Cannabidiol – more commonly known as CBD – has become popular as more and more people are trying it for potential wellness benefits. In this article, we will highlight the major ways CBD interacts with the body and brain and how it can be beneficial for your overall well-being.
Basics of how CBD works
Before we dive into how CBD works for the body it is important to cover some basics about CBD. CBD is one of 80+ natural chemicals, often called cannabinoids. CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not get the user high or intoxicated. The chemical that is responsible for the high effects is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) not CBD. Because CBD and THC have different chemical structures they interact differently with human receptors and have unique effects¹.
- THC binds directly to cell receptors to create a psychoactive response.
- CBD binds indirectly to cell receptors² to moderate signaling and the flow of other chemicals for a wide range of positive effects.
How CBD works with the body’s Endocannabinoid System
Research over the last 40 years has identified a vast & complex system in the body called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). According to multiple studies³, the ECS helps regulate many things including, brain function, mood, immune response, sleep, inflammation, stress, and pain.
This system is made up of endocannabinoids (naturally made chemicals in the body), cell receptors for cannabinoids, and enzymes that break cannabinoids down. ECS receptors are located throughout the entire body and are one of the main signaling channels for how the body responds to stimuli.
In addition to the cannabinoids produced by the body, cannabinoids from plants (like CBD) can also act on the endocannabinoid system. When a person consumes CBD, it interacts with the ECS receptors throughout the body. Specifically, CBD interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors⁴.
- CB1 (cannabinoid-receptor type 1) are highly concentrated in the brain and central nervous system with some receptors also in glands, spleen, heart and other locations.
- CB2 (cannabinoid-receptor type 2) are found in the peripheral tissues and cells of the immune system.
These two types of receptors are recognized as signaling pathways for pain perception, anxiety, stress, and inflammatory responses. Research⁵ shows that CBD will act on these receptors indirectly, moderating the signals sent to the brain, this can minimize unnecessary pain or inflammation.
This effect has significant potential to reduce the symptoms of many health conditions related to pain and inflammation. Those conditions include pain from over-exertion, skin conditions like acne, sports injuries, general inflammation and more.
How CBD works with the Brain
In addition to CBD’s other effects on the endocannabinoid system, it also positively impacts the uptake and flow of chemicals in the brain. One of the most well-documented⁶ effects is CBD’s impact on serotonin.
CBD has been shown to act on and stimulate serotonin pathways in the brain. Increased serotonin levels can help provide relief for anxiety, depression, and migraine symptoms.
Research⁷ on CBD has also demonstrated an impact on the ‘glial cells’ in the brain. Glial cells provide support to the neurons in the brain. If glial cells become overactive for any reason, they can lead to hypersensitive responses to different stimuli, such as pain or light. CBD helps regulate the activity of glial cells, bringing them back to a normal level.
Other ways that CBD works in the Body
As of March 2019, over 11,000 scientific and medical studies about CBD⁸ have been published. More than half of these studies have been released in the last 5 years and thousands more are ongoing. The existing research has identified many ways CBD works in the body. We have only highlighted how CBD works on CB1/CB2 receptors, serotonin, and glial cells. These three examples are among the most researched effects. Below is a list of some of the other ways that medical research has demonstrated CBD working for the body:
- CBD may help reduce anxiety in stressful situations according to this scientific study⁹.
- Research shows¹⁰ that CBD helps reduces THC dependence and CBD may help other addictive disorders.
- Pre-clinical evidence¹¹ shows that cannabinoids can help in reducing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases
- Research¹² suggests that CBD is an effective alternative for improving the quality of life in patients with some skin disorders
Final Thoughts On How CBD Works
With all the different ways CBD has been proven to work on the body, it is easy to see why so many people are giving CBD a try. If you or a loved one is struggling with a condition and want to learn more about what results some have found from CBD for their condition, check out our uses & effects of CBD. In this guide, we help you make an informed decision by breaking down personal stories and evidence from clinical studies on CBD. Plus, the guide is expanded with detailed articles describing the potential of CBD for 20+ conditions.