Cannabidiol (CBD) products are in high demand at the moment, and part of the reason for this is that they are described as being beneficial for almost any conditions. But is this just media and sales hype for the latest big thing in the alternative health market, or does CBD offer users something genuinely unique? In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind CBD, look at why interest is soaring, and touch on some potential uses to improve mental and physical health.

Why now?

CBD is a chemical known as a cannabinoid, compounds which are found in abundance in cannabis and hemp, but hardly anywhere else. Since cannabis has been illegal pretty much worldwide for most of the past century, the therapeutic qualities of the herb have until recently remained an unknown. That’s despite cannabis having a rich medical history – the plant has bene referenced in several ancient cultures from all corners of the globe.

However, a limited amount of cannabinoid science has been conducted since the early 20th century, and we are now beginning to reap the rewards of that. As of 2018, medical cannabis is now legal in more American states than not, and continued relaxation around hemp laws has enabled a booming hemp-derived CBD market to emerge. The latter range of products are non-psychoactive and can be bought without needing a medical cannabis card or doctor’s permission.

An introduction to cannabinoid science

Despite their relative obscurity in the plant world, cannabinoids have been shown to hold significant influence over our health, as they can impact the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In fact, the only reason that scientists even know about this system – which affects immune system function, mood, cognition, sleep patterns and bone health – is because of the prior discovery of cannabinoids within cannabis.

The body creates chemicals called endocannabinoids which initiate various effects by binding with cannabinoid receptors. These chemicals bear a strong resemblance to plant-based cannabinoids, which are also compatible with the receptors. Consider the receptor as a lock and the cannabinoid as a key – only certain chemicals can activate them.

It gets a little more complex. CBD does not act as a key for either of the two main cannabinoid receptors. This is in total contrast to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), offering a basic explanation as to one gets you “high” and the other doesn’t.

But CBD does facilitate these ‘lock and key’ connections between the receptors and endocannabinoids. In addition to improving signalling and affecting the ability of receptors to bind with endocannabinoids, CBD also acts as a reuptake and breakdown inhibitor of anandamide – an endocannabinoid that is an agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Therefore, CBD can be thought of as a regulator of the ECS, rather than a disruptor. The evidence suggests that taking this compound promotes a balance important for our emotional and physical wellbeing.

The effect of CBD on mental health

The central nervous system contains cannabinoid receptors, and CBD can interact with these by passing the blood-brain barrier. The prospect of plant-based compounds interfering with brain receptors may sound a scary one, and indeed it is these link-ups which allow for mind-altering psychoactive effects with chemicals such as THC. However, the research conducted on CBD indicates the cannabinoid has myriads of psychological benefits.

On anxiety

Anxiety is a complex mental health disorder, but one way of relieving symptoms is by raising concentrations of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. CBD interacts with the GABA-A receptor to do just that.

One of the main issues with existing anxiety drugs is that they don’t provide immediate relief for the patient, which renders them somewhat ineffective. CBD is different to most treatments in that it can be inhaled and begin to have a therapeutic effect within minutes.

With the newfound popularity of CBD for anxiety, some companies are purchasing CBD wax wholesale, knowing they’ll have no difficulty shifting these fast-acting concentrates.

On depression

Few effective antidepressant drugs have been created because researchers are still in the dark about the causes of depression. However, recent studies indicate that the ECS may be involved, with the CB1 receptor affecting mood and anandamide having potent antidepressant properties.

As well as supporting an anandamide boost, CBD may also alleviate depressive symptoms by reversing the effects of brain inflammation. Research has shown that CBD increases hippocampal neurogenesis – the hippocampus is part of the limbic system, which controls emotion and motivation.

On psychosis and schizophrenia

The opposite effects of THC and CBD explains why the former appears to trigger and exacerbate psychosis and schizophrenia, while the latter may help to treat it. Studies have demonstrated CBD’s antipsychotic properties, and medical researchers are also encouraged by the comparatively limited side effects of taking it.

The effect of CBD on physical health

The CB2 receptors in our peripheral nervous system and the TRPV-1 (vanilloid) receptor outside of the ECS seem to be behind CBD’s most notable effects on our physical health.

On pain

CBD might not be as powerful a pain reliever as THC, but as a non-psychoactive substance, it’s still very useful. The endocannabinoid anandamide is an analgesic, and much of this effect comes from it being a partial agonist of the CB1 receptor, which controls pain perception. However, the TRPV-1 receptor also looks to be implicated – both CBD and anandamide are agonists of this pain-regulating protein.

CBD hemp flower, e-juices and tincture oils are recommended for quick pain reduction. CBD creams may be more effective at tackling localized pain.

On inflammation

Scientists’ understanding of the immune system is flawed, otherwise we would have better treatments for keeping it balanced, to prevent excessive inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids may be the secret compounds to facilitating this balance, having shown immunomodulatory properties in various studies, courtesy of CB2 receptor interactions.

When anandamide and 2-AG bind with CB2 receptors, they help to stifle the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins which are notorious for getting out of control and causing damage to organs and body tissues.