The debate on CBD oil has been centered on if it works, in terms of the physical effects it produces. While we have a boatload of research about how it works, a great question to ask is still left unsaid. Everyone’s getting in on the debate, but in all the noise a very important part of the discussion is being ignored.
How does CBD work? How does it interact with the body under the hood?
Let’s dig deeper.
CBD Molecular Structure
One of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, The Cannabidiol (CBD) molecule was initially found by Mechoulam and Shvo in 1964. In some cannabis plants, including Hemp, it can account for up to 40% of the total plant extract. At room temperature, it can be characterized as clear crystalline solid.
The compound itself is remarkably similar to THC. Both have 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. Just in case you weren’t paying attention in chemistry class:
The only difference between the two is the arrangement of the Hydroxide in CBD v. the oxygen found in THC. This tiny structure is what makes the difference between the therapeutic, non-psychoactive properties of CBD as opposed to the “high” you get from THC.
Now, we could stop there and call it a day, but the real answer to understanding how CBD works requires us to go a few steps deeper.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is a series of cannabinoid receptor proteins that are found within the mammalian central and peripheral nervous systems. Your body has a series of receptors located throughout the body, which are known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors, which are found mostly in the brain, the central nervous system, and the intestines. The CB2 receptors are found primarily on white blood cells in the tonsils and in the spleen.
Your body naturally produces natural cannabinoid compounds which interact with the ECS and regulate everything from mood, appetite, immune system function, and pain management.
You experience endocannabinoids interacting with your brain daily. The “high” you feel after completing a workout is a naturally occurring example of endocannabinoids produced in your body passing through the blood-brain barrier.
So how does CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system?
It doesn’t. At least, not directly. Cannabidiol (CBD) has a minimal binding affinity to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. In fact, it works as an allosteric modulator, and changes the size of the CB1 receptors in order to prevent the absorption and lower the binding affinity of THC. This explains in part why CBD helps modulate the effects of THC. With that said, you might be wondering, how does CBD work?
CBD works on the peripheries of the ECS. For example, CBD has been found to interact with the 5-HT1A neuroreceptor in order to provide an anti-anxiety response.
The 5-HT1A receptor is activated by serotonin, and is found in both nervous systems, and works to transmit chemical messages to either inhibit, or excite certain functions within the body, including the brain.
CBD also interacts with TRPV1 receptors to produce a therapeutic effect. The TRPV1, which is referred to as the vanilloid receptor is known to modulate the perception of pain and of temperature.
CBD also can confer an anti-cancer effect by activating PPARs [peroxisome proliferator activated receptors] on a cell’s nucleus. Activation of the receptor known as PPAR-gamma can prevent the out of control growth of cells, and act to induce tumor regression in human lung cancer cell lines. PPAR-gamma activation degrades amyloid-beta plaque, a key molecule linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
PPAR receptors also regulate genes that are involved in homeostasis, lipid uptake, insulin sensitivity, and other metabolic functions. It goes without saying that further research in this area is needed, but there appears to be benefit in potentially fighting diabetes and other degenerative neurological diseases.
CBD also has a strong binding affinity with several types of FABPs (fatty acid binding proteins), which take fatty lipids into the interior of a cell. These FABPs also transport THC, and our natural endocannabinoids into the cell, including anandamide. Known as the bliss molecule, CBD can increase the amount of time it takes for anandamide to make its way into the cell by occupying other FABP transport molecules. This activity blocks the reuptake of anandamide in the cell, which contributes to more of it being available. This function is thought to play a key role in CBDs potential neuroprotective effect against seizures and may confer many other yet researched health benefits.
As mentioned earlier, CBD also functions as an allosteric modulator, which allows it to either enhance or inhibit the way a receptor transmits it’s signal by altering the shape of the receptor. Though CBD has a weak affinity for the CB1 and CB2 receptors, it’s ability to act as a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor is what allows it to weaken the effect of THC on the brain. In other words, it lowers the potency of THC and prevents it’s psychoactive properties from being able to realize their full effect.