Cannabis has been in use for millennia to treat a variety of medical conditions but it wasn’t until 1940 that CBD or Cannabidiol was first isolated and it wasn’t until 1963 that it was fully elucidated. For a long time, THC was thought to be the “active” ingredient in Cannabis due to the belief that activity meant psychoactivity and therefore THC was the only component of Cannabis that was studied. It was discovered later that CBD did not produce psychoactivity but that it had many therapeutic effects on pain, convulsions, anxiety, inflammation and neurological diseases to name just a few. It is the ability of CBD to have positive therapeutic effects without the “high” usually associated with Cannabis that has caused it to be labeled the “good guy.”
Actually, there are at least 80 “cannabinoids” or different chemical compounds present in cannabis plants in varying degrees depending on the strain of individual plants. For the past 20 years, scientists have been working to understand how CBD works and although that understanding is far from complete, much is known about the mechanism by which CBD works.
You might be surprised and interested to learn that the brain has it’s own naturally occurring marijuana-like molecules, the so-called endocannabinoids. These “natural marijuana’s” are thought to help the brain function normally. CBD has been shown to raise the level of endocannabinoids which some scientists think may be responsible for its effect in preventing seizures.
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind directly to the two cannabinoid receptors but it seems to modulate or control several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. CBD is very fat soluble and therefore tends to concentrate in fat-containing structures such as the brain and adipose or fat tissue. Yes, the brain contains a lot of fat or lipid tissue so the term “fat head” may not be so wrong after all!!
One major idea about how CBD works is that it may delay the “reuptake” of certain neurotransmitter chemicals which are released very briefly at the synapses, where one nerve cell communicates with another and then taken back up very quickly. Preventing those chemicals from being taken back up can enhance their effect which may be beneficial in treating some psychiatric conditions.
High concentrations of CBD have been shown to activate Serotonin receptors which may also help to explain it’s anti-anxiety effect. This mechanism has also been used to explain the beneficial effect of CBD on other neurological disorders such as addiction, appetite, sleep, pain perception, nausea, and vomiting.
Another mechanism of CBD is to interact with various ion channels which are known to mediate pain perception, inflammation and body temperature. Other studies have shown that CBD, while it activates certain chemical receptors, it may actually block another group of receptors called “orphan” receptors. These receptors are called “orphan” because it is not certain to what family they might belong. Orphan receptors are prominent in the brain and have a role in regulating blood pressure and bone density. Orphan receptors also appear to play a part in cancer cell growth and it is hoped that CBD may have a future role in slowing or stopping the growth of human cancers.
Although as mentioned, CBD doesn’t bind directly to the cannabinoid receptor, it does change the shape of one of those receptors in a way that weakens the ability of that receptor to bind with THC and that action explains why people who use cannabis products rich in CBD do not feel “high.”
I think you can see by now that CBD is an amazing chemical with properties which have only recently been identified. A lot is known about how CBD works but there is much that is not known. CBD holds out the promise of helping in a myriad of human diseases but without the stigma of abuse so often attributed to “marijuana!” CBD is indeed the “good guy” in Cannabis.