CBD and the Human Endocannabinoid System

CBD and the Human Endocannabinoid System

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the many cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. Even after decades of CBD discovery, scientists were unaware of how it functions in the body until the endocannabinoid system was found. All cannabinoids, including CBD, can interact with the receptors of the ECS in one way or another.

Owing to the therapeutic benefits of CBD, it’s being used worldwide in the natural therapy sector, and more recently, the emergence of novel prescription medicines has been licensed in the UK which contain CBD, THC, and other minor cannabinoids for the medical treatment of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and side- effects of chemotherapy.

Here's our beginner’s guide explaining how CBD and human endocannabinoids interact.

CBD Leaf, plant, oil and capsules on a marble table top

Functions of the ECS

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids that plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis in the human body.

It helps regulate physiological processes such as mood, appetite, sleep, immune response, and pain perception.

There are three main components of the endocannabinoid system:

Endocannabinoids: our body produces its own cannabinoids, which help transmit signals to the brain. The two most abundant endocannabinoids in the human body are Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). 

Endocannabinoid receptors: different types of receptors are present throughout the body, which interact with the endocannabinoids. CB1 and CB2 are the most popular endocannabinoid proteins on the cell membrane surface. CB1 is densely populated in the brain and the nervous system, where CB2 receptors are found in the immune cells. 

Endocannabinoid recycling enzymes: enzymes help assemble and break down these endocannabinoid molecules when they are not required anymore. 

Unlike the other neurotransmitters of the human body, these endocannabinoids are not stored but manufactured on demand. They are subjected to degradation as soon as they have performed their function. It’s these enzymes which lead to the breaking down process. 

Two popular most active enzymes are:

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) that breaks down AEA.
  • Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) that breaks down 2-AG.

As mentioned earlier, ECS keeps the body at equilibrium or in a balanced state. It does so by optimally supporting your bodily functions:

  • Memory and learning
  • Appetite
  • Stress response
  • Pain sensation
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Inflammation

It’s involved in the normal functioning of the following:

  • Central nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Gastrointestinal system
  • Reproductive system
  • Skeletal system
  • Immune system
  • Metabolic processes

So how does CBD interact with our ECS?

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system by binding to cannabinoid receptors, primarily CB1 and CB2. However, CBD does not directly bind to these receptors but influences them indirectly. CBD affects the ECS in several ways:

Inhibition of Enzymes: CBD can inhibit the enzymes that break down endocannabinoids, such as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). By inhibiting these enzymes, CBD can increase the levels of endocannabinoids in the body, allowing them to exert their effects for a longer duration.

Receptor Modulation: CBD does not directly bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors but can modulate their activity. It can alter the receptor's shape and function, influencing how other cannabinoids or endocannabinoids bind to and activate the receptors.

Indirect Effects: CBD can interact with other receptors in the body, such as serotonin receptors (5-HT1A), which regulate mood. CBD can influence neurotransmitter signalling and contribute to its therapeutic effects by influencing these receptors.

The interaction between CBD and the ECS is complex and not yet fully understood. However, CBD's influence on the ECS is believed to contribute to its potential therapeutic benefits, such as reducing inflammation, relieving pain, managing anxiety, improving sleep, and supporting overall well-being.

Endocannabinoid Deficiency

The ECS is a relatively newly researched system (having only been discovered in the 1990s by scientists researching the effects of THC), and we don’t have complete knowledge about its functions. What we do know is that endocannabinoids cannot be stored in the body, so we can become deficient in them.

Theories have been proposed that endocannabinoid deficiency or a total imbalance could be the potential reason behind common health issues like fibromyalgia, migraine, and irritable bowel syndrome.

However, we need more solid research to prove these theories and start using CBD and other cannabinoids to reduce the symptoms of a vast range of health issues.

As we always recommend- if you want to use start to use CBD to help improve your health or wellbeing and you are already taking medication, both prescribed or over the counter, make sure you consult with your GP or specialist first.

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