Your body has a neuromodulatory signaling system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In recent decades, science has discovered that the ECS is involved in various bodily and mental health conditions. Because of this, the ECS is currently the subject of much research.
The cannabis sativa plant has naturally occurring chemicals which mimic endocannabinoid messengers in your body. Preclinical and clinical studies suggest that these substances may prove useful in treating pain, diseases, and many mental health conditions.
Your Endocannabinoid System
The ECS plays important roles in central nervous system development, synaptic plasticity, and your body’s response to internal and environmental insults. There are three primary parts:
- Receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with
- Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids
The article, Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System, explains its function like this:
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.
Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are also found at the intersection of the body’s various systems, allowing communication and coordination between different cell types. At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances. Three different mechanisms of action on three different cell types for a single purpose: minimize the pain and damage caused by the injury.
The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease.
In addition to regulating our internal and cellular homeostasis, cannabinoids influence a person’s relationship with the external environment. Socially, the administration of cannabinoids clearly alters human behavior, often promoting sharing, humor, and creativity. By mediating neurogenesis, neuronal plasticity, and learning, cannabinoids may directly influence a person’s open-mindedness and ability to move beyond limiting patterns of thought and behavior from past situations. Reformatting these old patterns is an essential part of health in our quickly changing environment.”
How CBD Interacts With the Brain
At least 60 biologically active molecules have been isolated from the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the two primary cannabinoids found in the plant. You have probably heard of the other one, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s what produces the “high” associated with marijuana.
Your brain has protein receptors all throughout it that respond to endocannabinoids. When a person ingests cannabis, the cannabinoids from the plant bind to these receptors. It’s similar to a key fitting into a lock. Exactly which receptors are affected, and what parts of the brain get involved, vary for each individual depending on their genetic make-up, drug-taking history, and expectations about the experience (the placebo effect).
According to research, CBD interacts with the brain in numerous beneficial ways:
1. CBD Reduces Inflammation
While inflammation itself is necessary for your survival, an overactive inflammatory response isn’t good. Neuroinflammation plays a role in many neurological conditions. Research has linked inflammation to a range of issues from depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and memory trouble to stroke and epilepsy. There is some evidence to suggest that inflammation may also play a role in fatigue and brain fog.
Preliminary studies suggest that CBD slows down a body’s overactive inflammatory response. In one study on mice, CBD even reduced neuroinflammation following a stroke. By reducing inflammation in the brain, CBD may help to alleviate the symptoms of many neurological conditions.
2. CBD Promotes Healthy Brain Cells
It’s common to experience some degree of memory or learning difficulties with age. For some, this cognitive decline is thankfully minimal or slow. For others, unfortunately, it’s much more dramatic. Currently, 50 million people are living with dementia globally, and that number is projected to nearly triple by 2050. Keeping your brain healthy as you age is paramount.
While age-related cognitive decline is due to many factors ranging from genetics to lifestyle habits, it is also partly due to a decrease in neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in an aging brain. Neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain to change and reorganize and is the process through which all memory and learning take place. Neurogenesis is the birth of new brain cells.
In the same study that determined CBD reduces stroke-induced neuroinflammation in mice, CBD increased neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
3. CBD Protects Against Oxidative Damage
Protecting your brain from oxidative damage caused by free radicals is an important factor in reducing age-related decline. Free radicals are a natural consequence of living. Whenever you eat, breath, and sleep, you’re making free radicals. Excess exposure to stress, pollution, or a poor diet, as well as many other things, can increase your production. Antioxidants stop free radical damage.
CBD possesses powerful antioxidant abilities. In fact, the neuroprotective antioxidant capacity of CBD may be comparable to that of vitamins C and E.
4. CBD Interacts with Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers your brain cells use to communicate. They are the brain chemicals that relay signals between nerve cells to move information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell the heart to beat, lungs to breathe, and stomach to digest. Neurotransmitters also affect your mood, sleep, concentration and can cause adverse symptoms when out of balance. Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, and certain pharmaceuticals can cause neurotransmitter levels to be out of optimal range.
In animals studies, CBD increased the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate in depressed mice. Your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which primarily controls your personality, executive functioning, and mood relies heavily on serotonin. Glutamate is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain. It plays an important role in learning and memory.
5. CBD is an Anticonvulsant
The most research-backed benefit of CBD is for those with epilepsy, a neurological condition characterized by frequent seizures. In human clinical trials, CBD has proven to be effective in reducing seizures. The internet is filled with first-hand accounts of how CBD has dramatically helped or eliminated seizures.
Scientists haven’t figured out the mechanics of exactly how it helps yet. Some researchers suggest that it has something to do with the manner in which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. In animal studies, CBD was found to antagonize CB1 receptors in the ECS, which may reduce seizure frequency.
CBD Can Be a Supplement for Neurological Health
CBD may just be the fastest-growing supplement in the United States, with much of this popularity due to its beneficial neurological effects. People around the world are using CBD to help with anxiety, depression, migraines, brain fog, and more. As its popularity rises, the anecdotal reports continue to flood the internet and research is ongoing.
We need more human clinical trials to confirm the neurological effects of CBD. While preliminary studies and anecdotal reports are encouraging, the exact impact that CBD will have on people with different conditions varies per the individual. The Harvard article, Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t, says this:
Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not. We need more research but CBD may prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.”
If you want to try CBD to improve your brain, find a quality CBD oil, start with small doses, and increase your intake until you know how it affects you and the dosage needed to produce the results you’re seeking. You will also want to check to make sure it does not interfere with any other medication you are taking.