The research on how cannabidiol (CBD) works exactly finally got going in the last few years. There are promising indications that CBD may have a beneficial effect on various physical and mental problems. To understand how CBD works it is important to know a little bit about how the human brain works.
Billions of nerve cells can be found in the human brain. These nerve cells communicate with each other by means of neurotransmitters. A well-known neurotransmitter is adrenaline, which is released in case of an exciting event. On the outside of nerve cells there are recipients of these neurotransmitters, which are called receptors. When a receptor receives enough of a particular neurotransmitter this will set a process in motion in the body. For example, sufficient adrenaline can cause you to temporarily feel more energy and less pain. CBD also binds to many different receptors, below we discuss six of the most important ones.
The vanilloid receptor
Vanilla beans were used by some peoples as a remedy for headaches. Later, it was discovered that vanilla beans contain an oil that indeed has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. The receptor on which this oil works has received the nickname vanilloid receptor from scientists. CBD works on the same receptor, which probably explains why cannabis with a reasonable amount of CBD helps against (nerve) pain.
The adenosine receptor
Adenosine is a substance in our bodies that is very similar to caffeine (the well-known active substance in coffee). Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor, which causes people to become nervous when they have too much coffee. CBD on the other hand, enhances the action of the adenosine receptor, which probably accounts for the anti-anxiety effect of CBD.
The serotonin receptor
Serotonin is a substance in our bodies that is involved in a lot of different bodily processes. Among other things, it controls when we get hungry and when we start to feel sleepy. It also has a major effect on mood. In the brains of people with a depression there is less activity of serotonin. CBD (in higher doses) can cause an increase in the amount of serotonin and thereby functions as an antidepressant.
The GPR55 receptor
So-called GPR55-receptors also affect various bodily processes, such as blood pressure and bone growth. GPR55-receptors that are too active can cause osteoporosis (brittle bones) and can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. CBD has an inhibitory effect on GPR55. However, drawing the conclusion that CBD can thus cure cancer is not possible based on this effect alone. Much more research is needed to determine the precise effects of CBD on cancer.
CB1 and CB2 receptors
CBD hardly has any affinity with CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, which means CBD almost doesn’t bind to these receptors. In an indirect way CBD still has an impact on these receptors though. For example, CBD suppresses the effect of the FAAH enzyme. FAAH breaks down anandamide. As a result, CBD causes more anandamide to remain active in the body. Anandamide plays a role in various bodily processes, among other things it is responsible for the runners high (the pleasant and pain-free feeling that runners can experience after running for a longer period of time).
What we have seen is that CBD is a substance which has affinity with different receptors throughout the body. Affinity means that CBD is “working” on a particular receptor. You can compare this with a key that fits into a lock. However, the degree of affinity differs per receptor. In other words, the key does not fit each lock equally well. This also means that you have to take varying amounts of CBD, depending on which receptor you want to activate. The receptors you want to activate varies per ailment and thereby, so does the effective dose per condition.
Finally, we have learned a lot about the effects of CBD in recent years, but still we know far from everything. By doing more research over the next years we expect to better understand how CBD works exactly.