Does CBD Have Neuroprotective Properties?

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Taking a closer look at neurons

Explore the inner workings of the human body, and a world of sophisticated mechanisms reveals itself. Although we often take for granted the ability to move, think, and feel—none would be possible without neurons. A neuron is defined as “an electrically excitable cell that communicates with other cells via specialised connections called synapses”. Synapses may sound complicated, but they are merely structures that permit one nerve cell to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another nerve cell.

An “action” can be as simple as clicking the link to this article. In a fraction of a second, your body will have sent and received thousands of signals (thanks to neurons) to facilitate this action. Now imagine those neurons become damaged, or begin to degrade, and it’s easy to understand how something as simple as using a mouse can become challenging, or in worst case scenarios—impossible.

Unfortunately, inflammation and oxidative stress can destroy or severely damage neurons and their ability to process electrical signals. Huntington's, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease are all examples of a breakdown in neurons that leads to impairments in memory, motor function, and more. These conditions, amongst several others, share a common attribute—they are all neurodegenerative. Not only is protecting neurons essential, but so too is encouraging the body to develop new ones to replace those that have become damaged.

Understanding how CBD works

You may be wondering how CBD might play a part in the development and protection of new neurons, and you’re not the only one. It is a question that is still under careful review by researchers. It helps to begin by looking at the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and the impact CBD has on its production of endocannabinoids.

CBD's interaction with the ECS differs from that of other prominent cannabinoids. Rather than directly binding to CB receptors expressed throughout the body, the compound favours a more indirect approach. That’s not to say it doesn't affect CB1 or CB2 receptors at all.

Instead, it is thought that CBD plays a supervisory role in the maintenance of the ECS, ensuring the regulatory system is operating at its best (the ideal state of homeostasis). A report published in Transitional Psychology outlines how CBD supports the production of anandamide (AEA) by blocking inhibiting enzymes. It is endocannabinoids like AEA that scientists predict may play a direct role in cellular signalling in conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

What else does the research suggest about CBD and neuroprotection?

We alluded to this earlier, but one of the critical mechanisms involved in the breakdown of neurons is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. In a study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, researchers sought to understand the impact CBD had on oxidative stress by replicating the scenario in cultured cells.

Results were favourable, with CBD showing a “combination of neuroprotective, antioxidative, and anti-apoptotic effects”. However, it's important to note that in vitro studies (outside of a living organism), while useful in establishing baseline interactions, cannot mimic the complexity of experiments performed in rodent models, or better yet, large-scale clinical trials.

Another prominent contributor to neurodegeneration is inflammation. While small levels of inflammation are a necessary part of our immune response, chronic inflammation damages cells or destroys them entirely. CBD has shown the ability to reduce the build-up of proinflammatory cytokines—messengers that contribute excessively to the inflammatory response.

The bottom line? More research is needed!

Whether it is CBD’s influence on endocannabinoids or its effects on oxidative stress and inflammation, scientists agree that results suggest CBD to have neuroprotective potential. The challenge, however, is pinning down precisely how this influence takes place, and its relevant applications. Unfortunately, for every possible interaction discovered, more variables are created, and it takes time to examine and understand each one.

The bottom line is, no matter how suggestive scientific results may be, significantly more research is needed before we can compose a clear consensus. Somewhere between CBD, the ECS, CB receptors, and endocannabinoids may lie the answer to an untold number of scientific queries.

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