Home » How Does CBD Work?

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Understanding how CBD works can be very overwhelming.

There’s tons of medical jargon to wade through and many different receptors/neurotransmitters to try to keep in your head. After a while it all starts to sound the same and stops making much sense.

Then there’s the endocannabinoid system. You’re tasked to remember the cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoids, and how the whole system functions.

And then there’s CBD itself.

But don’t worry. We’ll explain to you how CBD works the quick and easy way.

What is CBD?

The second most-recognized and studied cannabinoid from the cannabis plant is cannabidiol or CBD.

Why CBD became a fast favorite of researchers, scientists, physicians, and people like you and me is easy to understand.

After all, CBD has many of the same medicinal properties as THC, but without the psychoactivity.[i] CBD doesn’t get you high, at least not in the traditional sense that’s associated with using marijuana.

How does CBD work?

The endocannabinoid system’s most important function is to maintain balance and homeostasis of almost everything going on in your body.

This system is made up of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and these receptors are activated by anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Anandamide stimulates the CB1 receptors; while 2-AG stimulates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 activation controls several physiological functions like sleeping, appetite, vomiting, mood, pain perception, and memory; CB2 activation controls inflammation since these receptors are predominantly found in the immune system.

Now, THC binds to the CB1 receptors. This is how THC produces its therapeutic effects. It is also how THC produces its euphoric, psychoactive effects.

CBD, unlike THC, has a low binding affinity with the cannabinoid receptors. This means that CBD cannot directly activate these receptors to produce the therapeutic effects of THC, anandamide, or 2-AG.

Instead, CBD binds to different receptors and activates them to produce its therapeutic effects.

CBD has the ability to influence ion channels that control the release of chemicals like calcium, sodium, and potassium. This ability of CBD is very important because it plays a role in controlling seizures.

CBD also has the ability of delaying the reabsorption of important neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. As a result, CBD gives these chemicals more time to stay in your body so their effects can last longer.

What are the effects of CBD?

CBD has numerous therapeutic effects and can help improve various types of medical conditions.

CBD can help relieve pain (analgesic effects)

CBD has the ability to control not only acute pain, but chronic and intractable pain as well. It can even control neuropathic pain – a type of pain which is poorly controlled with traditional painkillers like opioids.

  • CBD stimulates the vanilloid receptors (or TRPV1 receptor) and enhances their function[ii]. Vanilloid receptors are also called capsaicin receptors because how they modulate pain is similar to the effects of capsaicin, a skin irritant.

Imagine applying a dab of capsaicin over your sore muscles. The immediate effect you feel is a painful, burning sensation, right? But after a while, you should notice that desensitization occurs. You no longer feel pain, but just a pleasant numbness.

That is how CBD helps with pain. It stimulates the vanilloid receptors so desensitization occurs faster. CBD makes these receptors numb to pain.

  • Anandamide, the endogenous cannabinoid our body produces, has analgesic properties when it activates the CB1 receptor. Unfortunately though, this important endocannabinoid is easily broken down by an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase or FAAH, so its therapeutic effects don’t last long.

CBD helps anandamide stay longer in the body[iii] by hitching a ride with anadamide’s transport protein called fatty acid-binding protein or FABP.

The FABP is what “delivers” anandamide to the enzyme that degrades it, and what CBD does is actively compete with anandamide in binding to the FABP.

With fewer FABP to bind to, anandamide gets to stay in your body longer without being broken down!

Basically, CBD gets in the way of the typical course taken by anadamide – and we get to benefit from it. Go anandamide! And thank you, CBD!

  • There are different types of 5-HT or serotonin receptors and they control various physiological responses. The receptor that’s responsible for pain regulation is the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor.

CBD stimulates these receptors, enhances their effects, and produces relief from pain[iv].

So, what are the medical conditions CBD can help?

CBD has the potential to help improve painful medical conditions like:

  • Cancer and intractable pain[v]
  • Cancer and chemotherapy pain[vi]
  • Multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain[vii]
  • Chronic pain, arthritis pain, musculoskeletal pain, acute and persistent pain[viii]
  • Migraines and fibromyalgia[ix]
  • Irritable bowel syndrome[x]

CBD has Antispastic and Muscle Relaxant Effects

CBD is a muscle relaxant and has the ability to decrease muscle spasms and reduce spasticity – a condition in which muscles are continuously contracted.

  • Anandamide, when it stimulates the CB1 receptors, produces antispasmodic effects[xi]. But CBD has a low binding affinity with the CB1 receptor, so how can it produce its antispasmodic and antispastic effects?

CBD does this by enhancing anandamide levels.

  • THC, when it binds to the CB1 receptors, also produces these effects[xii]. However, THC’s stimulation of these receptors also produces psychoactive effects.

Now CBD, working together with THC, seems to be the best combination to produce antispasmodic effects. THC stimulates the CB1 receptors, and CBD works to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC[xiii].

CBD has the potential to reduce spasms and spasticity in the following medical conditions:

  • Multiple sclerosis[xiv]
  • Spinal cord injury and spasticity[xv]
  • Parkinson’s Disease[xvi]

The Wolfson Medical Center in Israel is also working on a study on THC and CBD and their effects on spasticity associated with cerebral palsy, dystonia, and neurodegenerative diseases[xvii].

CBD has Anticonvulsant and Antiepileptic Effects

CBD has the ability to control epileptic seizures and convulsions, and it does so via a number of ways:

  • By enhancing anandamide levels so they can stimulate more CB1 receptors to produce their anticonvulsant and antiepileptic effects.
  • Scientists have found that calcium imbalance in the brain cells can trigger epileptic seizures. To promote a balance in the calcium level, the mitochondrion has this “gate” called the NCX[xviii] that controls the release and reabsorption of calcium back into the mitochondrion.

CBD has the ability to manipulate this gate, and it can influence the gate to increase or decrease the calcium concentration within the cell. Through this CBD effect, epileptic seizures are controlled[xix].

  • CBD also influences a certain type of ion channel called the T-type calcium channel which is involved in regulating epilepsy as well as pain[xx].
  • Remember the vanilloid receptor and how it’s involved in pain perception? Painful and irritating stimuli, when they stimulate these receptors, can induce seizures. This is because the vanilloid receptor also plays a role in the development of seizures[xxi].

CBD can stimulate these receptors, and by quickly desensitizing these receptors, convulsions and epileptic seizures can be reduced[xxii]. In the same way as CBD does this for pain sensitivity, CBD makes these receptors numb which can decrease seizure activity.

CBD, acting on these various channels, has the ability to control seizures and convulsions in conditions like:

  • Epilepsy[xxiii]
  • Childhood intractable pediatric epilepsy[xxiv]

CBD Reduces Nausea and Vomiting (Antiemetic Effects)

Nausea and vomiting are nasty symptoms of many medical conditions affecting the digestive system.

Nausea and vomiting are also some of the worst side effects cancer patients have to deal with when going through chemotherapy.

CBD can reduce these symptoms through a number of ways:

  • The release of serotonin and its effects on the gastrointestinal tract[xxv] triggers nausea and vomiting. In the brain, serotonin triggers these symptoms when it stimulates the serotonin receptors in the brain’s nausea and vomiting regulatory center[xxvi].

CBD stimulates the dorsal raphe nucleus to produce its anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effects[xxvii] by decreasing its release of serotonin.

  • Anandamide, when it stimulates the CB1 receptors, produces antiemetic effects[xxviii]. And CBD can enhance the level of anandamide in the brain by helping prevent its degradation.

    Hopefully, by now you see how important CBD’s prevention of anadamide degradation really is. CBD keeps anandamide in our body longer so that we can reap the many benefits of this endocannabinoid produced by our own body.

  • THC also stimulates the CB1 receptors in the brain and digestive system to produce antiemetic effects. But this cannabinoid is psychoactive.

    For some people, the psychoactive effect of THC is not an issue – it improves their mood and state of well-being. At CBD School, we support the use of THC and the psychoactive effects it produces, especially if it helps you feel better.

    But some people dislike the psychoactive effects of THC. It just doesn’t work for everybody. What’s really neat about CBD is that it can help tone down the psychoactive effects of THC when the two cannabinoids are used together. CBD, working with THC to control nausea and vomiting, can not only enhance the effects of THC but also control its psychoactive effects as well.

The powerful effects of CBD can help reduce nausea and vomiting symptoms caused by:

  • Chemotherapy[xxix]
  • Gastrointestinal diseases[xxx]

CBD Has Antidiarrheal Effects

CBD also has antidiarrheal effects since it can help slow down intestinal motility – the movements of your digestive system.

  • Anandamide, when it activates the CB1 receptors, not only helps reduce gastrointestinal pain and inflammation, but also reduces motility as well.

And CBD has the ability to enhance anandamide’s functions by allowing it to stay longer in the body[xxxi]. Seeing a pattern yet? 🙂

  • THC can also stimulate the CB1 receptors, but with the help of CBD, THC’s psychoactive effects are reduced while improving diarrhea control.
  • Acetylcholine is released by the neurons in the gut and facilitates the contractions of the intestinal tract. When gastrointestinal problems cause diarrhea and abdominal cramping, drugs are used to block the effects of acetylcholine. But sometimes, these drugs cause side effects like constipation, dry mouth, and problems with urination.

CBD has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the action of acetylcholine and reduce intestinal motility[xxxii].

CBD’s antidiarrheal effects can benefit medical conditions such as:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease[xxxiii]
  • Crohn’s disease[xxxiv]
  • Gastroenteritis and other gastrointestinal disorders with symptoms of pain, inflammation, and diarrhea[xxxv]

CBD Has Antianxiety and Antidepressant Effects

CBD, compared to THC, does not produce anxiety. In fact, CBD can help decrease anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

  • CBD stimulates the serotonin receptors to produce antianxiety and antidepressant effects, and it also “tells” the raphe nuclei to release more serotonin to activate the receptors[xxxvi].

Stimulating this receptor also helps improve sleep.

Of course, we all know by now that CBD has the ability to let anandamide stay longer in your system by preventing its transport protein from carrying anandamide to the enzyme that degrades it.

  • CBD stimulates the adenosine receptors to produce antianxiety and calming effects[xxxvii].

High levels of dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) and glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) in the brain also increase anxiety and stress. Now, adenosine receptors have the ability to modulate the release of these neurotransmitters, and when CBD binds to the adenosine receptors, it tells the receptor to slow down its release of these neurotransmitters. By activating the adenosine receptors, anxiety is reduced[xxxviii].

  • CBD also has the ability to indirectly act on the GABA receptors. CBD makes the receptors more sensitive to GABA so that that when GABA binds to them, its calming and relaxing effects are amplified.[xxxix]

With these effects, CBD can help improve the following medical conditions:

  • Depression[xl]
  • Depression associated with HIV and AIDS[xli]
  • Social anxiety disorder[xlii]
  • Generalized social anxiety disorder[xliii]
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder[xliv]
  • Social phobia[xlv]

CBD, as seen in a study done on mice, even has the potential to help patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive behaviors[xlvi] and autism[xlvii].

CBD Has Antipsychotic Effects

CBD also has the ability to control psychosis.

  • Anandamide has antipsychotic effects. In a study[xlviii] measuring anandamide levels and its correlation to psychotic symptoms, it was observed that people with psychosis had lower anandamide levels.

CBD produces its antipsychotic effects by allowing anandamide to stay longer in the system and produce its therapeutic effects[xlix]. Are you sick of hearing about anandamide yet…well sorry! This endocannabinoid is a superstar 🙂

Psychotic conditions that CBD has the ability to help include:

  • Schizophrenia[l]
  • Bipolar disorder[li]
  • Psychosis in Parkinson’s Disease[lii]

CBD Has Antitumor and Anticancer Effects

CBD has the potential to treat cancer. CBD can prevent cancer from growing, spreading, and infiltrating healthy tissues. CBD also has the ability to prevent the formation of blood vessels that supply the cancer with what it needs to grow.

  • CBD induces cancer cell death by stimulating the molecules needed in apoptosis (programmed cell death) like caspase[liii] and ceramide[liv].
  • CBD prevents the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis) that supply blood to the cancer growth by activating the PPAR and TRP receptors[lv] of the cancer cells. These receptors play a role in stopping cancer growth and proliferation[lvi].

CBD also inhibits the action of some of the molecules that signal the start of angiogenesis[lvii].

  • Some cells have key genes responsible for the aggressiveness and metastatic abilities of cancer cells. These genes are “switched on” by the cells, and the genes will then produce proteins, making it easy for the cells to “read the instructions they contain.” This process is called expression.

Now CBD has the ability to influence and down-regulate gene expression. This CBD effect can inhibit the migratory abilities of cancer cells[lviii].

  • CBD can inhibit certain type of receptors (called the orphan receptors) that promote the proliferation of cancer cells. CBD produces its anticancer effects by deactivating the orphan receptors[lix].
  • Anandamide has anticancer effects, and CBD, as we all know, can enhance anandamide levels and allow anadamide to stay longer in the system. Anandamide can prevent cancer cells from growing and proliferating by inducing their apoptosis[lx]. Anandamide can even induce cell death of cancer cells resistant to apoptosis[lxi].
  • Unlike chemotherapy which can kill not just the cancer cells but healthy ones as well[lxii], CBD does not harm the healthy and non-cancerous cells. It only induces apoptosis of the abnormal and cancerous cells[lxiii]. How cool is that?!

CBD has the ability to help treat these types of cancers:

  • Breast cancer[lxiv]
  • Prostate cancer[lxv]
  • Cervical cancer[lxvi]
  • Endocrine cancer[lxvii]
  • Colorectal cancer[lxviii]
  • Brain cancer[lxix]
  • Skin cancer[lxx]
  • Lung cancer[lxxi]
  • Leukemia[lxxii]
  • Karposi sarcoma[lxxiii]
  • Bladder cancer[lxxiv]

CBD Has Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Inflammation, although it is protective and needed in the healing process, can sometimes worsen many medical conditions. Instead of helping, inflammation becomes even more harmful. It’s one of the factors why medical conditions become chronic, why pain becomes intractable, and why so many diseases can become very difficult to treat.

CBD has anti-inflammatory effects, and it controls inflammation through a number of ways:

  • CBD has the ability to induce apoptosis of immune cells[lxxv]. This means that CBD can tell the overactive immune cells to start the process of their cell death. With these cells dying, they won’t be able to recruit more immune cells to the area and worsen the disease.
  • CBD has the ability to influence certain types of immune cells to stop their production of cytokines[lxxvi]. Now this is important to note because it is the cytokines that recruit more immune cells to the site.
  • CBD enhances anandamide levels, and with more anandamide in the system, it will be able to produce its widespread anti-inflammatory effects by inducing apoptosis of immune cells[lxxvii].

So, what are the medical conditions worsened by inflammation that CBD has the potential to help?

  • Alzheimer’s disease[lxxviii] – CBD, in addition to controlling neuroinflammation, also has the ability to reduce beta amyloid[lxxix] and tau formation[lxxx], which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Arthritis[lxxxi]
  • Atherosclerosis[lxxxii]
  • Cancer[lxxxiii]
  • Irritable bowel syndrome[lxxxiv]
  • Multiple sclerosis[lxxxv]
  • Autism[lxxxvi]
  • Acne and other skin conditions[lxxxvii]
  • Fibromyalgia[lxxxviii]
  • Diabetes and other metabolic diseases[lxxxix]
  • Obesity[xc]
  • Parkinson’s disease[xci]

These are just some of the medical conditions made worse by inflammation though; there are a whole lot more!

CBD Has Antibacterial Effects

Though the mechanism of action by which CBD kills bacteria is still unclear, studies have shown that CBD has potent antibacterial properties[xcii] and can help in the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

CBD Has Antioxidant Effects

CBD is a very powerful antioxidant[xciii] that can help prevent brain neurotoxicity. It’s almost as strong as butylhydroxytoluene or BHT (another powerful antioxidant), but unlike BHT, CBD does not trigger tumor-promoting effects.

This antioxidant effect of CBD is very important because the accumulation of free radicals can worsen so many diseases like senile dementia, skin cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and cancer[xciv].

CBD Can Reduce Addiction

CBD has the ability to reduce addiction by acting on the different pathways involved in substance dependence and drug-seeking behavior.

  • By stimulating the serotonin receptors, CBD is able to prevent the reward-facilitating effects of morphine[xcv].
  • CBD is able to prevent heroin-seeking behavior by controlling brain pathways responsible for drug-seeking behaviors[xcvi].

There are other ways that CBD can control addiction[xcvii], and studies have shown that CBD can, indeed, help control addictive behaviors, drug-seeking behaviors, and even withdrawal symptoms associated with substance abuse.

One particularly interesting study on CBD and addiction was done on cigarette smokers. Smokers were given inhalers with CBD and inhalers without CBD. They were instructed to use the inhaler whenever they had a craving for a cigarette. Throughout the multi-day study, participants were allowed to smoke cigarettes. At the end of the study, it was found that participants who used the CBD containing inhalers smoked less cigarettes than participants who had inhalers without CBD[xcviii].

How does CBD work to control the effects of THC?

I’ve mentioned above that CBD can enhance the effects of THC and, at the same time, control its psychoactive effects.

CBD does this in two ways:

  • CBD prevents the breakdown of THC into its metabolite (11-OH-THC) by deactivating the enzymes that degrade THC[xcix]. THC, in its metabolite form, is even more psychoactive than THC!
  • Though it has low binding affinity with the CB1 receptor, CBD still has the ability to modulate the function of the CB1 receptor[c]. It does this by binding to a different part of the receptor, but not the active site THC binds with. It changes the shape of the CB1 receptor, making it difficult for THC to bind with it and cause its typical psychoactive effect.

With these effects, CBD can tone down the typical high you get with THC!

This does not mean you won’t get high at all if you use a CBD product with high amounts of THC. If you are not a regular cannabis user, you likely will get some psychoactive effects. But CBD has shown to tone down some of the negative effects associated with THC like paranoia, anxiety, increased heart rate, and other negative psychological reactions[ci].

Is CBD safe?

It can’t be denied that CBD has many therapeutic effects. Those listed here are just some of the effects of CBD!

CBD, like any other drug, also has some possible side effects like lightheadedness and drowsiness. But these effects are mild, and they’re typically well-tolerated by people who are taking CBD.

As for the safety profile of CBD[cii], you will be glad to know that CBD has a very good safety profile. It can produce its widespread therapeutic effects without producing any motor, mood, cognition, and behavior changes. It won’t even affect your blood pressure or pulse rate.

CBD is safe to use – and this is true even in high doses[ciii].

There is no risk of serious consequences of taking too much CBD (fatal overdose) because there are no cannabinoid receptors in parts of the body responsible for controlling heart rate and breathing. Compare that to opioid painkillers which cause multiple overdose deaths every single day.

How do you use CBD?

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that CBD can improve many medical conditions.

If you’re thinking of adding CBD to your medication regimen, please consult with your doctor first. He can refer you to licensed cannabis doctors who will evaluate your medical condition and work with you in creating a CBD regimen best suited for your needs.

Because of the safety profile of CBD, you may want to experiment on your own. That’s fine – especially if you are not taking any other medications, so you don’t have to worry about drug interactions with CBD.

If you are new to CBD, start low and go slow. A common dose people like to start with is 5 – 10 mg of CBD a couple times a day. Try this for about a week and see if it improves your condition. If not, increase your dose slowly until you reach the sweet spot where your condition improves. Once you hit the sweet spot, you don’t need to increase the dosage. You can stay at this dose and use CBD daily or as needed for your condition.

CBD is new. We still have a lot to learn about this extremely versatile cannabinoid. As time goes on and CBD use becomes more standardized, we will have a clearer picture of the best doses for specific conditions.

The future is bright for CBD.

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