How does CBD work in our body?
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By now we’ve all heard about CBD, or cannabidiol, and the many health benefits that it boasts, from reducing anxiety to improving the quality of your sleep. While it’s tempting to take the therapeutic claims at face value, it is imperative that we understand precisely how CBD works in our body. To better understand the effects of CBD, it’s helpful to begin by briefly examining the human body and the Endocannabinoid System in which CBD operates.
Discovered in the 1990s, the Endocannabinoid System or ECS for short, is a complex biological system in the human body that impacts several principal processes including pain, memory, mood, stress, immune system, sleep, and more. Much is still unknown about its application and its interactions, though research continues to expand our current understanding at a rapid rate. The ECS’s main function is to maintain bodily homeostasis—that is, physiological harmony in response to external factors such as physical or mental strain, which may negatively impact the body.
On a granular level, the ECS consists of three main components: endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors. The endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules that the body produces. Presently, experts have identified two key endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors and proteins throughout the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system in order to help keep internal functions running smoothly. Enzymes are tasked with breaking down endocannabinoids after they have carried out their function. The two chief enzymes responsible for this function are fatty acid amide hydrolase (which decompose AEA), and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (which decompose 2-AG). Finally, receptors exist throughout the body and are a substance that endocannabinoids bind to in order to signal to the ECS that it must take action in response to the aforementioned external forces of physical and mental stress. The two primary endocannabinoid receptors are CB1 receptors, which are found primarily in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, which are found primarily in the peripheral nervous system (especially immune cells).
So, how does CBD work in our body?
Your body naturally produces its own endocannabinoids such as Anandamide and 2-AG, just as it does with other nutrients. However, deficiencies and/or external stresses on your ECS such as environmental changes, mental and physical strain, will necessitate additional reinforcement. This is where CBD comes into play. Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD is a phytocannabinoid that also interacts with your ECS. Once CBD is in your system, your enzymes begin to break down the phytocannabinoid; this frees up the endocannabinoids that your body naturally produces to bind with receptors. Unlike THC, which interacts in the main with cannabinoid receptors, CBD does not bind itself to these receptors. Instead, CBD works by blocking the breakdown of your own endocannabinoids and instead attaching to cannabinoid receptors. Along with blocking the breakdown of your endocannabinoids, CBD can bind to non-cannabinoid receptors such as serotonin receptors (among others), which are known to influence pain, mood, and sleep.
According to Lotus Health:
“CBD modulates non cannabinoid receptors as well. It directly activates the 5hT (serotonin receptor and acts as an atypical antipsychotic), binds directly to TRPV1 (Pain, inflammation, hypothalamus control). It blocks GPR55 (a 3rd cannabinoid type receptor) which through a series of events, decreases the breakdown of bone, acts as an antiseptic, and prevents cancer cells from growing among other things. CBD also changes the shape of the CB1, preventing THC from directly binding to it. (This is why balanced strains of cannabis give less anxiety and paranoia; the CB1 receptors are not overstimulated by THC.)”
In addition to blocking the decomposition of endocannabinoids and binding to non-cannabinoid receptors, CBD has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and antioxidant properties.
CBD and Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s immune-response to injury or potentially harmful substances entering the body. This means that, although inflammation is perceived to be undesirable and even pathogenic, it is not inherently a negative reaction. When a foreign substance enters the body, inflammation effectively suffocates and eliminates it. In this way, the immune system initiates an inflammatory response in order to prevent illness via foreign bodies. Unfortunately, the immune system does not possess the perceptive capacity required to distinguish between benign and malignant stimuli. As a result, the body may induce an unnecessary inflammatory response.
When uncalled for, inflammation is just as destructive to vital tissue as it is to foreign harmful substances. Our health sometimes depends on our ability to fight off inflammation, and this is where non-inflammatory agents become highly beneficial and even necessary. Once an immune response is initiated, immune cells cluster in a specific location and begin to cause inflammation. By migrating the immune cells, CBD works in our body by combatting this inflammation. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD has been shown to protect the heart from inflammation induced vascular damage. Researchers have also studied the effects of CBD on acne and have found that it can be an effective treatment for inflamed acne.
CBD and Anxiety
Anxiety can be debilitating and affect various aspects of your life. There are several proven methods to managing anxiety. One such way is by using CBD for anxiety. Anxiety and depression are a sign of low serotonin levels, and as previously mentioned, CBD can interact and stimulate your serotonin receptors. CBD is also a neurogenesis stimulator. This is significant because the brain scans of those suffering from anxiety reveal a smaller hippocampus. This is because the neurons in that area are developing at a much slower rate, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. To reduce those feelings of anxiety and depression, CBD stimulates neuron regeneration in the hippocampus, similar to the same way that serotonin reuptake inhibitors work, such as Zoloft and Prozac. CBD also has proven benefits for those experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many studies, most recently in 2018, have found that Cannabidiol is a therapeutic alternative for combating PTSD—especially as it relates to symptoms like nightmares and replaying negative memories. The 2018 study looked at CBD as both a standalone treatment, as well as a complementary treatment to more traditional practices and medication such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
CBD and Antioxidants
Antioxidants play an important role in maintaining good health and robust biological functions so they are a vital part of a nutritious diet. An antioxidant is a natural substance which halts the chemical process of oxidation—a reaction which produces free radicals that eventually damage cells and can lead to illness and disease. Antioxidants work by neutralizing these harmful oxidizing agents from the bloodstream to effectively boost the health of cells and reduce the risk of disease development. Many studies have found strong links between reduced risk of several diseases including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Arthritis, and antioxidant rich diets. Although the body produces antioxidants naturally, often the amount that it produces is insufficient to combat excessive oxidative stress. In 1998, one of the first studies that documented the antioxidant properties of CBD was published. The study found that CBD contained more powerful antioxidants than both Vitamin E and C. As a neuroprotectant, CBD encourages the growth and steady development of new neurons which reduces damage to the brain and nervous system. Oxidative stress caused by traumatic blows, ischemia, and genetic disorders have been proven to cause temporary, and sometimes permanent, neural damage. However, CBD is able to protect against this damage and improve recovery.
We hope that this has helped clarify the ways in which CBD works in our body. Since both the effects and benefits of CBD is a newly emerging field of research it’s important to keep yourself up to date on new findings and information. As always, be sure to consult your health care provider before making any decisions. Stay healthy and diligent!
Written by: Rahaf Khalil