Cannabis is riding a wave of popularity in the health space these days and not just because of marijuana legalization in many states. One cannabis compound in particular, CBD (cannabidiol) a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana and hemp, is being mixed into everything from candies to coffee, and with good reason. Chances are, you’ve already heard anecdotal reports of people using it for a variety of ailments, with glowing reports of its effectiveness from people on social media or in water-cooler conversations. People from all walks of life seem to have caught on to CBD , and any stigma related to its association with cannabis and marijuana seems to have disappeared. Whether it’s depression, chronic pain, anxiety, or seizure disorders, research shows people have been trying CBD for their ailments, with many reporting positive results. Because of its broad appeal in health and wellness, CBD can be found everywhere from dispensaries to pharmacies and has made inroads into mainstream medical culture, with many doctors now recommending it to patients.

Why Does CBD Seem To Work So Well For So Many Problems?

Since the 1940s researchers have studied individual components, or compounds, of cannabis but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they discovered cannabinoid-specific receptors in the brain. Researchers Allyn Howlett and William Devane discovered a cannabinoid receptor in the brain of a rat, then went on to find a network of these same receptors in human brains. Their findings led to the discovery that there are more receptors for cannabinoids in the human brain than for any other neurotransmitter.

There are two types of cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body, CB1 and CB2, that are responsible for helping the body maintain homeostasis, or balance. Found in the central and peripheral nervous systems, the gastrointestinal system, and abundantly on immune cells, when the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is out of whack, it impacts your body on multiple levels. Affecting sleep, appetite and digestion, pain, immune function, mood, memory, fertility and many other day-to-day functions, a properly functioning ECS is vital in helping us achieve and maintain optimal health.
So How Does It Work?

Mammalian bodies actually produce chemical compounds called endocannabinoids (“endo-“because they are synthesized within the body or endogenously) that interact with the multitude of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. These compounds and the cannabinoid receptors they correspond to work together to maintain homeostasis within the body. Anytime anything in your body is out of sync, the ECS is triggered. Hunger, sweating, sleepiness; Issues with these systems can all be related to, and affected by, the body’s own ECS. Mood and motor function are also directly affected by the ECS.

In addition to cannabinoids produced endogenously, we obtain some other cannabinoids via the foods we eat. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in cannabinoids and studies have linked Omega 3 deficiencies to mood fluctuations related to destabilization of the ECS.

Another important component of the ECS is an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) which is essentially the cannabinoid “clean-up crew”. Once the body has achieved homeostasis after the release of endocannabinoids, the FAAH enzyme removes excess cannabinoids that didn’t find a receptor to latch to. Once leftover cannabinoids are removed from the body by the FAAH enzyme, the ECS “resets” and waits for the next time your body is out of sync.

CBD and THC

Much research has been performed recently on the exact mechanisms behind the effects of THC and CBD on cannabinoid receptors. There are several different cannabinoids found in cannabis, but THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the most well-known phytocannabinoids (or plant-derived cannabinoids) because of its ability to produce psychoactive affects, or highs. When THC is consumed, CB1 receptors are flooded. CB1 receptors are located mainly within the central nervous system, so when they are activated, psychoactive effects associated with getting high occur.

CBD, on the other hand, is a little less well-understood. Incongruously, CBD has little affinity for either CB1 or CB2 receptors but does interact with many non-cannabinoid receptors and enzymes. It works as a FAAH inhibitor, which means it blocks the ability of the FAAH enzyme to breakdown cannabinoids, leaving them to be utilized more easily by cannabinoid receptors.

Similarly, CBD serves as an inhibitor for the breakdown of several other neurotransmitters within the body, resulting in decrease in inflammation, increase in cardiac function, and several other therapeutic effects, but without the more extreme mood-altering effects of its chemical cousin THC. CBD in oil form with only trace amounts of THC, can be found in full-spectrum cannabidiol supplements for personal use.

The Take-Home

The mystery surrounding the effectiveness of the cannabis plant as medicine is slowly being cleared up, with more health benefits being investigated and studied every day. The presence of the endocannabinoid system within all mammalian bodies means we are uniquely suited to benefit from the compounds found in cannabis. Without these compounds, we can experience a plethora of physical and emotional dysfunction that can affect everything from digestion to social interaction. With the widespread legalization and decriminalization of cannabis, we can expect further research into the benefits of cannabis far beyond what we already know. For now, the health benefits of the lesser-known CBD cannabinoid hold the potential to unlock even greater benefits as more is learned about its interactions with our bodily systems.

Author's Bio: 

Brad Swanson is a freelance writer, with a background in the health and nutrition space. He currently serves as a Brand Ambassador, and avid user, of CBDPure, the top-rated brand in the consumer CBD space.