CBD (cannabidiol) belongs to a family of compounds called cannabinoids. They are unique because they exist outside of the body. When consumed, CBD can influence the endocannabinoid system, allowing the rest of the body to potentially work more efficiently.
The endocannabinoid system or ECS exists in all mammals. This includes the household dog, cat, and even non-mammals like the goldfish. In humans, the role of the ECS is a relatively recent discovery (the early ‘90s), which is why research is still ongoing.
What we do know is the following; the ECS functions as a regulatory system that plays a role in the vital organs, areas of the brain, and the nervous and immune systems. Its job is essentially to observe all these systems and ensure they are in working order. If for some reason they aren’t, it will see if it can help by signalling the release of specific biological compounds or enzymes.
Think of CBD as the general manager of your endocannabinoid system. It does not get involved with the day to day running, but it does make sure your body’s enzymes and chemical compounds are where they need to be, when they need to be there. CBD can, however, lead from the front, and on occasion, will interact with the ECS directly.
In order for the ECS to take action, it has to have an entry point for cannabinoids like CBD. It does this via two types of receptor (CB1/CB2) that function as access points to the ECS. However, to make sure only the right compounds enter the right pathway, receptors have a “lock” of sorts. If the receptors interact with the right compound, the pathway is unlocked and the ECS is signalled to take action.
CBD’s “key” doesn’t fit perfectly into CB1 or CB2’s “locks”, instead causing downstream effects by influencing the receptors in other ways. Instead of unlocking the pathway directly, it’s as if CBD comes in from a back door of its own, fit with its own unique entry system. When this happens, we experience several of the effects that CBD has become known for. CBD is not the only compound that can stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors, but it is one of the few that doesn't have any mind-altering side effects. In a situation where CBD does not directly interact with a receptor, it will still help by engaging other chemicals and enzymes.
CBD’s role as a versatile general manager extends far beyond just CB1 and CB2 receptors. It can also influence receptors that are not directly linked to the ECS. These include receptors that trigger the release of serotonin (5-HT). Serotonin is a chemical that supports feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
CBD also interacts with TRP channels. Don’t let the name put you off; their role is simple. TRP channels exist inside cells and act like gauges in a car—they monitor things like temperature and pain. If they detect a temperature that is too low or too high, they send a signal to the cell they are linked to so the body can take action.
Finally, CBD also prompts a reaction from receptors in the liver (PPAR-alpha). This can speed up metabolism inside the liver, and is something scientists are still working hard to understand.
Earlier, we mentioned that CBD belongs to a family of compounds called cannabinoids. These exist outside the body; but fortunately for us, human physiology has developed its own type of cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. They are similar to CBD insofar as their molecular structure, but they occur naturally—inside the human body.
One such a compound is called anandamide (AEA). Large concentrations of AEA are usually broken down by the body, but CBD has a unique ability to bind with the enzyme responsible for managing AEA levels. There is still much to learn about the possibilities linked to this reaction, but researchers believe higher concentrations of AEA could play a part in diet, sleep patterns, and pain relief.
We have covered a lot of ground, so it is worth recapping. To do that, we will come back to our example of CBD acting as a general manager.
CBD supports the body’s ability to keep everything balanced and running as it should. It can turn its hand to several roles, and in doing so, influences a vast range of biological processes. The outcomes may vary as everyone's body is slightly different, including their ECS and its receptors. For more information on this phenomenon, check out our blog on CBD Dosage, Understanding the Basics. Ultimately, the key is finding a reputable producer of CBD with the verified test results and potency necessary to successfully experiment with CBD.