How Does CBD Work with the Body?

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Hype Against the Backdrop of Medical and Recreational Legalization

Along with the increasing legalization of Cannabis and the ensuing manufacturing and marketing frenzy, its main non-psychoactive constituent, cannabidiol (CBD) achieved instant celebrity status in the supplement and food industries. A flood of claims attribute a seemingly endless list of purported health benefits with virtually no downside. While preliminary evidence indicates that cannabinoids may, indeed, prove extremely beneficial for health on a number of levels, it’s worth taking stock of the fact that we don’t know all of the how’s or why’s, just yet.

The Endocannabinoid System and its Constituents: How Cannabinoids Such as CBD and THC Work

An extensive network of receptors and neurotransmitters distributed throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is crucial for maintaining physiological homeostasis. Some of its primary functions include neuroprotection, pain modulation, memory, and immune function. Interestingly, though, despite its wide-ranging influence, the ECS has negligible effects on heart and lung function, which is one of the reasons for its high safety profile and the lack of fatal overdoses associated with cannabinoid consumption. In fact, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from their dangerous substances lists. Now, it is now a schedule V drug with the FDA.

Two receptors, dubbed CB1 and CB2, comprise the primary receptor portion of the ECS. CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain, mostly in the hypothalamus, limbic areas, and brainstem, with smaller amounts in the liver, GI tract, muscles, kidneys, pancreas and lungs. CB1 receptors are involved in modulating stress, anxiety, digestive function, and some immune function. CB2 receptors are concentrated in the immune system, gastrointestinal system, and spleen and provide anti-inflammatory activity and are responsible for most of the pain management effects of Cannabis.

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What are the Similarities and Differences Between CBD and THC?

CBD and THC are the two most prominent of over 100 phytocannabinoid compounds in Cannabis, with others present in mostly trace amounts. Structurally, CBD and THC are very similar though they differ in their receptor binding affinities. THC has strong affinity and directly activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors while CBD has weak binding affinity for both receptors. As a result, it exerts indirect activity on the ECS through its actions on other receptors throughout the brain and body, effectively boosting levels of endocannabinoids by stimulating their release and preventing degradation.

The most apparent difference between THC and CBD is the intoxicating psychoactive effect of THC, which is absent from CBD. However, CBD is thought to exert significant brain and behavioral effects, including effects on mood and cognition. Additionally, CBD is singularly known for its anticonvulsant effects and has been widely studied and utilized as an antiepileptic agent.

Research is still being conducted about both CBD and THC’s antioxidant effects, pain reduction abilities, anxiety reduction capacity, neuroprotection, and alleviating insomnia. But not enough research has been submitted to the FDA as of yet to gain their official approval as an active ingredient for any condition beyond seizures.

What is the Entourage Effect and Why is Synergy Potentially Important for Cannabis-derived Products?

The more than 400 bioactive compounds in Cannabis, notably cannabinoids, terpenes and resins, work synergistically in the body so that a whole-plant Cannabis extract produces a greater and more nuanced effect than the sum of each component individually. Where commercial CBD products are concerned this phenomenon, referred to as the entourage effect, researchers believe that it contributes significantly to potency, effectiveness, and value.

Illustrations of the entourage effect have been noted in numerous clinical scenarios, including pain syndromes. Moreover, studies are showing that CBD weakens THC’s psychoactive effects, which is why industrial hemp with low THC levels is deemed safe by governing bodies. As of late, phytochemists are interested in the synergistic effect that CBD may have with other non-cannabis compounds as well, such as natural active analgesics like menthol and camphor. With more studies like this, cannabis-based topical solutions are more likely to become a mainstay in the medical world.

What are the Botanical Sources of CBD and THC?

While Cannabis has long been considered to be the only plant with active cannabinoids, as it turns out, a variety of plants contain compounds capable of stimulating or modulating the ECS, including:

  • Echinacea – contains cannabimimetics with affinity for CB2
  • Kava – kavalactones bind to CB1 receptors
  • Chocolate – contains a molecule that prevents breakdown of the neurotransmitter anandamide
  • Black pepper – contains a compound that inhibits the breakdown of cannabinoids
  • Black truffles – contain anandamide

Using CBD in Topicals

Cannabidiol has shown excellent results as an ingredient in topical medications. Since CBD contains omego-3 fatty acids, it serves as an excellent skin conditioner. The natural oils penetrate the skin deeply to deliver strong, powerful, and effective action without entering the bloodstream, unlike oral and inhaled cannabinoids. CBD’s negligible health risks, legal status, and efficacy makes it a great choice for your patients who are seeking natural solutions to manage their health.

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