The endocannabinoid system has very widespread effects throughout the body and has the potential to be used therapeutically and medicinally. Does the scientific evidence show beneficial effects of CBD on various ailments? We break it down.
5 Ways CBD Affects Your Brain
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive chemical made by cannabis plants. In most cannabis plants, CBD is the second most common chemical produced. THC is the most common chemical produced by most cannabis plants. Though many people think about THC when they think about marijuana, CBD is becoming more popular due to its numerous health benefits.
Relieves Anxiety and Depression
Many people are familiar with marijuana’s ability to help alleviate anxiety. While THC helps some people feel more relaxed and calm, it can actually increase anxiety in other people. This has led researchers to examine CBD as a treatment for anxiety and depression instead.
For instance, in one study, researchers examined the effects of CBD on the brain and anxiety levels. The researchers discovered that CBD reduces blood flow to areas of the brain linked with anxiety, such as the hypothalamus, which usually become overactive in people with anxiety disorders. It was also found that CBD reduced overall anxiety, with participants reporting lower anxiety levels after having received the chemical.
CBD may also be effective as an antidepressant. CBD appears to work by balancing the dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system in people with depression. Additionally, CBD has been found to work on a serotonin receptor that influences depression symptoms.
These studies have opened doors for both patients and clinicians. While antidepressants can take weeks to work and cause side effects, CBD works immediately without many side effects.
Protects Brain Cells from Harm
Although many believe that marijuana damages the brain, studies indicate that some components of cannabis, such as CBD, can actually protect brain cells from harm. In fact, in 1999, the United States Department of Health and Human Services actually obtained a patent for the neuroprotective effects of cannibinoids. The patent states that cannabis and its chemical properties can protect brain cells in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other types of dementia.
CBD’s neuroprotective effects are related to its effect on CB2 receptors in the brain. CBD acts on CB2 receptors to create anti-inflammatory responses in immune cells located in the brain. This reduces the extent to which damage to the brain is caused by inflammation.
Oxidation contributes to brain tissue damage and is partly responsible for the brain damage seen in individuals with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that CBD acts on CB2 receptors to decrease oxidative damage.
Activates the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of CB1 receptors, which are mainly located in the brain, and CB2 receptors, which are mostly located on immune cells. Chemicals like THC and CBD activate the endocannabinoid system when marijuana is consumed. THC binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, producing psychoactive effects, such as pain relief, heightened mood, short-term memory impairments, and hunger.
Unlike THC, CBD does not activate CB1 receptors. That’s why CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effects. Rather, CBD interacts with CB1 receptors in a way that inhibits chemicals, such as THC, from binding to CB1 receptors. CBD decreases many of the psychoactive effects THC can have, such as memory problems and anxiety.
Additionally, CBD increases anandamide levels within the brain. Anandamide is one of the few natural cannabinoids made in the body. Anandamide has a part in regulating other chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin.
Relieves Inflammation and Pain
Cannabis has been used to alleviate pain for thousands of years. While the pain-killing ability of THC has long been known, studies indicate that CBD can effectively relieve pain as well. CBD helps manage pain by acting on CB2 receptors, which are mainly located on immune cells. The CB2 receptors are responsible for managing some cellular functions.
One of the cellular functions CB2 receptors are responsible for managing is suppressing the inflammation response created by immune cells. CBD decreases the amount of inflammatory molecules, such as chemokines and cytokines, that are present at sites of inflammation. CBD’s ability to decrease inflammation peripherally helps block pain signals from going to the brain.
Fights Psychosis and Seizures
CBD can also be effective in managing epilepsy. CBD seems to manage seizures by lowering the degree of excitation of cells in the brain that play a part in seizures. CBD stops the brain mechanisms that contribute to seizures by enhancing the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.
CBD also has antipsychotic effects. CBD increases anandamide in the brain. Increased levels of anandamide in the brain have been associated with decreases in psychotic symptoms.
CBD possesses numerous health benefits and can help manage both medical and mental health conditions. If you are interested in using cannabis to help manage your health, please call LifeBoost to pre-qualify for the use of medical cannabis.
The Science Behind CBD’s Effects on the Brain and Body
Our current reality is undoubtedly anxiety-inducing. And understandably, demand for household products such as toilet-paper and hand sanitizer has spiked in response. But perhaps more surprising is the surge in e-commerce sales of self-care products containing CBD oil. CBD is perhaps best known for its beneficial effects on anxiety and sleep, and up until recently, this was merely hearsay. The past five years have been pivotal for the legalization of CBD and its use in clinical trials. But does the science support the hype behind this craze? We’re laying out the research so you can be an informed consumer.
As always, consult a medical doctor before taking any nutritional supplements InsideTracker recommends. If you have or suspect a medical condition or are taking any medications, please consult a doctor before acting on any of our recommendations.
First, CBD largely does not come from marijuana plants
Let’s start from the beginning. Derivatives of the ancient plant family Cannabis sativa have been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. The plant contains nearly 100 active compounds called phytocannabinoids, two of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, AKA “THC”) and cannabidiol (CBD). And generations of selective breeding of cannabis plants have produced two of the most common modern strains: hemp and marijuana. The difference between these two strains can be distinguished by their ratio of CBD and THC: while marijuana plants are bred to have relatively high amounts of Δ9-THC, hemp plants are bred for higher concentrations of CBD and actually contain negligible amounts of Δ9-THC—less than 0.3% per unit of dry weight.
The similarities and differences between THC and CBD
In the body, Δ9-THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), an important signaling pathway that regulates stress, inflammation, anxiety, and depression. And while Δ9-THC and CBD have the same molecular structure, slight differences in the arrangement of their atoms impart very different effects on the ECS.
Δ9-THC is known for producing psychoactive effects in the body through the activation of two receptors in the central nervous system called CB1 and CB2.[2,3] The activation of these receptors triggers physiological processes across multiple organ systems, most notably the release of neurotransmitters from the central nervous system that impart the psychoactive effects associated with feeling “high”.
Alternatively, CBD binds to CB1 and CB2 at a much slower rate than Δ9-THC, which results in the activation of similar physiological processes without the psychoactive or “high” effects. These physiologic effects make CBD promising for clinical benefits, many of which have been tested in small-scale trials and evaluated in systematic reviews over recent years. Now, let’s get into those results and summarizing what we know so far.
A summary of the research of CBD on.
The most commonly-reported use of recreational CBD is as a treatment for anxiety. In one study, participants with social anxiety disorder who were given a one-time dosage of 600mg one hour before speaking publicly had reduced self-reported anxiety compared to a control group. These anxiety-mitigating effects were replicated in a separate study of healthy subjects who were given a 300mg dose. And it seems that these results are standard—a review of 11 trials found that CBD reduced anxiety when taken one hour before an anxiety-inducing event, and a compilation of case reports found that nearly 80% of patients given CBD for anxiety saw reductions in one month.[7,8]
These studies yield promising results, but cannot definitively determine that CBD improves anxiety. Larger, well-designed trials must be conducted to confirm the association between CBD and improved anxiety. For now, you can also try these strategies to reduce stress.
Multiple reviews have concluded that sufficient evidence is still lacking on the effects of CBD on mental disorders or their symptoms.[9,10] One study found that CBD may reduce nightmares and sleep disturbances in those with PTSD, but again, larger scale, well-designed trials are warranted to confirm this relationship.
Alternative therapies for pain management are of particular interest given the highly-addictive nature of modern pain medication. Early, small-scale studies suggest that, while CBD is not effective for the management of acute, short-term pain, it may play a role in chronic, long-term pain.[12,13] In one study, 97 chronic pain patients swapped their opioid prescriptions for 30mg of daily CBD for a year. The results showed that CBD improved quality of life in 94% of participants, reduced or eliminated opioid use in 53% of participants, and significantly improved sleep quality in the group after just eight weeks.
Such results aren’t always clinically relevant, however. Another study found that, while CBD was effective in reducing chronic pain by about 1.5 points on an 11-point pain scale, such a change was likely not large enough to make a clinical difference in patient outcomes. So, again, these promising preliminary results warrant larger, higher-powered studies.
CBD likely has a dose-dependent effect on sleep—it appears that low doses are stimulating and keep you awake, but larger doses have a sedating effect and can improve sleep time and wakefulness during the night.[16,17] But scientific evidence behind these effects is limited and the mechanism behind them is not yet clear. Further trials are warranted, and until then, check out these proven ways to improve your sleep.
Physiologically, it would make sense that CBD could play a role in lowering inflammation levels due to its interaction with the ECS. In cellular and animal studies, CBD has displayed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.[4,18,19] And while this data is promising, the impact of CBD on inflammation must be tested in humans before this relationship can reliably be marketed. But watch this space—the relationship between CBD and inflammation will be important to understand, as inflammation plays a role in many chronic conditions.
As is standard in trials of a novel substance, these studies closely monitored adverse effects of taking CBD—and none were found. However, the FDA has yet to approve CBD as safe due to gaps in current knowledge on potential side effects, most notably for “liver injury, drug interaction, male productive toxicity, and drowsiness.” Additional studies in larger populations are underway and should shed more light on the safety and efficacy of CBD.
The latest on CBD’s legal status
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, creating a huge market opportunity for the CBD industry—reports now suggest that CBD is an expanding multi-billion dollar industry.[20,21] However, though the plant source was legalized, current drug trials of CBD prevents the cannabinoid from being a legal dietary ingredient in foods, beverages, or supplements. In addition, the FD&C Act prevents the sale of food products or dietary supplements containing an active drug component like CBD to be sold across state lines.
So then, how are retailers selling hemp-derived CBD products? Ultimately, they’re just willing to take on some risk. The FDA is keeping close watch on the CBD market and is developing regulations for the legality of CBD as both a drug and as a food ingredient.
A summary of CBD’s effects in the brain and body
- Based on currently available science, InsideTracker cannot recommend with certainty that you will benefit from recreational CBD use.
- The science does look promising, and clinical trials investigating the impact of CBD are underway.
- Based on preliminary evidence, CBD may reduce anxiety, particularly in individuals with social anxiety.
- CBD may reduce pain in individuals with chronic pain and reduce symptoms of frequent opioid consumption.
- CBD may impart anti-inflammatory effects.
Michelle Darian, MS, MPH
Michelle is a Nutrition Science Intern at InsideTracker. Complete with her dietetic internship, you’ll find Michelle analyzing the research behind recent nutrition trends to inform novel food and supplement recommendations.
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