How Does CBD Actually Work?

29th December 2021

While CBD has quickly grown to be one of the most popular ingredients in the wellness – and increasingly, the medical world, there is still a lot to learn about how this cannabis compound actually works. But, fear not! In this article, we outline what we do know about how CBD interacts with our bodies.

The Endocannabinoid System

To start from the beginning, we have to look at the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This is a system present in the human body that can affect physiological and emotional reactions. It is made up of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes which synthesise these endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids – compounds produced naturally in the body that were named after the cannabis compounds like CBD – interact with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids have also been found to interact with these receptors, leading to a number of effects.

Source: Osher Centre


The most well-known endocannabinoids are Anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide is known to interact with CB1 receptors, and cause reactions in the brain linked to reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. The name for ‘Anandamide’ comes from the Sanskrit word “Ananda”, meaning ‘bliss’ or ‘happiness’.


Once the endocannabinoids have done their jobs, they need to be broken down to stop them from stimulating the ECS indefinitely. This is where enzymes come in. The most well-known ECS enzymes are FAAH (which breaks down anandamide) and MAGL (which breaks down 2-AG).


Cannabinoids are compounds that are also able to interact with the receptors found in the ECS. There are a large number of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, the most common being THC and CBD. These are also sometimes referred to as phytocannabinoids.


THC is the main cannabinoid agonist of anandamide, and in low doses can have similar anti-anxiety effects. However, in higher doses, THC is believed to overstimulate the CB1 receptors, interrupting the reactions between the natural cannabinoids and receptors. This can actually lead to increased feelings of anxiety.

Nonetheless, THC has been found to have a number of significant health and wellness properties that can make it useful as a medicine. In fact, it is increasingly prescribed for a range of conditions and symptoms, including spasticity, pain, and epilepsy.


On the other hand, CBD does not directly interact with the receptors in the ECS. It is actually a strong “negative allosteric modulator” of the receptors. This means that it modifies the way that the receptors interact with endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

This prevents THC from binding to the receptor. In turn, this can help to prevent the over-stimulation of the CB1 receptors, and reduce the psychotic effects and ‘high’ feeling caused by THC.

The modification effect of CBD also affects serotonin receptors. As a result, the body essentially sends messages to the proteins responsible for producing serotonin. This can result in anxiolytic (reduced feelings of anxiety) effects. The discovery of this reaction has been the subject of many studies into the effects of CBD.

More in-detail knowledge around the Endocannabinoid system and the effects of cannabinoids on this system are still needed. In fact, only a handful of the 180,000 doctors in the UK, are educated in the endocannabinoid system at all.

However, despite the lack of research around cannabinoids and the ECS, the theories of the benefits of CBD intake are increasing. Self-administration of CBD  is possible and acceptable, as the World Health Organisation has declared it safe and well tolerated.

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