Research into cannabidiol’s effects on the brain has skyrocketed as fast as its consumer consumption - the global CBD market is said to have surpassed £2.2 billion in 2019, spanning across products from gummies, to oils, beauty products and even tampons in a bid to satisfy the ever-increasing demand.
We know that it interacts with our central nervous system, but with such an explosion in popularity, what process does our brain actually go through on CBD? And how can we harness that process to address disease and brain function?
What Makes CBD Different from THC?
Although CBD is a cannabinoid, it is not thought to have intoxicating effects like THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis. This is one of the main contributing factors to its influence in the medicinal sphere, as it won’t make users ‘high’ the same way a product containing THC might.
While THC and CBD have similar molecular structures, there are slight differences in their atom arrangements. CBD binds to CB1 and CB2, two key receptors in the central nervous system, at a much slower rate than THC.
But there is still a lot going on in the brain under the influence of CBD - it has been found to activate specific neurons and receptors, such as dopamine and serotonin.
Cannabis trials have also provided insight into the effects of CBD and THC working together in the brain. When acting simultaneously, the two compounds are thought to have an ‘entourage effect’. This means that they complement each other’s beneficial properties, as well as levels of potency.
How Does it Work?
CBD undergoes a binding process in the brain that has four key effects:
Medicinal Qualities and Treatments
From diabetes to sclerosis, research into the effects of cannabidiol on issues within the brain is ever-expanding.
This includes symptoms of epilepsy, which CBD supports in two ways: it lowers the degree of excitation of cells in the brain that contribute to seizures, and it also stops the brain mechanisms that contribute to seizures by enhancing the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.
A study from the British Paediatric Neurology Association showed CBD to reduce the occurrence of monthly seizures in children. Patients were given a cannabis oil extract from plants cultivated to have a CBD/THC ratio of 20:1, whereby over half of those had over a 50% reduction in mean monthly seizure frequency.
There is also a growing awareness of the supportive effects of cannabidiol on Alzheimer’s, a cognitive disease that is thought to affect more than 1 in 9 people.
Although no studies have shown that CBD can stop or slow the progression of the disease, there is research to suggest that it can help manage certain behavioural issues that can develop, such as aggression and agitation.
One study found that a two-week course of high doses of CBD helped to restore the function of two proteins that are key to reducing the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque, a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
The cognition of participants was also improved in an experimental model of early-onset familial Alzheimer’s.
How Can CBD Improve Mental Health?
The medicinal properties of CBD have also been linked to supporting the symptoms and improving the quality of mental health issues.
This has been highlighted in its anxiety-reducing effects - as a non-psychoactive compound, CBD has been praised for its capacity to calm.
A study conducted by the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry in 2019 recorded the anxiety levels of 57 male participants in a simulated public speaking test. Some were given differing levels of CBD before their speeches while others received a placebo.
Those who were given 300 milligrams of CBD were shown to experience significantly reduced levels of anxiety compared to those in the placebo group.
Similarly, there has been evidence to suggest the positive effects of CBD on those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although there are preconceptions of PTSD impacting veterans with nightmarish flashbacks of wartime, the disorder is thought to affect at least 10% of people at some stage in their life.
Cannabidiol has been shown to drastically reduce lingering symptoms of trauma amongst sufferers through its anxiety-reducing properties. A recent study saw 10 of 11 people experience a significant decline in PTSD symptoms after eight weeks on CBD, according to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Some research has even indicated that taking CBD directly after a traumatic event can help to slow down the progression of memories formed in the brain, making it less likely for symptoms of PTSD to develop. This is due to the endocannabinoid process and its effects on anxiety and memory, both of which are significant contributing factors in PTSD.
The Future of CBD
The CBD industry is constantly expanding, and it’s clear we’re just starting to scratch the surface of research into understanding its effects on the brain.
With its non-psychoactive properties and medicinal qualities, the evolution of cannabidiol as a treatment for neurological, cognitive, and recessive disorders holds huge potential for future advancements in mental healthcare.
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider before taking CBD for medicinal purposes.