Spring is finally in full swing in the UK. But, for many, this time of year is clouded by the start of streaming, itchy eyes and running noses. Hay fever season is well and truly upon us.
If warmer temperatures leave you running for cover, you’re not alone. One in four people in the UK has hay fever. That’s roughly 16 million people – and a few million more tissues and antihistamines needed to rescue them from their sneezing.
With more and more people claiming that CBD can help with pretty much any ailment, some people swear by its ability to relieve symptoms of hay fever, but does the science agree?
Hay fever: an overview
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to pollen. Symptoms typically occur in the warmer months, between March and September, when the pollen count is at its highest. When these tiny particles come into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, it can cause a mild allergic reaction which results in symptoms such as:
- A runny or blocked nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
Although there is no cure or specific treatment for hay fever, there are several over-the-counter medications that can relieve symptoms. Antihistamines, in particular, are a popular way to manage allergies and hay fever, but their use is limited by unwanted side effects. These could include drowsiness, dry mouth, and blurred vision.
According to the NHS, hay fever symptoms can be reduced by wearing sunglasses, showering and vacuuming regularly, staying indoors whenever possible, and putting Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen.
Aside from these little tips and tricks, there is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that CBD could provide some added therapeutic relief for those who live with hay fever, without the side effects of antihistamines.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the major cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD is non-psychoactive so, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the plant’s mind-altering molecule – it cannot get you high. In recent years, CBD has taken the health and wellness scene by storm for its ability to provide some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, without the intoxicating effects.
In the form of Epidiolex, CBD is now an accepted treatment for rare forms of epilepsy. In recent years, scientists have begun to investigate CBD as a therapeutic tool in countless other health conditions, including anxiety and various inflammatory disorders.
How does it work?
CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell-signalling network that is responsible for supporting and coordinating countless biological functions. By regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, pain levels, immune health, and much more, the ECS strives to maintain our body’s biological stability.
Although the exact mechanisms of CBD’s action are still being investigated, CBD has been shown to indirectly modulate the activity of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. By subsequently altering the signalling of endocannabinoids, our body’s naturally-derived cannabinoids, this then helps to support the vast array of biological functions coordinated by the ECS. It is thought that this is why CBD appears to have such widespread benefits for our mental and physical health.
Does CBD relieve hay fever?
Research into the effects of CBD on allergy symptoms is considerably limited. Scientists haven’t explicitly looked into CBD and hay fever in human trials, but several animal model studies have yielded promising results.
CBD has a pronounced effect on the immune system; it has shown to be both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive. Since inflammation is the major underlying cause of allergic reactions, CBD may provide some relief from swelling, irritation, and other hay fever symptoms.
In a study published in 2013, researchers used various compounds to trigger the contraction of throat muscles in animals, a symptom that commonly occurs with hay fever. Although they found that CBD reduced airway obstruction in response to one antigen, these effects were not seen in response to histamine, a major driver of the body’s allergic response.
That said, one 2019 animal study did have a more promising outcome. Using a model of allergic asthma, researchers noted that CBD “decreased the inflammatory and remodelling processes in the model of allergic asthma.” If similar effects are seen in humans, CBD could be an effective way to relieve congestion during the hay fever months.
There is also some evidence to suggest that cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB1, are involved in suppressing the activity of mast cells, which are the immune cells responsible for releasing histamine.
CBD could therefore modulate the activity of mast cells and reduce the release of histamine. In theory, this could lessen the body’s allergic reaction to pollen, without the unwanted effects of current anti-histamine medicines. However, these effects have not yet been confirmed experimentally.
Any evidence in favour of using CBD to manage hay fever symptoms is based on speculation and anecdotal reports, not on clinical data. It may help those with allergies, but far more research is needed to verify this and to establish the most effective CBD dose for human benefit.
Is it safe?
Multiple studies have established that CBD is a safe and well-tolerated substance, even at high doses. In some people, CBD can have mild side effects, such as appetite changes, nausea, and fatigue. However, these effects are typically remedied with the correct dosage, so common guidance is to start low and build your dose up.
One thing to note, however, is that it’s also possible for people to develop an allergy to the cannabis plant itself. A cannabis allergy results in similar symptoms to hay fever, such as a runny nose, sneezing, watering eyes, and skin irritations. Intriguingly, people with pollen allergies are more likely to develop an allergy to cannabis, so this is something to watch out for if you’re looking to try CBD to manage hay fever symptoms.
CBD has also been shown to interact with some medications, so always consult a doctor or medical professional before adding CBD to your routine. Although it is not thought to be a harmful drug combination, taking CBD and antihistamines together could increase the risk of drowsiness. If you do decide to take CBD alongside antihistamines, you can reduce the risk of drug interactions by spacing out your doses throughout the day.
How to use CBD
Every CBD product will typically fall into one of three categories: CBD isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum CBD. The major difference between them is whether they contain other cannabis compounds and, consequently, the presence (or lack of) the entourage effect.
Broad- and full-spectrum products will likely contain terpenes, aromatic compounds that give the cannabis plant its characteristic smell and taste. One animal study has found that the terpene alpha-Pinene reduces allergy symptoms in rats, so it could be that these added compounds may provide additional benefit to those with hay fever.
As for deciding how to take your CBD, your options are far from limited. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Oils are one of the more popular ways to take CBD. By placing a few drops under the tongue, CBD quickly enters the bloodstream and has a rapid onset of action. It’s an efficient way to get your dose in, but keep in mind that CBD oil has a pretty strong taste!
If the taste of CBD oil isn’t for you, CBD-infused gummies are a great way to get your dose in. Gummies give you a consistent (and delicious!) daily dose of CBD that builds up in your system over time. They tend not to be as potent as oils, so you may need to up your dose if necessary.
Capsules are another way to experience the benefits of CBD oil without the taste. Since they need to go through the digestive system, the effects take slightly longer to kick in (between 30 minutes and 2 hours). They also need to be taken with food so that the CBD can be absorbed properly in the stomach.
CBD inhalers provide direct and immediate relief through the lungs, so they could be hugely beneficial to those with hay fever. Being a relatively new and innovative method of administration, there is very limited safety data for CBD inhalers. They are, however, believed to be safer than CBD vapes.
CBD nasal spray
If you’re looking for a product that specifically targets congestion, CBD nasal sprays can provide direct anti-inflammatory relief to your sinuses and airways. The CBD has a fast absorption rate when administered through the nose, so nasal sprays could provide almost immediate hay fever relief.
If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at our beginner’s guide to CBD.
Bethan is a content writer at leafie. As a BSc Neuroscience graduate from the University of Manchester, she’s fascinated by the human brain. She is a huge advocate for mental health, and her degree has opened her eyes to the therapeutic wonders of cannabinoids and psychedelics.