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What is CBD and what does it do?

Before we look at what CBD does lets quickly define what CBD is. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of 113 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is one of the most abundant of these compounds, along with THC. However, it is important to note that unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. In short, it will not get you ‘high’. CBD products that are sold legally in the UK need to have less than 0.2% THC content. At this level of THC, it will have no such effects. CBD has been the subject of many studies, most have shown health benefits. Lots of people have heard this, so more and more people are taking CBD.  But, most people don’t know why it does anything at all.  So this brings us to the interesting part, what does it do? Well, quite a lot actually…

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ES)?

CBD interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our Endocannabinoid System (ES). These receptors are located throughout our bodies, particularly in the brain and along the spinal cord. One 2008 study found that ‘CBD displays unexpectedly high potency’ in interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our bodies. The study found that could be the explanation for such ‘a broad range of therapeutic effects’.

The ES is responsible for regulating many bodily processes with the goal of achieving homeostasis, a balanced equilibrium that promotes wellbeing and favourable health. For example, achieving a healthy sleeping pattern is very helpful to overall good mental and physical health. A 2020 study concluded ‘It is becoming increasingly evident that endocannabinoids play a prominent role in sleep and sleep neurophysiology, and cannabinoid drugs alter these processes’. Whilst we are still learning what precisely the ES does, it has been linked to the following processes:

  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardio system function
  • muscle formation
  • bone re-modelling and growth
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function

What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED)?

The theory of CED was first presented in 2001. The theory is based on the concept that many brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Depression are associated with neurotransmitter deficiencies. Therefore, a similar deficiency in endocannabinoid levels may lead to disorders where processes are dependant on the ES. The main conditions theorised are migraine, fibromyalgia and IBS. A 2008 study found ‘patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicine’s’. None of these conditions have an obvious cause and they can often present in patients alongside each other. A 2016 review concluded ‘the current review has examined the concept of CED and presented more than a decade of supportive objective evidence’. Although more research has to be done to fully understand the Endocannabinoid System, there is plenty of evidence it plays a big role in key bodily processes.

The Endocannabinoid System is responsible for regulating many bodily processes with the goal of achieving homeostasis, a balanced equilibrium that promotes wellbeing and favourable health.

How does CBD affect anxiety?

CBD has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala. The amygdala holds a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional responses, including fear and anxiety. Because it is central to the neuro responses that initiate the fight or flight response and panic attacks, people with anxiety disorders will generally have an overactive amygdala. Indeed, a 2009 study measured the effects of CBD on brain activity using MRI scans. They found that CBD reduced activity in the amygdala. This makes CBD an ideal option for treatments. The results were confirmed by a later study.