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The Benefits of CBD and How it Works

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of numerous cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, found in the cannabis plant. It is the second most abundant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for producing a ‘high’ sensation. CBD offers a diverse range of healing benefits — without the psychoactive effect.

Numerous studies have been conducted over the past decades assessing the impact of CBD on a variety of conditions from pain to anxiety, and exploring how CBD actually interacts with our bodies in order to produce these results.

Research into CBD’s effects and ways of working is continuously growing, and leading to exciting findings related to physical, mental and emotional health. In this article, we will dive into what is known so far on how CBD works, and the many benefits it can provide.

How does CBD interact with your body?

When cannabis is used in its various forms, the cannabinoids in the plant affect our bodies by interacting with our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system is a complex system that is active in our bodies, whether or not we use cannabis. While research is still being done on how the ECS works, we know that it plays a role in maintaining your body’s homeostasis, or internal balance and stability. When something throws off your body’s homeostasis — such as injury or illness — the ECS helps your body return to normal.

The ECS is made up of three core components: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes.

– Endocannabinoids, or endogenous cannabinoids, are similar to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, but are naturally produced by our bodies.

– Endocannabinoids bind to endocannabinoid receptors, found throughout our bodies, when the ECS needs to take action. There are two kinds of receptors: CB1, which is found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The majority of these receptors are located in the hippocampus and amygdala regions of the brain, which are primarily involved in the regulation of memory, fear, and emotion. CB2, which is found in the peripheral nervous system in immune cells, lymphoid tissue, and peripheral nerve terminals

– Enzymes break down endocannabinoids once they have performed the necessary function.

Experts are not yet clear on precisely how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. The widely held belief is that CBD prevents endocannabinoids from being broken down, enabling them to have a greater effect on the body. While the exact process is yet to be understood, research shows that CBD can help with inflammation, pain, sleep, and other functions regulated by the ECS.

Beyond its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, cannabidiol affects our bodies by binding to three additional receptors:

– At high concentrations, CBD directly activates 5-HT1A serotonin receptors, which are involved in a range of biological and neurological processes, including anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain perception, nausea and vomiting

– CBD also activates TRPV1 receptors. Also known as “vanilloid” receptors, TRPV1 receptors mediate pain perception, inflammation and body temperature

– Finally, CBD blocks a receptor called GPR55. Overactive GPR55 receptor signalling is associate with osteoporosis — by blocking GPR55 signalling, CBD may act to decrease both bone reabsorption and cancer cell proliferation. These receptors are also widely expressed in the brain, especially in the cerebellum, and are involved in modulating blood pressure and bone density

How does CBD help with inflammation?

One of the many benefits of cannabidiol is its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism that the body uses to fight off illness-causing pathogens and foreign compounds. In the case of injury or infection, acute inflammation lasts briefly, and plays a vital role in healing.

Chronic inflammation, however, carries on for months or years. It can be caused by, and result in, a number of severe conditions. Longterm diseases associated with inflammation include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular disease.

CBD exerts its potent anti-inflammatory effects through four biological processes:

  • Induction of apoptosis. Apoptosis is the body’s highly regulated process of programmed cell death. This natural mechanism maintains homeostasis, and can eliminate potentially threatening cells. At optimal concentrations, cannabidiol can induce apoptosis in immune cells, alleviating inflammatory responses and protecting from acute and chronic inflammation. In patients with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or arthritis, diseases caused by activated immune cells, CBD may trigger apoptosis and act as anti-inflammatory therapy.
  • Inhibition of cell proliferation. CBD can be extremely beneficial in blocking the growth of tumors, and may also be beneficial in treating certain types of cancers triggered by chronic inflammation. In such instances, CBD can either directly inhibit tumor growth, or suppress inflammation and the growth of the blood vessels that help sustain the tumor.
  • Suppression of cytokine production. CBD deregulates the production of Cytokines, a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation.
  • Induction of T-regulatory cells. CBD induces T-regulatory cells (Tregs), a component of the immune system that suppresses the immune responses of other cells in order to inhibit inflammatory responses.

Studies have shown that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may help alleviate multiple inflammation-related conditions, when used in both topical and oral forms.

  • One of the causes of acne is underlying inflammation, and the overproduction of an oily secretion produced by the skin, called sebum. Recent studies show CBD oil may help treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce sebum production
  • Additional skin conditions. When applied to the skin as an ointment, CBD can significantly reduce inflammation in psoriasis and other skin diseases, as well as scarring.
  • Numerous studies have shown that a combination of CBD and THC is effective in reducing pain related to arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis. Additional studies show that a combination of CBD and THC improves pain during movement, walking, and muscle spasms for patients with multiple sclerosis
  • Neurodegenerative diseases. Though more research is needed, initial research shows CBD may reduce the inflammation that can exacerbate diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

How does CBD help with pain?

The use of cannabidiol to treat chronic pain dates back thousands of years. Still today, pain relief is the most common reason for the use of medical cannabis in the US.

The efficacy of CBD in treating chronic pain stems from its interaction with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our body.

  • CB1 receptors are present in the pain pathway at the peripheral and central nervous systems, and are distributed in regions of the brain (mainly the thalamus and amygdala) that are involved in processing and regulating the subjective experience of pain. They are also present in the peripheral sensory nerve endings
  • CB2 receptors are expressed in several types of inflammatory cells, as well as B and T cells that are crucial for the healthy functioning of our immune system. Activation of CB2 receptors can generate a pain-relieving response in moment of intense pain caused by inflammation and neuropathic pain

CBD has proven effective in improving pain across a number of conditions:

  • Chronic pain. Researchers have concluded CBD to be effective in overall pain management for people experiencing back pain, cancer-related pain, and muscle and bone pain caused by fibromyalgia
  • Neuropathic pain. Neuropathy is pain caused by damage to the nerves, and is associated with injuries such as herniated discs, and infections such as shingles. Studies have found CBD to help with chronic neuropathy pain
  • Cancer treatment relief. The National Cancer Institute lists CBD as a treatment for reducing common side effects of chemotherapy, including pain, vomiting, and lack of appetite. Studies on oral sprays combining CBD and THC have shown greater relief for patients using oral sprays together with opioids, than patients using opioids alone

Migraine pain relief. A series of studies combining CBD and THC show effectiveness in reducing acute pain for people with migraines and cluster headaches.

How does CBD help with anxiety?

Beyond the relief of physical conditions, CBD boasts benefits in addressing mental and emotional conditions, including anxiety management.

The anxiety-reducing effect of CBD is carried out in a few ways:

  • Interaction with a number of receptors in the body known to regulate fear and anxiety-related behaviors, specifically CB1, 5-HT1A serotonin, and TRPV1
  • Activation of anxiety-reducing receptors, including A1 and A2A
  • Altering the shape of the GABA-A receptor, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, in a way that amplifies its natural calming effect. The sedating effects of Valium and other Benzodiazepines are also mediated by GABA receptor transmission
  • When looking at the brain activity of people who consume it, CBD has been shown to reduce activity in the left amygdala. As the amygdala has a central role in responses to stressful and arousing situations, its reduced activity is directly linked with the anxiety-reducing effects of CBD

Numerous studies exhibit the positive effects of CBD on a range of anxiety-related conditions and behaviors:

  • General anxiety. The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that CBD has been shown to reduce subjects’ physiological signs of anxiety, including increased heart rate
  • Post traumatic stress disorder. Multiple studies have shown that CBD can alleviate symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares and the replaying of bad memories

Social anxiety disorder. Research participants with SAD experienced overall reduced anxiety levels after taking CBD orally. An additional study showed CBD effective in helping people with social anxiety give public speeches

How does CBD help with sleep?

Sleeplessness is caused by a number of diverse factors. These can include physical conditions such as chronic pain, mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, or of course external factors such as loud noises or uncomfortable sleeping conditions.

Cannabidiol can help us get a better night’s sleep by alleviating some of the root causes of sleeplessness, such as pain and anxiety. However, CBD boasts additional benefits in treating sleep disorders because of its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in the regulation of the circadian sleep–wake cycle — including the maintenance of healthy sleep.

Pilot studies have shown promising results of the effects of CBD on sleep and fatigue:

  • Improving the sleep cycle: Studies show that CBD can improve the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder, in which patients act out their dreams
  • Reducing grogginess: In addition to invoking better sleep, CBD can actually promote wakefulness in patients that suffer from insomnia

How does CBD help with concentration and focus?

Cannabidiol effectively relieves many of the factors that impair our focus — pain, anxiety sleep — and can therefore naturally help boost our concentration.

Research investigating additional effects of CBD on concentration is currently anecdotal, but results are promising. A 2017 study on adults with ADHD showed that a combination of CBD and THC led to the reduction of ADHD-related symptoms.

So how does CBD work, and what can it do?

While there always remains more research to be done on how cannabidiol works and the various benefits it provides, it is clear that CBD can positively impact our health and wellbeing:

  • CBD increases the effects of our endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a complex system that works to maintain homeostasis, our body’s internal stability and balance
  • CBD boasts potent anti-inflammatory properties, and therefore helps alleviate inflammation-related conditions including acne, psoriasis, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis
  • CBD can relieve pain that results from inflammation, but also other forms of pain, including back pain, cancer-related pain, neuropathic pain and the relief of chemotherapy effects
  • Beyond its effect on physical conditions, CBD can help manage anxiety-related conditions such as PTSD and social anxiety disorder
  • Though more research must be done to understand how and why, CBD has been shown to improve sleep cycles and reduce grogginess
  • CBD relieves many of the natural factors that decrease focus, thereby boosting concentration. Anecdotal studies show promising effects on the relief of ADHD-related symptoms

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