If you suffer from chronic nausea or pain, Crohn’s disease, or social anxiety, you’ve likely heard of CBD's wildly successful healing properties--but the magic doesn’t stop there. CBD has been proven to reduce inflammation, dramatically alleviate seizures, and has even been shown to slow the development of some cancers (more on that below).
The question is, how does CBD work?
What is CBD?
CBD, or Cannabidiol, is just one of the hundreds of naturally occurring chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in cannabis.
There are two primary strains of cannabis: C. Indica and C. Sativa. While they both contain CBD, Sativa’s cannabinoid profile is primarily dominated by THC, the psychoactive component associated with “getting high.”
On the other hand, Indica is much higher in CBD and some strains have almost no THC whatsoever. For information on how CBD is extracted from cannabis, and why some methods are better than others, check out our write up on extraction here.
What Does CBD Do to the Body?
Humans have been using cannabis for hundreds of years (maybe even as early as 2700 B.C., according to Chinese legend). In the 1800s, cannabis extracts were used to help with nausea and pain related to cholera. This led to over-the-counter sales of cannabis extracts as a panacea for a multitude of ailments.
A Legal Speedbump
The United States repealed Prohibition in the early 1930s, and bureaucratic do-gooders wasted little time targeting a new public enemy: marijuana. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act (yes, Marihuana Tax Act) is seen as the American government’s first step toward complete cannabis criminalization, since it raised impossible taxes in all directions on the helpful little plant.
The ultimate criminalization of cannabis stunted research into its--and CBD’s--profound effect on humans, but recent efforts to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use in the United States have reopened the doors to full-throttle investigation.
A Groundbreaking Discovery
In 1988, Allyn Howlett and William Devane discovered that the mammalian brain has specific receptors that are activated by cannabinoids, much like the opiate receptor discovered in 1973.
These cannabinoid receptors are actually the most abundant type of neuroreceptor in the mammalian body, found not only in the brain but also along the peripheral nervous system and in the immune system as well. As a whole, the system was named the endocannabinoid system. When you consider that this neurological network was basically tailor-made to process CBD, it’s not hard to see why CBD would have such powerful effects on the body.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
Once cannabinoid receptors were discovered, it didn’t take science very long to uncover the cannabinoids naturally produced by the mammalian body--termed endocannabinoids (endo- meaning within). (Not to be confused with phytocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids derived from plants.) After all, why would we have special receptors for an external substance?
The primary objective of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to maintain homeostasis within the body. This means that when we experience external stressors, the ECS activates to make sure our physiological processes remain consistent and balanced.
To keep the ship on course, the ECS must interact with other systems in the body that affect critical processes, including:
- temperature regulation
- sleep cycles
- female reproduction
- stress responses
- anxiety responses
There are two primary types of receptors in the ECS: CB1 and CB2. Understanding how CBD interacts with these receptors makes it easier to see why CBD seems to be an effective treatment for so many different disorders and illnesses.
CB1 receptors are found throughout the nervous system and are crucial for brain health. CB1 functions vary depending on where they’re found in the brain:
- Amygdala – Responses to stress, anxiety, pain, and fear
- Caudate Nucleus – Memory formation and learning
- Cerebral Cortex – Emotional responses and decision making
- Cerebellum – Motor control and physical coordination
- Globus Pallidus – Voluntary muscle control
- Hippocampus – Learning and memory
- Hypothalamus – Appetite and thermoregulation
- Substantia Nigra – Dopamine expression and pleasure reward center
CB1 receptors are also found throughout the rest of the body, although in lower concentrations than in the brain. In those parts of the ECS, CB1 receptors deal with female reproduction, digestion, and other essential functions.
The highest density of CB2 receptors can be found in the immune system, where they help to regulate the body’s response to injury and pathogens. CB2s also help moderate inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic illnesses.
How CBD Helps You Feel Better
There is still a lot of scientific research ongoing to understand how CBD works. However, the majority of scientific research seems to indicate the following:
CBD is a phytocannabinoid that increases your body’s natural endocannabinoid production by preventing your body from recycling what’s already there via reuptake inhibition. When a neuron (or group of neurons) becomes particularly mouthy, it destabilizes the body. To soothe it, partnering neurons will send out endocannabinoids. The body’s ability to release those neurochemicals plays a critical role in bringing neurochemistry back to homeostasis.
But wait, there’s more! CBD can also affect:
CBD is able to mimic the shape and activation properties of serotonin, which is your body’s natural feel-good neurotransmitter. CBD binds to specific serotonin receptors in the brain, which is why CBD is so good for treating anxiety.
If you’ve ever felt pain (and we’re sure you have), you can thank your TRPV1 receptors for delivering the message. The TRPV1 receptors’ job is to notify you of spikes in heat or pain sensations. Some studies show that CBD might have the power to desensitize these receptors, thus alleviating the perception of pain, but more research is necessary to be conclusive.
Anecdotal evidence of CBD’s positive effects on cancer patients abounds, but until recently, not many studies were conducted. Scientists and doctors are now recognizing that CBD’s ability to reduce the number of GPR55 receptors may potentially slow development of some cancers.
A study observing mice and pancreatic cancer reported that CBD, when combined with standard cancer treatments, extended survivability by 300%, compared to mice who received only chemotherapy.
While there are countless studies in progress trying to get to the bottom of why we’re so deeply affected by CBD, it can’t be denied that it has the power to curtail maladies and enhance our lives.
Just look at its resume: CBD has been scientifically proven to work as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-seizure medication, and an effective treatment for anxiety. Given that we didn’t know anything about the endocannabinoid system until 30 years ago...we (very likely) “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
If you’re ready to introduce high-quality CO2-extracted CBD into your daily supplement regimen, we’ve got you covered.
Questions? Drop us a line; we’re always happy to help.