CBD Series -- Part 2
The Endocannabinoid System-- How CBD Actually Works
Hang with me on this post. It is going to be a brief lesson in neuroscience. It is a bit dry, but it gives you the mechanism of action for how CBD actually works.
Decades ago as a young scientist in Israel, Raphael Mechoulam longed to make an impact in research, but he acknowledged that he was in a small country with limited capital. He decided to focus his interest on readily available materials that were not being studied by other major nations. Dr. Mechoulam surveyed his resources and ended up at the local police department. He requested the hashish that had been confiscated during drug raids. This began the journey of the man who would become the father of modern cannabinoid research.
Dr. Mechoulam separated the components of hashish (compressed resin of the cannabis plant) and initially identified only one active component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He noted that THC seemed to have anti-anxiety and sedating effects in animal models.
In the mid 1980s, Dr. Allyn Howlett in the United States continued this research and identified the first specific receptor in the brain for cannabinoids. She named it the CB(1) receptor. The CB(1) receptor had a specific affinity for THC, and CB(1) was found to be prevalent in the brain and the central nervous system. This was the first momentous discovery of the endocannabinoid system because we now had identified a specific receptor for THC.
The next logical question was why would a receptor exist for an element of the cannabis plant in our bodies? The answer had to be that we were already producing a form of THC internally. Dr. Mechoulam gathered his research team, and an American, Bill Devane, discovered the ligand anandamide. This was the first isolated naturally occurring internally produced cannabinoid. So now we have both the receptor CB(1) which we can view as the lock on the membrane of the cell and we have the key--the endocannabinoid anandamide. This was followed by the identification of the CB(2) receptor as well as other cannabinoid isolates.
Brain cells (neurons) communicate with the body and with each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters to send messages from one cell to the next. The neurotransmitter latches on to a receptor much like a runner passing a baton in a relay race, and the message jumps from cell to cell in this fashion. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is different in that it communicates backwards. When the neurotransmitter “hands the baton” to the next cell, cannabinoids are made on demand to act almost as a dimmer switch in the body, limiting the amount of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that are released. This has a significant impact on how messages are sent and received in the body.
The identification of the ECS shows that we truly are fearfully and wonderfully made. We have an entire system designed to maintain biological harmony in response to changes in the environment, and this system is in all mammals.* Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body. CB(1) receptors, primarily associated with THC, are found mainly in the brain and central nervous system while CB(2) receptors are found throughout the body: in skin, immune cells, bone, fat tissue, liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, heart, blood vessels, kidney, and the gastrointestinal tract.
The clinical implications of this system are almost overwhelming. In our next session, we will be discussing what this means from a treatment standpoint.
Bottom line: We do have an understanding of the science behind CBD. The endocannabinoid system has been found throughout the body, and CBD can act as a “key” for the cannabinoid receptor on the cell membrane. For this reason, studies are being conducted with CBD on a number of disease states from anxiety and sleep disorders to the immune response of the body. THC works on the CB(1) receptors and CBD targets the CB(2). This is why the full spectrum CBD with the legal limits of THC will provide the maximum benefit. More on specific diseases in next post! Stay healthy!
*De Laurentis A, Araujo HA, Rettori V. Role of the endocannabinoid system in the neuroendocrine responses to inflammation. Curr.Pharm Des. 2014; 20(29);4697-4706
Mackie K. Cannabinoid receptors: where they are and what they do. J Neuroendocrinol.2008;20 Suppl 1:10-14.