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How Does CBD Work?
Over the past year, it seems like everyone is talking about CBD. At Medizen, we’re serious about the science behind CBD, so let’s explore the reality of how CBD works and why it can be good for your health and wellness.
What is CBD?
CBD is an abbreviation for Cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in both hemp and traditional cannabis plants. The two plants are part of the Cannabis family and look very similar. The most important difference is that hemp contains little to no Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces the psychoactive effects in traditional cannabis. To be legally classified and sold as hemp, it can’t contain more than 0.3% THC by volume. That’s a very tiny amount and no matter how much hemp-based CBD you consume, you will never feel “high.”
How is CBD Made?
Most CBD products use a form of CBD oil that’s extracted from the harvested hemp plant. Common extraction methods use carbon dioxide, olive oil, dry ice, or solvents such as ethanol, alcohol, or butane to break down and separate the CBD from the other compounds in the plant. The CBD oil is then combined with other elements to create the finished product. CBD oil is now found in a variety of products such as tinctures, lotions, balms, cosmetics, infused edibles, beverages, and vape cartridges.
How CBD Works
Back in the 1990s, scientists discovered that our bodies have a natural “endocannabinoid system”(ECS) that helps keep us in a healthy balance called “homeostasis.” The remarkable thing is that the endogenous cannabinoid molecules already in our bodies closely resemble the phytocannabinoid molecules found in cannabis. This is why scientists named the ECS the endocannabinoid system. It’s almost as if humans (and all mammals) are naturally wired for the health benefits that THC and CBD provide in replenishing our ECS.
Essentially, our ECS is made up of “receptors” that are found in different parts of our bodies. Some are identified as CB1 and CB2 receptors as they have different functions. They act much like a data or broadcast network, and when you add phytocannabinoids like CBD into your body, it signals the ECS to help the body achieve homeostasis and repair itself where needed. In other words, CBD transmits and sometimes blocks neurotransmitter signals and affects organ functions that directly or indirectly influence how our bodies work.
At first, researchers thought that our CB receptors were only found in our brain, spinal cord, and nervous system, but scientists later found that receptors are present throughout the body. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system and in various organs including the liver, kidneys, and lungs. CB2 receptors are found mostly in cell membranes in the immune system, our gastrointestinal system, and the spleen.
Current research indicates that THC directly connects with CB1 receptors in the brain affecting pain, emotions, mood, thinking, appetite, memories, and coordination. CBD works a bit differently and studies show that it may help in supporting relief from anxiety, pain, nausea, and help with relaxation and sleep. It has also shown great promise as an anti-inflammatory agent, especially for topical products. Some very specific, FDA-approved CBD oil products help fight epilepsy by slowing or blocking messages to the brain that result in seizures. They also change calcium levels and decrease inflammation in the brain thought to contribute to seizures.
One way CBD works in our bodies is that researchers believe CBD inhibits an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH), the primary molecule responsible for breaking down and recycling endocannabinoids. As a result, CBD seems to encourage the body to better utilize and produce the cannabinoids in our system to help maintain homeostasis when we’re out of balance.
Receptors that Send and Receive CBD Messages
Our brains naturally create a chemical called Serotonin that affects our sense of happiness and feelings of wellbeing. Its scientific name is the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, and CBD appears to directly affect this happiness receptor resulting in anxiety reduction along with better relaxation and sleep.
Another important receptor in the brain is called Adenosine. These receptors affect our cardiovascular system by improving oxygen levels and blood flow. As a result, CBD is able to act as an anti-inflammatory agent throughout the body. A limited 2017 study indicated that it might also help in lowering blood pressure which makes sense if blood is flowing better in our bodies.
As we mentioned earlier, CBD affects how certain receptor transmitters work in our bodies. Scientists believe that CBD also acts as an “allosteric receptor modulator.” In non-scientific terms, CBD changes the shape of the receptor which affects the signal it transmits. A good example is a receptor called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). CBD changes the shape of the GABA receptor causing it to increase its natural calming properties. It is thought that this contributes to CBD’s ability to help people relax and fight anxiety.
Scientists have also studied a receptor known as “a transient receptor potential cation channel, subfamily V. Known as a “vanilloid receptor,” TRPV1 was named after the vanilla bean that contains a compound called eugenol which is also found in cinnamon and cloves. Eugenol is an essential oil that has been used in natural medicine remedies due to its antiseptic and analgesic effects. CBD directly impacts TRPV1 which influences our perception of pain and body temperature that play a large role in homeostasis. The study also indicates it may help unclog blood vessels as found in the 2017 study referenced earlier.
More Research is Coming
The 2018 Farm Bill contained language that essentially re-legalized hemp production in the U.S. for the first time since the 1930s. While hemp farmers need to follow the provisions outlined in the Bill, there is no doubt that it led to the incredible growth and interest in hemp-based CBD products over the past year. The legislation also opens the doors to additional scientific research of this amazing cannabinoid. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration is currently working on regulations to govern hemp-based CBD products.
Acceptance of CBD as natural, plant-based medicine is going global as well. A 2017 report from the World Health Organization stated, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
Slowly but surely, science is catching up with the knowledge that cultures around the world have known for centuries ⎼ that cannabis and hemp provide a natural medicine to help keep us healthy and our bodies in balance. It may take some experimentation to find out what works best for you, your body, and your medical condition. If you’re currently taking medications and are new to CBD, be sure to consult with a medical professional to understand how CBD may interact, complement, or perhaps even reduce your need for pharmaceutical medications. In the end, it is a journey to better health and wellness that is well worth exploring. Let us know how we can help you along the way.