CBD AND THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
By Kristofer Nowak
Beginning with the passage of the US Farm Bill of 2014, production and research of industrial hemp shifted into high gear. One of the resulting major breakthroughs was the identification of Cannabidiol (CBD) as a potential medical treatment for a variety of ailments. Recently, the popularity of CBD as an alternative treatment for inflammation and anxiety has skyrocketed. This has occurred at the height of the current opioid epidemic and coincidental with the coming of age of multiple generations of people who grew up with sympathetic views towards the cannabis plant. An increased appetite for natural, non-toxic, and less-invasive medications combined with the ever-progressing march toward marijuana legalization for both medicinal and recreational purposes has pushed CBD to one of the top trending online topics. According to Google Trends, US online interest in CBD has increased from a score of 40 on Dec 1, 2017, to a score of 100 – the highest possible score – on Dec 1, 2018. That’s a year-over-year increase of 150%. With that level of increased interest and attention, it has become ever so important to understand just what is CBD? and how does it work?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. It is classified as a phytocannabinoid, of which there are 113 that are known to exist in the Cannabis plant. So what in the world is a phytocannabinoid? The short answer is that it is a type of cannabinoid. So what is a cannabinoid, and what are the other types of cannabinoids? If you try searching for these answers online, good luck with your dive down the rabbit hole. You either end up getting a bunch of half-baked answers from sites that just want you to buy their Cannabis-derived products, or you’ll get some medical-journal-hieroglyphics. (You know, great scholarly, peer-reviewed, medically researched, properly footnoted documentation filled with medical-jargon-gobbledygook that unless you have a Ph.D. in Biomedicine will spin your head and make you regret that you asked the question.) I’m certainly not any kind of medical professional; I’m just an educated, middle-aged guy who’s interested in understating if and how this stuff works, especially since it’s essentially a new frontier of scientific discovery. So, I’ve done my best to cut through the thick language and boil this stuff down to its essence, and I’ll do my best to explain it in the simplest way possible.
The best way I can explain it is that CBD is like a key that unlocks protein receptors in the cells of our bodies. Our bodies function best when our cells are fully functional in performing the amazingly wide array of activities that sustain our lives. In general, our cell’s protein receptors are waiting for a chemical signal that orders them to unlock, which then triggers some form of a cellular response. Our bodies naturally produce many of the chemical signals that our cells require, but we also ingest all sorts of different chemicals to keep our bodies running smoothly like, for example, water or food. CBD is a specific chemical that unlocks specific receptors in our bodies that then allow our cells to perform specific functions. In addition, CBD doesn’t cause a “high” like THC; in fact, there are virtually no negative side effects associated with CBD usage. As has been widely reported in both scholarly research studies and anecdotal evidence, CBD is credited with allowing our bodies to open protein receptors for anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety cell functions. In addition, these studies have indicated that our base of knowledge in this field is extremely infantile; in other words, we’re just starting to scratch the surface of understanding the fully realized benefits of CBD.
More specifically, there are hundreds of different cannabinoids that are naturally occurring throughout the planet. Some cannabinoids are produced naturally by plants – phytocannabinoids – and others are produced naturally in the human body – endocannabinoids. Our bodies have naturally existing cannabinoid receptors, as there are also in the bodies of mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish. Currently, the scientific community has determined that there are at least two known cannabinoid receptors in the human body, known as CB-1 and CB-2. So, our bodies have evolved so that we today are pre-wired to not merely allow for the ingestion of phytocannabinoids, but to actually demand the ingestion of phytocannabinoids to assist with healthy day-to-day cellular function. Studies have determined that some people suffer from an endocannabinoid deficiency where their body does not naturally produce enough cannabinoid “keys” to unlock their own internal protein receptor “doors.” Other studies have indicated that even if a person does not suffer from a diagnosed endocannabinoid deficiency, the voluntary intake of phytocannabinoids simply assist in the upkeep and maintenance of proper cellular function.
The bottom line is this: CBD is a recently re-discovered, powerful, naturally occurring remedy that has been right under our noses the whole time. Many recreational and self-medicating marijuana users never noticed the relatively pure benefits of CBD because of the obscuring focus placed on the role of THC in getting people high. Not until we could isolate CBD from THC and the other cannabinoids in the Cannabis plant have we been able to begin to understand the powerful effects that CBD has on our bodies. The early returns are staggering, with many users of CBD claiming that their lives have been transformed for the better. When we examine and understand the science behind what CBD is, we learn that the natural world has provided human beings with an amazing tool that just so happens to be engineered to function with our bodies in pure harmony.