You don’t need to be a CBD expert to know that this stuff is everywhere. You can get it in coffees, in bath bombs, chocolate and even gym wear! And you also don’t need to be all that clued up to know that lots of people use it for a wide array of reasons, from anxiety relief to sleep support. What you might not know is that Europe’s CBD market alone stands at a whopping £480 million worth – with the UK commanding the largest share at around £110 million. What this means is that ‘lots of people’ translates to millions of people, with 42% buying CBD for pain relief/management, 21% for insomnia, and 19% for anxiety – and a huge proportion of those consumers are now regular customers, keeping that still-blossoming market afloat.
With this in mind, surely these CBD products are doing something that’s making avid CBD fans come back for more? Many even claim time and again that the results they experience from consistent, daily use of a high quality CBD oil are nothing short of life-changing. But, despite overwhelming product choice and glowing testimonials, not everyone knows exactly how CBD supports the mind and body to produce these purported effects.
However, we believe that understanding the mechanisms of any supplement you take is key to getting the most out of it. So we’ve made it our mission to help educate you on the inner workings of CBD and the benefits it may bring to your life.
How does CBD work?
CBD is ‘cannabidiol’ and it’s actually only one over 140 cannabinoids – molecules in the cannabis (or hemp) plant, which most CBD oil is derived from. It has been reported to be perfectly safe, non-addictive and free from harmful side effects by the World Health Organisation.
There are three types of products available:
- Isolate: Contains just the CBD molecule on it’s own, often suspended in oil. If the product is
- Broad spectrum: This usually means it contains a range of cannabinoids (and potentially terpenes and flavonoids too) but with no THC (the cannabinoid most famous for getting you high).
- Full spectrum: A wider range still, including THC (but in the UK, the legal amount is such a tiny amount it won’t make you feel stoned at all).
We could talk all day about the massive therapeutic potential every part of the cannabis plant appears to possess, according to over 41,000 extremely positive studies, but today we’ll focus on how the CBD molecule interacts with the body, as this is the most abundant cannabinoid in all CBD oil.
CBD is what’s known as pleotropic, meaning it has multiple mechanisms via different pathways in the body. These include direct activation of serotonin and capsaicin receptors, partial activation of dopamine receptors and, perhaps most famously, unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which is what we’ll focus on today.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is one of our major physiological systems, alongside others such as the immune system, nervous system and digestive system. In fact, it could be considered the most important system for maintaining human health as it acts as a ‘homeostatic regulator’, which means its job is to regulate all other systems and bodily processes and functions.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why, if it’s so important, have you never heard of the ECS? And that’s a very good question we should all be asking.
The truth is, there is no logical reason why every one of us is not taught about this complex network of receptors at school. Worse still, very, very few of our doctors are taught about it either, despite the fact it’s been researched heavily since its discovery in the early 90s and an ever-growing number of countries across the globe have a comprehensive medical cannabis programme. Even in America, where 36 states now allow physicians to prescribe cannabis, only 13% of US medical schools teach about the ECS.
The reason this is particularly shocking is that cannabis as a whole, including CBD, supports the ECS in a very special way.
While other cannabinoids, like THC and CBG, directly activate ECS receptors (which can be found pretty much everywhere in the body – in the brain, the bones, all organs, every skin cell, muscles, throughout every physiological system and so on) CBD works differently, supporting the synthesis and release of the neurotransmitters we naturally produce the activate this system.
These neurotransmitters are called ‘endocannabinoids’, specifically Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’ for the way it makes you feel) and 2-AG.
When these endocannabinoids are depleted, as can occur as a result of chronic stress, lack of sleep, poor diet etc the endocannabinoid system cannot work properly. As a result, the body’s functions go awry and almost any ailment you can think of can be triggered. A lack of Anandamide in the brain plays a major role in anxiety too, as without enough of this neurotransmitter present there’s nothing to stop the cascade of the fight or flight response. When in a healthy supply, this acute form of stress release is kept in check.
Supporting your ECS by taking a daily dose of CBD, as well as undertaking other activities which also boost endocannabinoid production such as exercise and meditation, can help keep everything working as it should.
Although the way CBD supports the ECS is a vital part of how it works, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The activation of serotonin receptors also elevates mood, keeps digestion running smoothly and regulates sexual function, among many other things. The activation of capsaicin receptors, which mediates pain transmission, is key to how CBD acts on pain. And the molecules inherent anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, muscle relaxant, neuroprotective, analgesic, antioxidant properties also make this molecule stand out from the crowd. It’s a supplement unlike any other – and now you know why!