Cannabidiol, fondly known as CBD, is one of more than a hundred compounds (called phytocannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant. The other best-known compound is THC. Unlike THC, CBD does not create that high that is often associated with the use of cannabis products. CBD plays a role in various parts, functions, and systems in your body – and yes, there is even an entire system named after the cannabis plant. This system plays a role in keeping your body in balance, and as you might have guessed, CBD effects this system. In order to understand how CBD works in your body, lets first take a look at a few critical body systems that it effects.
Your Nervous System
Your nervous system is a network that runs throughout your body. It gets information about what is going on around you, interprets it, and then responds to whatever is going on. For example, when it is hot, your nervous system registers this, thinks: ‘Geez, it’s hot!’, and tells your body to produce sweat to cool off.
Your nervous system is made up of cells called neurons. Your brain cells are made of these cells, and they communicate with each other and other cells and organs in your body through chemical and electrical signals.
Each neuron has a cell body from which dendrites and axons extend. The dendrites and axons, respectively, receive messages from other neurons and deliver them to different parts of your body. If you were to think of your body’s messaging system as an email account, the dendrites would work as your inbox while the axons can be seen as your sent box.
There are tiny spaces between neurons that are called synapses. When a neuron gets a message, it releases a bunch of chemicals into this space between it and the next neuron. The chemicals interact with receptors on the second neuron, and the message moves along. These chemicals and receptors work similarly to a lock and key. Each chemical has a unique shape and can only be received by a receiver that matches that shape.
Your Endocannabinoid System.
Researchers only discovered the endocannabinoid system fairly recently – while they were studying how THC affects the human body – and that is how this system got its name.
Your endocannabinoid system is a part of nearly every system and function in your body. It helps keep your body systems and functions balanced by releasing endocannabinoids that communicate with different cannabinoid receptors. It plays a role in the regulation of numerous bodily functions, including sleep, appetite, mood, pain perception and management, bone health, and even reproductive functions.
The two main types of endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-archidonyl glycerol (2-AG). These molecules are produced by your body and often referred to as endogenous cannabinoids – a fancy way of saying that they are cannabinoids that originates in your body. These two compounds are necessary for your body functions to work correctly.
Anandamide is often called the ‘bliss molecule.’ Really, it gets its name from the Sanskrit word Ananda which means joy, bliss, or delight. It affects the systems in your brain that make you feel good after doing something – a reward system in a sense. Anandamide also controls the number and kinds of receptors that get activated when you feel pain and plays a role in the connections between nerve cells that affect your memory. Anandamide mostly connects with CB1 receptors in your endocannabinoid system.
2-Archidonyl glycerol is more abundant in your body. If anandamide is the bliss molecule, 2-Archidonyl glycerol is the social butterfly. It connects to both CB1 and BC2 receptors as well as the system in your body that deals with body temperature regulation. It plays a role in controlling inflammation in your body through suppression of the immune system, regulates your appetite, and pain management.
There are two primary receptors in your endocannabinoid system: CB1 And CB2. CB1 is mostly found in your brain cells, while CB2 is more prevalent in your central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, white blood cells, and immune system.
Endocannabinoids bind to endocannabinoid receptors to tell them that they need to perform an action – the same way neurotransmitters communicate in your nervous system. The difference is that your endocannabinoid system communicates in the opposite direction to your nervous system. Cannabinoids see what message is received by your neurons or cells and jump into action to communicate with the cells from which the messages came.
For example, if you get injured, your body responds by sending more blood and white blood cells to that part of your body. Your endocannabinoid system will register this and notice that there are increased amounts of blood and white blood cells in that area. Once your endocannabinoid system has determined that these higher volumes are no longer needed, the cannabinoids connect to the cannabinoid receptors in that area. This tells your body to stop sending blood and white blood cells to that part of your body.
How Does CBD Work in Your Body?
CBD does not bind with receptors in your endocannabinoid system. Instead, it supports the functioning of that system. That is where consuming CBD becomes so beneficial – it is much like eating anything from maple syrup to peanut butter to help your body function optimally.
Cannabidiol imitates and enhances the endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by your body. When you take CBD, your body responds by releasing 2-AG. Since 2-AG connects and stimulates both CB1 and CB2 receptors, you enhance the effect that 2-AG has on your body.
CBD also slows down the activity of the fatty acid that breaks down anandamide, called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which means it is available for use in your body for longer. This leads to that reward system to stay active and that feel-good mood to hang around.
Bodily functions outside of the endocannabinoid system are also affected by CBD. It stimulates the 5hT receptor, which usually connects to serotonin. Serotonin is a substance that acts as a neurotransmitter and is responsible for regulating your mood and memory. It is often referred to as the happy chemical. By stimulating this receptor, it helps with mood regulation and even more of that feel-good mood.
Your body has Vanilloid receptors, and CBD binds directly to one of these receptors, referred to as Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 (TRPV1). This receptor regulates pain perception, inflammation, and your body temperature.
Besides CB1 and CB2, there is another, lesser-known, endocannabinoid receptor called GPR55. CBD binds with this receptor, which could slow down the degeneration of your bones and provide antiseptic functions in your body.
Lastly, and perhaps surprisingly, CBD changes the shape of CB1 receptors, making them less optimal for THC to bind to them. That tends to lower the effects of THC slightly.
The endocannabinoid system is so new and vast that research and discoveries are ongoing. While CBD does not directly connect to the receptors in your endocannabinoid system, it does support it and helps it to work even more effectively. Since the endocannabinoid system carries out functions throughout your entire body, adding CBD to your diet can help your body stay healthy and well-balanced.