CBD Effects on the Brain
Posted on August 15th, 2020
One of the most recent products to gain popularity in the market is CBD. The CBD industry has continued to grow at an astonishing rate since the emergence of its potential benefits in various conditions. Scientists worldwide have been hard at work researching and studying the mechanisms at play between CBD and the human body.
And study hard they have. Over the last decade, there have been several reports and peer-reviewed articles on CBD and its effects on the human body, including the brain. And while there’s still much to be discovered to fully understand this fantastic byproduct of the cannabis plant, we’ve certainly learned a lot. Dramatic policy changes have followed this understanding and acceptance of CBD. Cannabidiol derived from industrial hemp is now legal in the U.S. – but individual states have the final say – and most European countries, including Austria, UK, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Frances, just to mention a few.
However, while there’s evidence suggesting that cannabidiol may be beneficial to various health conditions such as childhood epilepsy, depression, and anxiety, there are still many questions regarding CBD and its interaction with the brain and the nervous system. People want to know precisely how cannabidiol interacts with the brain, if it’s safe, and the potential benefits.
That’s what this article is going to delve into. But first, let’s lay some groundwork for you to understand exactly how CBD affects the brain.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is one of the most prevalent cannabinoid molecules of cannabis, second only to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Despite being chemical cousins, CBD stands out because, unlike THC, cannabidiol does not cause a high. It does not exhibit any effects indicative of potential dependence, and more importantly, displays a wide range of potential health benefits. Some of these benefits may include helping alleviate pain, inflammation, seizures, and symptoms of anxiety.
Understanding Receptor Systems in the Brain
To understand the effects of CBD on the brain, you must first understand the workings of receptor systems in the brain.
The brain contains neurons, which connect to other structures referred to as synapses. Synapses are junctions or sites between two nerve cells across which neurons communicate to one another by diffusion of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. A neuron’s sensitivity to specific neurotransmitters depends on whether or not the said neuron contains a receptor that ‘fits’ that neurotransmitters. This is similar to how a key fits into a lock. Neurons contain many receptors, which allows them to respond to some but not all neurotransmitters. Therefore, if a neuron contains receptors that ‘fit’ a particular neurotransmitter, then it can respond directly to that transmitter. Otherwise, they normally can’t.
Brain receptors are known to be sensitive to chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) produced within the brain like serotonin. And also to those produced from the outside like CBD, CBN, and THC. So when you take CBD oil, you’re allowing phytocannabinoids (in this case, CBD) to travel through your bloodstream, and finally enter your brain. Once CBD gets to your brain, it influences brain activity by interacting with receptors found on neurons. But it doesn’t interact with all neurons, just the once that have appropriate receptors.
Note: Although CBD is a cannabinoid, it might be able to interact with other receptor systems outside the endocannabinoid system when needed.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
If you’ve been doing some research on CBD, you’ve probably come across the term endocannabinoid system. CBD and other cannabinoids are able to interact with the body through the endocannabinoid system. It’s safe to say that the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is the bedrock to understanding how the human body and brain processes cannabinoids. And by looking at the ECS, you can gain insight into what CBD does to your brain.
So, What Is It, Exactly?
The endocannabinoid system is a physiological system in humans and a variety of other mammals. The ECS is made up of cannabinoid receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids, which help maintain the body’s homeostasis (balance).
The endocannabinoid system is present in everyone’s body, even those who have never consumed cannabis before. That means you have endogenous cannabinoids (made naturally within the body) such as 2-AG and anandamide and cannabinoid receptors. These cannabinoids and receptors are found throughout your body, including organs, connective tissues, brain, nerves, and even the glands. The ECS promotes homeostasis at the system and cellular level. Therefore, if an external force, such as pain from a wound, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your endocannabinoid system steps in to return your body to its ideal state.
The ECS is responsible for helping to regulate pain perception, memory, brain development, metabolism, sleep, pleasure, sensory processing, and many others!
So, How Does the ECS Work?
As aforementioned, the ECS is made up of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids are small molecules that are naturally produced by your body. Endogenous cannabinoids can bind to cannabinoid receptors – a fancy way of saying they can interact and stimulate cannabinoid receptors – and transmit information to a range of cell types about changing conditions inside the cell.
The two primary cannabinoid receptors are:
- CB-1 Receptors: mostly found in glands, gonads, connective tissues, and the central nervous system
- CB-2 Receptors: mostly found in the body’s peripheral nervous system, particularly the immune system
Additionally, enzymes in the ECS can produce, regulate, and reduce endocannabinoids when required.
Through this interaction between endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoid system is thought to regulate pain, inflammation, and immune responses, which explains the sudden interest in how CBD affects the ECS.
What Are the Effects of CBD on Receptors of the Endocannabinoid System?
Now that you have a better understanding of the ECS and cannabinoid receptors, it’s time to explore how CBD interreacts with this system and how this interaction may relate to your health.
Similar to endocannabinoids, exogenous or plant-derived cannabinoids can interact with cannabinoid receptors. Phytocannabinoids (plant-derived) may even increase the presence of cannabinoids in your body, which can help promote activity within the ECS. The most well known and studied out of the about 104 phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD (cannabinol).
Different phytocannabinoids affect the ECS differently. THC, for instance, activates CB-1 receptors, which somewhat explains the psychoactive properties of THC. On the other hand, CBD has a milder effect on cannabinoid receptors. It does not directly interact or bind to CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. Instead, it affects signaling through cannabinoid receptors indirectly. This indirect influence partly explains why CBD is non-intoxicating.
In addition to CBD’s mild interaction with CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, CBD might inhibit monoacylglycerol acid lipase and fatty acid amide hydrolase. These are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids. Therefore, CBD may also help increase the levels of endocannabinoids in the body.
How CBD Affects Your Brain
The fact that CBD may interact with and works on our nervous system, is crucial to understanding the effects of CBD on your brain. Now that you are more familiar with brain receptor systems, the ECS, and how CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors (CB-1 and CB-2), let’s look at the effects of CBD on your brain.
While there’s sufficient knowledge regarding the range of ways cannabidiol may affect the brain, the current understanding of the ECS and CBD effects on other receptor systems and the brain is still in its infancy. With that said, here are some researched interactions between CBD and the brain:
CBD May Limit the Perception of Pain
Several studies have found that CBD may help reduce some underlying causes of pain. It might also limit pain perception through interaction with vanilloid receptors.
CBD May Help Symptoms of Anxiety
Numerous studies have demonstrated CBD’s potential benefits for acute anxiety, stress, and even depression. CBD might trigger serotonin receptors such as serotonin 1A receptors in the brain to produce more cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone responsible for emotions.
CBD Might Reduce Oxidative Damage
How your body manages oxidative stress has a significant impact on your health. CBD may indirectly act on CB-2 receptors to act to reduce oxidative damage.
CBD Might Have Antipsychotic Properties
CBD’s potential antipsychotic effects could be traced back to serotonin receptors and anandamide. CBD might inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase (responsible for breaking down anandamide). This means that anandamide remains active in the endocannabinoid system longer.
CBD May Disrupt Opioid Receptors
Opioid receptors play a crucial role in pain regulation; however, they also accept opiates, which often lead to addictive behaviors. When CBD interacts with opiate receptors, not only does it have the potential to help with increasing pain regulation but it may also have the potential to dampen the addictive nature of opiates.
CBD and Memory
Even more intriguing, CBD may help reduce cognitive decline by lowering the rate of extinction in brain cells caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.
CBD for Mood
CBD also interacts with dopamine receptors, which helps in regulating many aspects of cognition and behavior, including mood and motivation.
Effects of CBD on the Brain: Exciting Possibilities
Understanding cannabidiol’s neurological effects is complicated business. After all, there are many receptors – some still unknown – with which CBD interacts. More research is needed to prove and draw conclusions regarding the effects of CBD on the brain. Nonetheless, existing animal studies have provided ground zero for initial breakthroughs; and they all seem to have one common notion – CBD has a variety of potential health benefits and little to no side effects.