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The Science Behind CBD’s Effects on the Brain and Body

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Our current reality is undoubtedly anxiety-inducing. And understandably, demand for household products such as toilet-paper and hand sanitizer has spiked in response. But perhaps more surprising is the surge in e-commerce sales of self-care products containing CBD oil. CBD is perhaps best known for its beneficial effects on anxiety and sleep, and up until recently, this was merely hearsay.[1] The past five years have been pivotal for the legalization of CBD and its use in clinical trials. But does the science support the hype behind this craze? We’re laying out the research so you can be an informed consumer.

As always, consult a medical doctor before taking any nutritional supplements InsideTracker recommends. If you have or suspect a medical condition or are taking any medications, please consult a doctor before acting on any of our recommendations.

First, CBD largely does not come from marijuana plants

CANNABIS SATIVA (1)

The similarities and differences between THC and CBD

Δ9-THC is known for producing psychoactive effects in the body through the activation of two receptors in the central nervous system called CB1 and CB2.[2,3] The activation of these receptors triggers physiological processes across multiple organ systems, most notably the release of neurotransmitters from the central nervous system that impart the psychoactive effects associated with feeling “high”.[4]

Alternatively, CBD binds to CB1 and CB2 at a much slower rate than Δ9-THC, which results in the activation of similar physiological processes without the psychoactive or “high” effects.[4] These physiologic effects make CBD promising for clinical benefits, many of which have been tested in small-scale trials and evaluated in systematic reviews over recent years. Now, let’s get into those results and summarizing what we know so far.

A summary of the research of CBD on.

The most commonly-reported use of recreational CBD is as a treatment for anxiety. In one study, participants with social anxiety disorder who were given a one-time dosage of 600mg one hour before speaking publicly had reduced self-reported anxiety compared to a control group.[5] These anxiety-mitigating effects were replicated in a separate study of healthy subjects who were given a 300mg dose.[6] And it seems that these results are standard—a review of 11 trials found that CBD reduced anxiety when taken one hour before an anxiety-inducing event, and a compilation of case reports found that nearly 80% of patients given CBD for anxiety saw reductions in one month.[7,8]

These studies yield promising results, but cannot definitively determine that CBD improves anxiety. Larger, well-designed trials must be conducted to confirm the association between CBD and improved anxiety. For now, you can also try these strategies to reduce stress.

PTSD

Multiple reviews have concluded that sufficient evidence is still lacking on the effects of CBD on mental disorders or their symptoms.[9,10] One study found that CBD may reduce nightmares and sleep disturbances in those with PTSD, but again, larger scale, well-designed trials are warranted to confirm this relationship.[11]

Pain

Alternative therapies for pain management are of particular interest given the highly-addictive nature of modern pain medication. Early, small-scale studies suggest that, while CBD is not effective for the management of acute, short-term pain, it may play a role in chronic, long-term pain.[12,13] In one study, 97 chronic pain patients swapped their opioid prescriptions for 30mg of daily CBD for a year. The results showed that CBD improved quality of life in 94% of participants, reduced or eliminated opioid use in 53% of participants, and significantly improved sleep quality in the group after just eight weeks.[14]

Such results aren’t always clinically relevant, however. Another study found that, while CBD was effective in reducing chronic pain by about 1.5 points on an 11-point pain scale, such a change was likely not large enough to make a clinical difference in patient outcomes.[15] So, again, these promising preliminary results warrant larger, higher-powered studies.

Sleep

CBD likely has a dose-dependent effect on sleep—it appears that low doses are stimulating and keep you awake, but larger doses have a sedating effect and can improve sleep time and wakefulness during the night.[16,17] But scientific evidence behind these effects is limited and the mechanism behind them is not yet clear. Further trials are warranted, and until then, check out these proven ways to improve your sleep.

Inflammation

Physiologically, it would make sense that CBD could play a role in lowering inflammation levels due to its interaction with the ECS. In cellular and animal studies, CBD has displayed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.[4,18,19] And while this data is promising, the impact of CBD on inflammation must be tested in humans before this relationship can reliably be marketed. But watch this space—the relationship between CBD and inflammation will be important to understand, as inflammation plays a role in many chronic conditions.

Adverse Effects

As is standard in trials of a novel substance, these studies closely monitored adverse effects of taking CBD—and none were found. However, the FDA has yet to approve CBD as safe due to gaps in current knowledge on potential side effects, most notably for “liver injury, drug interaction, male productive toxicity, and drowsiness.”[20] Additional studies in larger populations are underway and should shed more light on the safety and efficacy of CBD.

The latest on CBD’s legal status

So then, how are retailers selling hemp-derived CBD products? Ultimately, they’re just willing to take on some risk. The FDA is keeping close watch on the CBD market and is developing regulations for the legality of CBD as both a drug and as a food ingredient.[20]

A summary of CBD’s effects in the brain and body

  • Based on currently available science, InsideTracker cannot recommend with certainty that you will benefit from recreational CBD use.
  • The science does look promising, and clinical trials investigating the impact of CBD are underway.
  • Based on preliminary evidence, CBD may reduce anxiety, particularly in individuals with social anxiety.
  • CBD may reduce pain in individuals with chronic pain and reduce symptoms of frequent opioid consumption.
  • CBD may impart anti-inflammatory effects.
Michelle Darian photoMichelle Darian, MS, MPH

Michelle is a Nutrition Science Intern at InsideTracker. Complete with her dietetic internship, you’ll find Michelle analyzing the research behind recent nutrition trends to inform novel food and supplement recommendations.

References:

[1] Wheeler M, Merten JW, Gordon BT, Hamadi H. CBD (Cannabidiol) Product Attitudes, Knowledge, and Use Among Young Adults. Subst Use Misuse. 2020 Feb 24;1–8.

[2] Pisanti S, Malfitano AM, Ciaglia E, Lamberti A, Ranieri R, Cuomo G, et al. Cannabidiol: State of the art and new challenges for therapeutic applications. Pharmacol Ther. 2017 Jul;175:133–50.

[3] Chye Y, Christensen E, Solowij N, Yücel M. The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabidiol’s Promise for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:63.

[4] Bielawiec P, Harasim-Symbor E, Chabowski A. Phytocannabinoids: Useful Drugs for the Treatment of Obesity? Special Focus on Cannabidiol. Front Endocrinol. 2020;11:114.

[5] Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RHC, Chagas MHN, de Oliveira DCG, De Martinis BS, Kapczinski F, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacol Off Publ Am Coll Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011 May;36(6):1219–26.

[6] Linares IM, Zuardi AW, Pereira LC, Queiroz RH, Mechoulam R, Guimarães FS, et al. Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Rev Bras Psiquiatr Sao Paulo Braz 1999. 2019 Feb;41(1):9–14.

[7] Larsen C, Shahinas J. Dosage, Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol Administration in Adults: A Systematic Review of Human Trials. J Clin Med Res. 2020 Mar;12(3):129–41.

[8] Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Perm J. 2019;23:18–041.

[9] Black N, Stockings E, Campbell G, Tran LT, Zagic D, Hall WD, et al. Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(12):995–1010.

[10] Hindocha C, Cousijn J, Rall M, Bloomfield M a. P. The Effectiveness of Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A Systematic Review. J Dual Diagn. 2020 Mar;16(1):120–39.

[11] Elms L, Shannon S, Hughes S, Lewis N. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series. J Altern Complement Med N Y N. 2019 Apr;25(4):392–7.

[12] Kraft B, Frickey NA, Kaufmann RM, Reif M, Frey R, Gustorff B, et al. Lack of analgesia by oral standardized cannabis extract on acute inflammatory pain and hyperalgesia in volunteers. Anesthesiology. 2008 Jul;109(1):101–10.

[13] Vulfsons S, Minerbi A, Sahar T. Cannabis and Pain Treatment—A Review of the Clinical Utility and a Practical Approach in Light of Uncertainty. Rambam Maimonides Med J [Internet]. 2020 Jan 30 [cited 2020 Apr 7];11(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7000155/

[14] Capano A, Weaver R, Burkman E. Evaluation of the effects of CBD hemp extract on opioid use and quality of life indicators in chronic pain patients: a prospective cohort study. Postgrad Med. 2020 Jan;132(1):56–61.

[15] Lynch ME, Campbell F. Cannabinoids for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain; a systematic review of randomized trials. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2011 Nov;72(5):735–44.

[16] Babson KA, Sottile J, Morabito D. Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Apr;19(4):23.

[17] Zuardi AW. Cannabidiol: from an inactive cannabinoid to a drug with wide spectrum of action. Rev Bras Psiquiatr Sao Paulo Braz 1999. 2008 Sep;30(3):271–80.

[18] Burstein S. Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation. Bioorg Med Chem. 2015 Apr 1;23(7):1377–85.

[19] Pellati F, Borgonetti V, Brighenti V, Biagi M, Benvenuti S, Corsi L. Cannabis sativa L. and Nonpsychoactive Cannabinoids: Their Chemistry and Role against Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, and Cancer. BioMed Res Int. 2018;2018:1691428.

Does the scientific evidence show beneficial effects of CBD on various ailments? We break it down.

The Science and Sourcing Behind CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant.

Credit: Public Domain.

Credit: Public Domain.

CBD has been a phenomenon in the world of health and medicine recently with more studies linking this cannabinoid to several health benefits.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil can be made from both marijuana or hemp cannabis plant, and can be extracted in a number of ways. However, in order for CBD products to be considered legal, it must come from a hemp plant and have low (0.03%) or no THC levels.

CBD is stimulating a lot of interest among scientists in recent years, and while a lot has been discovered about this compound, research continues.

Research has uncovered a myriad of benefits that CBD has on the mind and the body including alleviating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and seizures. It is also linked with improving sleep, mental clarity, heart health, muscle recovery, regulated blood pressure and helping to decrease the risk of developing cancer.

Clearly, there are a number of advantages that CBD brings to the table, but what’s the science behind it?

CBD and The Endocannabinoid System

CBD’s effects all come down to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a network of 5-HT receptors that are activated and play a role in maintaining homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis affects pain, mood, and appetite among others other factors. CBD interacts with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system, predominantly the CB1 and CB2 receptors that are found mainly in the brain and immune cells. While the body already has its own set of cannabinoids, introducing CBD to the body enhances the efficacy of the endocannabinoid system.

While CBD does not actually bind directly with these receptors, it interacts with them indirectly and modulates many non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. The endocannabinoid system determines how the body processes and utilizes cannabinoids.

How Does CBD Take Effect in The Body?

CBD’s therapeutic effect on the body occurs in several ways including the following:

5-HT1A Serotonin: CBD has been shown to activate 5-HT1A serotonin receptors in the body, which can help alleviate anxiety, reduce nausea and vomiting, regulate appetite and improve sleep. They’re found in the central and peripheral nervous systems and stimulate many different chemical messages, which can either produce an excitatory or inhibitory response.

TRPV1 Receptors: CBD binds to TRPV1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which helps to reduce pain and inflammation, and regulate body temperature.

GPR55 Protein Receptors: cannabidiol acts as an antagonist to GPR55 protein receptors . By blocking it, CBD can help to hinder bone reabsorption associated with osteoporosis and modulate blood pressure. It can also help to reduce the spread of cancerous cells throughout the body as GPR55 has been associated with the proliferation of cancer cells.

PPARs: CBD plays a role in activating PPARs, which have been associated with reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and even have anti-cancer effects. PPARs are located on the surface of the cell’s nucleus. By activating the PPAR-gamma receptor, CBD has an anti-proliferative effect on cancer cells. The activation of PPAR-gamma also diminishes amyloid-beta plaque, which is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is why CBD can be an effective agent for Alzheimer’s patients. Further, diabetics can find much use for CBD and its activation of PPAR receptors because they regulate genes involved in insulin sensitivity.

CBD Formulas

The types of CBD formulas typically fall under one of two categories: full spectrum and isolate.

Full spectrum CBD formulas: these products include all the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Every cannabinoid found in the plant offers different health benefits for a wide range of ailments. CBD certainly offers plenty of health benefits on its own, but all other cannabinoids also have something to offer. Many people debate whether CBD products that contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids are more effective.

Isolate CBD formulas: these products contain CBD that has been isolated from other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Because of this, these formulas may not provide the same amount of relief as full spectrum formulas. That said, CBD isolates can be used to effectively treat several different ailments, and, in many cases, CBD isolate is the preferred formula type. For some, it may not always be necessary to take advantage of full spectrum CBD and sometimes, other cannabinoids can even cause negative reactions.

Both full spectrum and isolate CBD formulas have their place in the world of medicine and can provide the precise effects that users want.

CBD Oil Sources

As mentioned earlier, CBD that’s extracted from marijuana plants contains THC, while CBD that’s derived from the hemp plant contains very little to no THC. It’s the latter of the two that is legal in the US at the federal level, though this is still the topic of much debate.

Generally speaking, hemp-derived CBD formulas are more easily accessible because of their legal status. They’re also more highly favored among those who prefer not to experience the mind-altering effects of cannabis while still taking advantage of its medicinal and therapeutic effects.

Hemp-derived CBD is considered safer for certain people to take, such as children, the elderly, and even pets because of its low THC content. CBD oil that is extracted from hemp is just as potent as marijuana-derived CBD on a molecular level after it has been extracted.

Knowing exactly where the CBD comes from is very important for users, especially those who wish to avoid THC and its psychoactive effects as well as those who want to remain compliant with the law.

It’s also important to conduct some research on the manufacturers who produce CBD. Some products that are marketed as hemp-derived CBD can still contain higher levels of THC than the legal limit. There are some manufacturers who produce CBD products that contain more THC and less CBD than what they claim. Once you’re satisfied with a certain manufacturer, you might want to order bulk CBD oil in order to offset costs associated with long-term treatment.

This is why it’s vital that consumers research the manufacturers that they’re buying their CBD oil from, read product labels and review third-party lab reports.

There is plenty of research out there to back up the efficacy of CBD on the mind and body. And as cannabis products become more widely accepted, more studies investigating CBD’s properties on human health will be carried out. Understanding how CBD works in the body and doing some research into the manufacturers who source and produce CBD products are important factors for consumers to consider before making a purchase

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant.