Cannabidiol (CBD) is gaining popularity for its potential to assist many conditions, both chronic and short-term. CBD is a cannabinoid molecule produced by the cannabis plant. It can be consumed naturally in marijuana or hemp products, or removed through a process of extraction and made into a variety of CBD products like oil, edibles, or salves.
One area that researchers are interested in is the potential of CBD to help neurological conditions. With research compounding and new studies being conducted regularly, scientists are finding more and more interesting benefits of CBD and the way it interacts with the brain. However, understanding how CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the brain is a complicated undertaking. The brain itself is incredibly complex and contains a wide variety of receptors, conducting a multitude of interactions every second. As complex as the research is, it’s already showing positive results and many are hopeful for what more years and more research can bring to the problem.
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is responsible for maintaining the body’s state of homeostasis. If a disturbance happens in the body, the ECS will work to make sure everything remains at a stable and optimal level, correcting whatever imbalance first triggered its response. This is an important function of the human body because all internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- The endocannabinoids are chemical compounds the body naturally produces but are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
- The cannabinoid receptors, which are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to these receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. At the core, enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
How CBD Interacts with the Brain
Inside the brain are highly specialized cells called neurons which connect to other neurons through structures called synapses. By releasing chemicals known as neurotransmitters, neurons are able to communicate with each other. These neurons have their own receptors. The receptors respond to chemicals produced by the brain (dopamine, serotonin) as well as chemicals produced outside the body, like cannabinoids.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are so similar to naturally produced chemical compounds within the body, it’s possible for the CBD compound to attach itself to the receptors in the same way as endocannabinoids. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Once attached, CBD acts as an antagonist, or blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
For example, CBD works to inhibit the FAAH enzyme which breaks down the anandamide endocannabinoid the body produces. Anandamide produces a calming feeling, so by keeping the enzymes from destroying this compound a naturally therapeutic effect should be felt immediately .
Benefits of CBD
Many neurological disorders have one thing in common: neuroinflammation. Researchers have linked inflammation to neurodegenerative diseases like depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and epilepsy . Recent studies on mice have suggested that CBD slows down an overactive inflammatory response, even reducing neuroinflammation after a stroke . With the possibility of reduced inflammation in the brain, CBD may have the potential to alleviate some devastating symptoms of many neurological conditions.
Just like the rest of the body, keeping the brain healthy is essential to living a long life. As humans age, memory or learning abilities may slow down. That’s a natural part of life. However sometimes the brain degenerates at a more rapid rate than expected. This can be due to genetics or lifestyle habits, but it’s also linked to a decrease in neuroplasticity where memory and learning take place, and neurogenesis, the process that creates new brain cells. One study has found that CBD works to increase neurogenesis and neuroplasticity in mice , a promising result for the future of brain science and aging brains.
Oxidative stress and free radicals can be causes of age-related brain decline. Free radicals are part of everyday life and a consequence of living. Humans make free radicals when they eat, breath, and sleep. Production of these molecules can increase due to exposure to stress, pollution, and a poor diet. The best defense against free radicals is antioxidants . Research has shown that CBD may have powerful antioxidant properties, possibly comparable to those of vitamin C and vitamin E , hinting at its potential to be an essential part of the battle against free radicals.
As mentioned earlier, neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that communicate signals between the brain and body. They are used to instruct a variety of systems on the steps needed to function in a healthy way. They direct the lungs to breathe and the stomach to digest. Healthy neurotransmission is essential to a functional human body. If an imbalance does happen there are any number of effects that can be felt. Mood changes, appetite changes, and the disruption of sleep can all be caused by unhealthy neurotransmitters. Stress, diet, toxins, and even medications can all throw neurotransmitters out of balance. Studies on animals have shown that CBD increased serotonin levels and glutamate in depressed test subjects . Serotonin is responsible for controlling mood and personality, while glutamate is a transmitter released by nerve cells and plays an important role in memory and learning. Both are important factors for mental health.
Currently the only FDA approved CBD medication is for the treatment of epilepsy, a chronic disorder that causes often debilitating seizures. The drug, called Epidiolex, is made from a CBD isolate and is used in the treatment of two specific forms of epilepsy. Clinical studies on humans have shown CBD to be very effective at reducing seizures, although it is currently unknown if this is directly due to CBD or because of CBD’s ability to work effectively with other medications to enhance their benefits . Since the effect of CBD as an anticonvulsant is one of the most researched in cannabis studies, society will continue to see further studies and evidence about these properties and how they relate to CBD.
CBD is quickly becoming a popular supplement in the United States. Due to its supposed neurological benefits, people are adding it to their daily lives to help with a variety of mental concerns. CBD has been studied for its assistance in easing anxiety, particularly general and social anxieties. The study showed that CBD may have helped those with anxiety feel more at ease when faced with a normally stressful circumstance: public speaking .
Along with its apparent anti-anxiety properties, CBD has also shown potential to help with depression. Studies on mice have shown that CBD exhibited both anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in the animals . Research is still very new and more studies on humans need to be conducted, however early research shows its potential, as do anecdotal reports from users around the globe.
Dementia-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinon’s disease, Frontotemporal dementia, and Huntington’s disease all have the potential to be helped by CBD. Research conducted at the Salk Institute in California suggests that cannabinoids such as CBD have the potential to remove the toxic protein associated with dementia from the connections between the brain cells while also increasing those same connections to assist in cognitive stability. Research has shown this particular toxin to cause inflammation in the brain and higher rates of neuron death. Scientists were able to conclude that introducing cannabinoids reduced the levels of this toxin, thus eliminating the inflammatory response which allowed the nerve cells to survive .
These types of studies are still very new and evolving, but the potential is there and researchers are working as fast as they can to see how CBD and other cannabinoids can help treat the terrible disorders associated with dementia and other brain dysfunctions.