By Emily Ledger
Despite the growing popularity of CBD products in the UK, and the rest of the world, there is still much to be learned about how they actually work. However, we have outlined what we do know.
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. The most well-known receptors in the ECS are CB1 and CB2 receptors.
It is within this system that cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, can create significant effects on the mind and body.
The most recognised 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.
THC is the main cannabinoid agonist of anandamide, and in low doses can have similar anti-anxiety effects. However, THC is known to overstimulate the CB1 receptors, interrupting the reactions between the natural cannabinoids and receptors. This can actually lead to increased feelings of anxiety.
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 lacking 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.