Everything you wanted to know about CBD but were too afraid to ask!
While there is much talk about CBD right now, there are also many misconceptions about its effects on the body and confusion about CBD’s safety and usage.
Some of this confusion is due to CBD’s links with cannabis; people don’t understand how this natural compound relates to the cannabis plant, (which is illegal to grow, possess or sell in t
he UK). As a result, many people not only worry about the legality of taking CBD oil as a food supplement but also express concerns that taking CBD might make them high or experience other psychoactive reactions.
Adding further confusion to our already limited understanding about CBD are the recent changes in the law, which now allow ‘medicinal’ cannabis – cannabis with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC – I’ll explain about this later) – to be prescribed by doctors here in the UK. In particular, people are unsure how this medicinal cannabis differs in its effects to the CBD oil that can be purchased freely over the counter.
This article aims to answer these concerns by giving a summary of what CBD is and break down the science of what happens in the body when you consume CBD oil.
What is CBD oil?
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of 104 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, found in plants from the cannabis family, which includes both hemp and cannabis plants. It’s a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted and mixed with a carrier oil – often hemp seed or coconut – to create CBD oil.
It is essential to understand that CBD can be extracted from both hemp and cannabis, as they are part of the same family of plants, but there is a vast difference between them.
Hemp-derived oil has high levels of CBD and deficient levels of the chemical compound THC (the psychoactive part); whereas cannabis-derived oil has very high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. Because of this, CBD oil is extracted from hemp plants and not cannabis plants.
abidiol) is also a cannabinoid, but unlike CBD, it has a psychoactive effect. It’s this effect that causes a person to feel ‘high’ – the sensation most commonly associated with cannabis. It is, however, reported to offer a range of medicinal benefits too, and that is the reason behind medical professionals now using medicinal cannabis in their treatment of patients for specific medical conditions (and the recent change in the law allowing doctors to prescribe it).
CBD, on the other hand, does NOT cause psychoactive effects. It is legal to buy hemp-based CBD products over the counter in the UK and is considered safe to take as a food supplement (as long as it doesn’t contain a THC content greater than 0.2%). CBD does not ‘get you high’, but it does have some remarkable effects on the body and, therefore, is sought out for its multiple health benefits.
What happens in the body when you consume CBD oil?
Within our bodies, we have an endocannabinoid system. This natural system is made up of cannabinoid receptors, located throughout our whole body (not just the brain – the psychoactive part of our bodies). It is involved in many physiological processes, such as the inflammatory and immune system, as well as pain sensation, mood and memory.
There are two kinds of cannabinoid receptor – CBD 1 and CBD 2.
CBD 1 receptors are found mostly in the brain. CBD 1 is the receptor that is involved in mood, emotion and appetite, along with coordination, movement and pain (more specifically – how our brain perceives pain).
CBD 2 receptors are found all over the body. They function within our immune and inflammatory systems.
There is a correlation between CBD 1 and CBD 2 receptors, in that they communicate with one another. However, CBD 1 receptors are more connected to the brain’s processes, and CBD 2 receptors have greater involvement in the body’s physiological systems.
THC activates both these receptors (hence the recent acclaim regarding the medicinal use of cannabis). However, a common misconception is that both receptors also respond to the cannabinoid CBD. They don’t. CBD influences the body to utilise more of its naturally occurring endocannabinoids biologically. Endocannabinoids are something that the body can create but also get from food and various polyphenols (a category of natural chemicals found in plants). However, despite endocannabinoids being in our bodies, how we use them is a different story. Critically, scientific research has shown that CBD assists the body to utilise more of the endocannabinoids that already exist. So, to put it in a nutshell, the CBD oil enhances the ‘function’ of the CBD receptors – particularly CBD 2 (rather than be activated directly).
So, you might be asking, “What are CBD oil’s amazing benefits that everyone is talking about then?”. Good question. Aside from this relationship with the CBD receptors, it’s crucial to understand CBD’s physiological effect on the body as a whole.
It is CBD’s enhancement of the function of the endocannabinoid receptors that affect the activities of other receptors in the body (a by-product of more effective utilisation of the body’s endocannabinoids): most significantly the vanilloid receptors, the adenosine receptors and the serotonin receptors. The physiological processes that these three receptors work on give us the outcomes we are seeking when we take CBD oil. To explain, I’ll go through them one by one.
The vanilloid receptors work with body temperature – they help us regulate that system within the body (called thermostasis). They also help us to control inflammation in the body (using a few different pathways). In particular, if we have a higher core body temperature, it stimulates inflammation in the body (similarly a lower body temperature also affects our inflammation levels). As such, maintenance of a healthy core temperature supports normalisation of the inflammation levels in our bodies. As these vanilloid receptors correlate with the endocannabinoid receptors, improved utilisation within one system creates an enhanced function of the other (these systems use bio-chemicals to communicate with each other).
Thermostasis could explain as to why many people are choosing CBD oil as a food supplement to support their bodies with inflammation and sports injuries.
Helping us relax
Research shows that CBD inhibits adenosine. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that this possibly results in activity at the adenosine receptors through an indirect ‘agonist’ mechanism (an agonist is a chemica
l that binds to a receptor to produce a biological response).
Adenosine makes us feel relaxed (we have high levels of adenosine in our bodies when we are sleeping). Drinking coffee keeps us awake as caffeine works by blocking the adenosine receptor, drinking coffee sets in motion a secondary response of excitatory catecholamines to be released (i.e. adrenaline, noradrenaline and epinephrine – all the ‘fight or flight’ chemicals that cause us to have a heightened sense of alertness). It is these catecholamines that give us the energising effect of coffee, rather than through caffeine’s blocking of adenosine.
Increased activity in the adenosine receptor may enhance utilisation of adenosine within the body. Therefore, a sense of relaxation and calm (the opposite of the ‘bad’ effects of coffee) without a reduction in alertness and awareness, or feelings of sleepiness may result.
Could this explain why many people report a relaxing effect of taking CBD oil without experiencing any impairment to their alertness or daily functioning?
Impact on dopamine
CBD also has an essential effect on the dopamine receptors. Dopamine is the reward system in the brain, by activating dopamine, it allows us to feel good. CBD will enable us to naturally utilise more of the dopamine that is already in our bodies by increasing CBD’s effect of enhancing a dopamine receptor’s sensitivity (1).
Once again, this could be why many people report an increased sense of well-being after taking CBD oil.
CBD has another interesting connection with our bodies’ glutamine receptors (2). Glutamate is an ‘excitatory’ neurotransmitter – it triggers energy. However, too much of it is a bad thing (it can lead to seizures and other dangerous physiological responses).
We, therefore, don’t want too much glutamate; however, the right amount of it can trigger energy production in the right places. Moreover, combined with the potentially calming effects of adenosine (as outlined above), the energising specific impact of our enhanced glutamine signalling system potentially produces a unique response – we are calm, while at the same time the glutamate activates and energises particular parts of the brain that correlate with creativity, memory and retention.
Could this explain the powerful feelings of being calm and relaxed, yet still awake, which many people report after consuming CBD oil?
Helping us to feel good
There is a link between CBD and the serotonin receptors (3). Serotonin is known as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Research has found that CBD activates 5-HT1a – a sub-type of a serotonin receptor (3). 5-HT1a acts in a very similar way as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, known as SSRIs (synthesised SSRIs employed as anti-depressants in the treatment of major depressive and anxiety disorders). Research has shown that CBD allows our bodies to create more serotonin and utilise it more efficiently within our brains (3).
Perhaps this is why so many people are now choosing to use CBD oil as a food supplement to provide natural support when experiencing low moods.
Get into CBD
In conclusion, there is much complexity in understanding how our bodies respond to CBD. Despite the proven activities of CBD to modulate several signalling systems within the body (through CBD’s effect on various receptors). The exact mechanisms responsible for any potential clinical or other effects are still not fully understood.
Whilst new breakthroughs in research are increasing (trials are now moving from pre-clinical to clinical – a result of both changes in the law and more investment in this area), at present our knowledge relies heavily on the personal accounts from the many people who use CBD oil as a food supplement for improved health and well-being.
© Dani Bown December 2018
1. Bih, C.I., et al., Molecular targets of cannabidiol in neurological disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 2015. 12(4): p. 699-730.
2. Hallak, J.E., et al., The interplay of cannabinoid and NMDA glutamate receptor systems in humans: Preliminary evidence of interactive effects of cannabidiol and ketamine in healthy human subjects, 2011. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry 35(1): p. 198-202.
3. Russo, E.B., et al., Agonistic properties of cannabidiol at 5-HTP1a receptors, Neurochemical Research 2005. 30(8): p. 1037-43.