The challenges of understanding how the 86 billion neurons in the human brain work are immense, considering that scientists and philosophers can’t even agree on what the “mind” actually is. Our limited knowledge can be summed up as a mere drop in an entire ocean of possibilities. In fact, the more we know, the more questions arise.
What we understand about CBD and its effects on the brain brings even further complexities. Yet, we can assume a few things by connecting the dots, looking at patterns, and observing results. The aforementioned 86 billion neurons communicate with each other through neurotransmitters. In the simplest of terms, each neurotransmitter has receptors that fit into specific “slots” while others do not.
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) also consists of a vast network (some scientists believe it outnumbers even neurotransmitters) of receptors and receivers that regulate homeostasis in the body and the brain. The body naturally produces the chemicals that interact with the ECS, called endocannabinoids, on its own.
Studies have shown that endocannabinoids not only interact with their own receptors but with certain other neurotransmitters as well, fitting perfectly into place when needed—like a key in a lock. Phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC, having a nearly identical molecular structure, interact with these receptors as well. THC interacts directly, which is probably why it causes a euphoric high. CBD interacts indirectly with receptors, so it has no psychoactive effects.
The Endocannabinoid System and Brain Function
Studies suggest that the ECS has neuroprotective properties. When the ECS is functioning correctly, these properties might protect against a range of neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, among others. But what if the ECS is not functioning the way it should? Diet, lifestyle, environment, stress, genetics, and exposure to toxins may play a role in an endocannabinoid deficiency that could potentially cause some of these neurodegenerative disorders.
This is where cannabinoids come in. For the past several years, researchers have been suggesting that cannabidiol (CBD) may represent a promising therapy for neurodegenerative disorders. Based on the combination of CBD’s neuroprotective, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, it is being intensely researched as a potential disease-modifying therapy
Addiction and Anxiety
Additional research shows that CBD may interact with opioid receptors, key targets of potent and addictive pain medications like fentanyl and morphine. Dopamine receptors, as well, are implicated for their role in the reward-seeking cycle seen in addictions of all kinds. Numerous studies have pointed to the possibility that CBD may dampen this cycle, interfering with craving and withdrawal symptoms. This could represent a significant milestone in addiction treatment.
Beyond opioid and dopamine receptors, CBD has also been shown to interact with the neurotransmitter serotonin, activating several receptors in the brain. This interaction may be responsible for some of the famed anti-anxiety effects that have been widely demonstrated in multiple studies. CBD’s anxiolytic effects are profound, and while proof of this was once limited to anecdotal evidence, we now have sound science backing up these claims.
Understanding how CBD affects neural health is a lifetime study, one in which we have not even begun to reach the tip of the iceberg. However, many bright minds are hard at work, researching CBD’s potential neural benefits to uncover its therapeutic potential for the coming years.