With so many supplements on the market, deciding on which ones will provide the most significant health benefits can be a real challenge. Trawl through the internet and you’ll find no end of advice on how to reduce anxiety, relieve pain, feel more energized, sleep better and so on.
But what about if all of those benefits could be derived from one supplement? Believe it or not, that’s what cannabidiol (CBD) products can help to do. Why? Because they influence the body in a way that non-cannabis supplements are simply unable to, by providing crucial regulation to the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
There is no doubt that the ECS is one of, if not the most important biological discovery in the past century – the network is responsible for controlling sensitivity to pain, mood, appetite, inflammation and plenty more. Without restrictions to cannabis research, it would have surely been identified much earlier than the 1990s, and if it wasn’t related to marijuana, it would probably have garnered more media attention than it has – unfortunately the scare stories that dirtied the herb’s image in the 20th century continue to linger in the 21st.
While medical cannabis – and recreational legalization – is more popular than it was, the plant is still typically viewed as either an extreme, last-resort medication or as a tool for enjoyment, instead of something which can help us in our day-to-day lives.
Let’s find out a little more about CBD, its uses and the unique advantages of various CBD products.
Why CBD is changing perceptions of cannabis
Cannabis has endured a misunderstood recent history, with excessive focus on the downsides. It is true that the risk of cannabis dependence in a new user is almost 10 percent, and that psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) desensitizes receptors so that higher and higher doses are needed for the same effect, but this only tells half the story. Indeed, while cannabis has been criticized for making psychosis, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders worse, evidence now shows that certain cannabinoid combinations may help treat these conditions.
This is where CBD comes to the fore – in most strains of cannabis, concentrations of CBD are not as high as in THC, but the cannabinoid is non-psychoactive. Some cannabis cultivators have crossbred strains to achieve a positive ratio of CBD to THC, to minimize the mind-altering effects. Hemp is also a popular source of CBD, since it has a low THC content. CBD is perhaps also seen as more serious than standard cannabis: instead of smoking it, many choose to medicate with CBD capsules or oils, depending on how quickly they need the effects, and how long they want them to last. For example, CBD is most beneficial as a sleeping aid when ingested (e.g. capsules, edibles), as the sedation is sustained for many hours.
With no psychoactive effects to worry about, CBD products are legal in most parts of the world, and are not just used for medicinal reasons, but for dietary purposes, too. Consider these five variables regulated by the ECS, and how CBD can be of use.
Along with the serotonin system, the ECS is also essential in regulating mood. The system’s primary endocannabinoid anandamide is a valuable antidepressant and exerts these effects by binding to the CB1 receptor. This is also the link that THC makes, which explains why it can instigate such dramatic changes to mood.
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CBD has a more nuanced effect, not binding directly to the receptor. Instead, CBD promotes more binding between anandamide and the CB1 receptor by intercepting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). In 1993, this enzyme was found to break down anandamide – hence, by blocking it, CBD indirectly increases levels of the endocannabinoid. Therefore, CBD contributes to improved mood. In addition to correcting a temporary low mood, sustained dosing of CBD may alleviate symptoms of long-term depression.
Regulating pain perception
We feel more pain than we should when the body’s natural analgesics are not present in the necessary levels. An extreme example of this can be spotted in fibromyalgia patients, who experience severe pain and tender points likely because of an anandamide deficiency, which may occur due to a proposed wider illness known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
As we know, CBD facilitates a boost in anandamide levels, and this appears to reduce pain in two separate ways. Firstly, the CB1 receptor has been linked to pain sensitivity, but anandamide is also an agonist of the vanilloid receptor, which controls sensation to heat and pain. Studies are inconclusive, but CBD may also bind to the vanilloid receptor.
The immune system offers some incredible benefits, and its virus-fighting skills are critical for our survival, but it’s also notorious for being volatile and difficult to regulate. Effective anti-inflammatory drugs have been few and far between – while some help to reduce inflammation, painful side effects like stomach ulcers are not uncommon.
However, research has shown that CB2 receptors are found on white blood cells, and that by activating these receptors, it’s possible to control inflammation. CBD is an antagonist of the CB2 receptor, so does not have a direct anti-inflammatory effect, but boosts anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol – both endocannabinoids have been found to inhibit inflammatory processes.
THC is a potent agonist of the CB1 receptor, hence why it has a reputation for making recreational cannabis users very hungry and very thirsty. This effect may be somewhat unnatural but influencing the receptor more subtly via CBD can help to address appetite issues.
Firstly, as an antagonist of the CB1 receptor, CBD can block hunger hormones, which makes it a potentially effective weight loss supplement. However, for those who find themselves not eating enough, CBD may have the opposite effect. People with eating disorders or depression may feel anxious about eating or not have the desire to eat at all. The chemical imbalances causing these feelings can be regulated by CBD, which is always trying to bring the body into homeostasis.
With this in mind, it should be noted that, as of 2018, there are no clinical studies on CBD and appetite.
Short-term memory impairment is a commonly reported side effect of smoking high-THC cannabis, and studies on mice have indeed shown that THC suppresses long-term potentiation in the hippocampus, the region of the brain where long-term memories are formed and stored. While the effects of this appear mostly negative, THC has been touted as a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, as a way to delete bad memories.
In contrast, CBD helps to increase the amount of hippocampal gray area by supporting neurogenesis in adults. In turn, this may boost short-term and long-term memory. The benefits CBD could have for cognition are unclear. But there are signs that the cannabinoid’s potential goes beyond reducing anxiety, namely attention bias to threatening stimuli, and that CBD may modulate activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which controls empathy, impulsive control and an array of cognitive functions.
How to use CBD effectively
Different CBD products have different uses in regard to ECS regulation. Acute chronic or neuropathic pain symptoms as a result of increased pain sensitivity need to be managed quickly and can be done so by inhaling vapor from CBD vape oil and e-liquid. However, inflammation affecting the skin, such as acne, cannot be treated with a CBD product that requires ingestion or inhalation. In this case, using a CBD topical on the aggravated area helps to mitigate symptoms by involving CB2 receptors on the white blood cells in the skin.