
Allergies are a common health problem. They manifest in itching, sneezing, a runny nose, droopy eyes, and sometimes difficulty breathing.
But what is the root of allergies? Where do they start?
The answer is: A compromised immune system.
The immune system controls allergic reactions. A properly functioning immune system can tell the difference between harmful and safe compounds to eliminate potential dangers. However, when it goes out of whack, it starts to identify benign substances as potential dangers — creating antibodies to attack these “irritants.”
In fact, the body releases antibodies every time a person is exposed to the allergen.
Histamine is the antibody with plant allergies like hay fever. The antihistamine medications work to prevent antibodies from causing damage to the immune system. Common antihistamine drugs include Claritin, which is available over the counter. CBD allergies fall into the category of plant allergies.
Food allergies are more difficult to treat. The immune system becomes aggressive against proteins in the food, triggering serious symptoms like anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis can be fatal if left without immediate help. Sufferers usually carry special pens with epinephrine to treat an allergic reaction once it begins.
In a 2009 study published in Immunobiology, the authors suggested that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC could take part in immunosuppressive processes (1). This means that they may block the reactions of the immune system against the triggers.
Does it mean you could use CBD oil for allergies directly as well as for preventative measures?
Not exactly, but we’ll get to that later on.
Some people are worried that CBD might cause allergies. Is this claim backed by any scientific evidence, or is it just a rumor?
Can You Be Allergic to CBD?
An allergy to cannabis is a real thing. By the same token, a person might be allergic to CBD. Inhaling, eating, or touching cannabis plants can cause allergic reactions due to contact with pollen. When you inhale that pollen, you may suffer from hay fever.
In a 2018 study, the research team found that people with allergies to mold, dust mites, cat dander, and plants, have a higher risk of developing an allergy to cannabis (2). However, this is the only study regarding this subject as of today. More research is needed to establish a clear link between cannabis and allergic reactions.
Since it’s possible to be allergic to cannabis if you’re allergic to pollen or mold, contaminants in CBD products should be the main concern for you.
When it comes to cannabinoids, things look quite similar. A 1971 study found that THC could produce an allergic reaction (3). CBD and THC have similar chemical structures, meaning that CBD also has the potential to trigger an allergy. However, it’s important to note that the side effects of CBD are different from allergic reactions. The study also didn’t focus specifically on CBD.
Common Allergic Reactions to CBD Oil
A CBD allergy can show up in a variety of ways. Two people may have completely different symptoms, so it can be tricky to distinguish between a CBD allergy from the mild side effects of CBD.
Potential adverse reactions to CBD include dizziness, dry mouth, lethargy, nausea, and diarrhea. These are not the symptoms of an allergy to CBD. Moreover, they are nearly nonexistent in normal doses.
CBD oil allergies have the following effects:
- Dry, Itchy, or Red Eyes: Although this side effect is associated with taking THC due to its ability to dilate blood vessels in the eyes, some users might experience this after taking CBD oil. If you have this kind of reaction, or your eyes are watering, it might be the symptom of a CBD allergy.
- Breathing Difficulty: If you have difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention. With CBD products, this side effect may stem from poor-quality products that contain dangerous additives or mold.
- Skin Irritations: when you use CBD topically, you may notice a rash or hives as the manifestation of your allergy to CBD. However, this could also be triggered by one of the many other ingredients in creams and gels, so make sure to read the list of ingredients carefully.
- Migraines: While some CBD users may experience a slight headache at higher doses, migraines are a severe symptom that can indicate an allergy to some of the compounds in CBD oil.
People who are allergic to CBD oil are advised to try CBD isolate instead of full-spectrum products. Full-spectrum CBD oils are made using the whole plant, so they contain cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, proteins, vitamins, trace minerals, and plant wax. As a result, there’s a higher risk of experiencing an allergic reaction.
It’s a good idea to try a few different CBD products with various spectra to determine which form of CBD works without triggering allergies. You should also check with a doctor to seek medical advice about what to do when the symptoms kick in.
Research on CBD Oil & Allergies
- Researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine found that about 20% of the 100 people they tested experienced allergic reactions to linalool, while 8% were allergic to limonene (4). These two molecules are commonly found in cannabis extracts such as CBD oil.
- In a letter entitled “Marijuana and stoned fruit,” written by doctors from the University of California, San Diego, and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, a 24-year-old male marijuana daily user had an anaphylactic reaction after eating yogurt with hemp seeds (5).
- A 2013 study from the Internal Archives of Allergy and Immunology examined 21 patients with food allergies for reactivity to cannabis lipid transfer proteins (LTP), which are alleged allergens (6). Twelve subjects were allergic to cannabis, and all 12 had more severe symptoms of food allergy than those who weren’t allergic to cannabis.
Can CBD Oil Help with Allergies?
1While research supporting the idea that CBD could alleviate allergies and their symptoms are limited, there are some studies regarding its general effects on inflammation, which is one of the body’s triggers of an allergic reaction.
In a 2011 research report published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the authors investigated the potential impact of CBD on various inflammatory conditions (7). George W. Booz, a professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, suggested in the report:
“Inflammation and oxidative stress are intimately involved in the genesis of many human diseases. Unraveling that relationship therapeutically has proven challenging, in part because inflammation and oxidative stress feed off each other. However, CBD would seem to be a promising starting point for further drug development given its antioxidant (although relatively modest) and anti-inflammatory actions on immune cells.”
According to the research team, there is no clinical evidence CBD oil could alleviate allergies, so while we have some laboratory studies suggesting anti-inflammatory effects exist, we need more longitudinal research to draw definitive conclusions.
Final Thoughts on CBD Allergies
If you want to minimize the risk of experiencing an allergic reaction to CBD, it’s best to purchase from a reputable brand that sells high-quality products. A lot of allergies caused by CBD oils appear to stem from unwanted substances such as contaminants, solvents, or plant residue. Always make sure to check for third-party lab reports when browsing different CBD products. It might be worth spending some extra time to ensure you get a decent product.
Right now, research on CBD allergies is in the early stage. As the number of CBD users grows, so will the data about potential allergic reactions. An allergy to CBD is extremely rare, but people with pre-existing allergies or other health conditions should take particular caution.