Cannabis sativa L. preparations have been used in medicine for millenia. However, concern over the dangers of abuse led to the banning of the medicinal use of marijuana in most countries in the 1930s. Only recently, marijuana and individual natural and synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists, as well as chemically related compounds, whose mechanism of action is still obscure, have come back to being considered of therapeutic value. However, their use is highly restricted. Despite the mild addiction to cannabis and the possible enhancement of addiction to other substances of abuse, when combined with cannabis, the therapeutic value of cannabinoids is too high to be put aside. Numerous diseases, such as anorexia, emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease), epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, and metabolic syndrome-related disorders, to name just a few, are being treated or have the potential to be treated by cannabinoid agonists/antagonists/cannabinoid-related compounds. In view of the very low toxicity and the generally benign side effects of this group of compounds, neglecting or denying their clinical potential is unacceptable – instead, we need to work on the development of more selective cannabinoid receptor agonists/antagonists and related compounds, as well as on novel drugs of this family with better selectivity, distribution patterns, and pharmacokinetics, and – in cases where it is impossible to separate the desired clinical action and the psychoactivity – just to monitor these side effects carefully.
What Is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of a group of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is perhaps the best-known cannabinoid, but others include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabicyclol (CBL), and cannabicitran (CBT) just to name a few.
But we’re going to focus on CBD specifically because it is one of the key ingredients in cannabis and is revolutionizing modern medicine. Let’s look at a bit of deep science and see what makes CBD so special.
CBD, like THC, interacts primarily with the neurons in your brain. “What’s a neuron?” you ask. Good question. A neuron is a specialized cell found in your central nervous system (your brain and spinal column) that transmits nerve impulses.
These nerve impulses allow you to feel and think and breathe. In fact, your brain is composed of billions of neurons that all work together to make everything from your senses to your emotions possible.
But not all your neurons are on all the time. They can be on or off in response to stimuli (or the lack of stimuli) inside and around you. This is evident by the fact that most people aren’t always sad, always happy, or some confusing mix of both. If you’re having trouble visualizing the purpose of neurons, think of them like battery terminals.
In scientific terms, the empty space where the battery goes is called the receptor. When you plug the battery into the receptor, you provide power to the electronic device. The neurons in your brain work in the same way.
When a specific molecule is present in your brain, it plugs into the empty space (the receptor) in a neuron and turns it on. When a neuron, or a group of neurons, turns on, it causes things to happen elsewhere in the body or the brain (like getting rid of pain or making you sad).
But getting back to cannabinoids, they don’t just act on any and every neuron with which they come in contact. Rather, they interact only with very specific neurons whose receptors will accept the specially-shaped molecules. Once such neuron is the cannabinoid receptor or CB1.
That’s right, your brain contains receptors that only accept cannabinoid molecules. There are even molecules produced by the body (endocannabinoids) that turn these neurons on and off. That’s pretty cool when you think about it. The human body was actually designed to use cbd.
At the very least, it means that our brain was meant to use the cannabinoids found in nature. If it wasn’t, there would be no receptors, and thus, no physical and psychoactive effects. But let’s put developmental biology aside for the moment and get back to our battery analogy so we can see how THC and CBD work.
When you ingest, inhale, or imbibe your favorite strain (let’s say Blue Dream), the THC molecules fits snuggly in the CB1 receptor and turns that neuron on. In this case, think of the THC molecule as a AA battery.
The CBD molecule will also fit into the CB1 receptor. That said, it won’t be quite such a snug fit. Think of the CBD molecule as a AAA battery. Sure you can get it into the space, but it won’t be an exact match like the AA battery (THC molecule).
Because of this inexact fit, the CBD molecule won’t provide the necessary power to turn the neuron on like the THC molecule would. This is similar to the way a AAA battery won’t provide the necessary power that a AA battery would.
So once a CBD molecule is seated in the CB1 receptor (not turning it on), the CBD molecule also occupies the space within the neuron and prevents the THC molecule from docking. Because of the way CBD blocks THC from docking in the neuron, it is known as a CB1 antagonist. Just imagine if there was no CBD present. THC molecules would dock with the all the CB1 receptors, turn them on, and take you higher than you’ve ever been before.
And before you say, “Right on!”, keep in mind that too much THC—too much psychoactive influence—is called a bad trip. At the worst, it’s called an overdose. Thank goodness CBD keeps this from happening.
But CBD does more than just keep you from experiencing a psychedelic crisis. It also activates other receptors that THC can’t: the adenosine receptor, the serotonin receptor, and the vanilloid receptor. Here’s what those specific CBD-activated receptors do.
- When CBD activates the adenosine receptor, the resultant brain activity reduces anxiety.
- When CBD activates the serotonin receptor, the resultant brain activity reduces depression, blood sugar levels, nausea, and a whole host of other neurological and biological effects.
- When CBD activates the vanilloid receptor, the resultant brain activity alleviates pain and inflammation.
And this is just a smattering of the beneficial effects that CBD can produce. In fact, Martin Lee, author of the book “Smoke Signals”, calls CBD the “Cinderella Molecule” because…
“Scientists have shown that CBD can shrink malignant tumors, change gene expression, normalize arrhythmic heartbeat, and stimulate the growth of new brain cells in adult mammals. Scientific and clinical investigations underscore CBD’s potential as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, schizophrenia, PTSD, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and antibiotic-resistant infections. — so many maladies are responsive to CBD that it’s almost like a fairytale. But the science is very real.”
Even the lack of CBD (the endocannabinoid variety) can cause problems. According to Dr. Ethan Russo, CBD deficiency is an underlying cause of migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other degenerative conditions that plague mankind.
Studies show that CBD is even good for healing broken bones. It does so much and relieves so many ailments, it could be considered the holy grail of medical treatments.
CBD Is Sobering
So to put it simply, CBD is a non-psychoactive substance that actually reduces the euphoric effects, or “high”, that THC is so good at providing. As was discussed above, CBD doesn’t make people mind-alteringly high because it has very little effect on the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain that regulate learning, coordination, sleep, pain, and the immune system.
Additionally, cannabidiol doesn’t negatively affect short-term memory loss. Participants in studieswho had smoked cannabis strains low in cannabidiol (i.e., high THC strains) were significantly worse at recalling text than they were when not intoxicated.
Those who smoked cannabis high in cannabidiol (i.e., low THC strains) showed no such impairment. L, an anonymous Occupy Weed Street activist and licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, provides an excellent example of the benefits of CBD.
L suffered from an immunological disorder and cervical spine injury (double crush syndrome) that caused her to experience inflammation all over her body. Her doctor prescribed valium to alleviate the pain and that seemed to do the trick for a while.
After a while, L was concerned about becoming addicted to the drug because her tolerance was quickly increasing. She discussed it with a group of doctors and all supported her desire to try medical (high-CBD) marijuana. They issued her a prescription and the results were almost instantaneous. Two hits on a one-hitter of good marijuana took care of the debilitating nerve pain in her hands caused by her cervical spine problem and two surgery complications.
“I didn’t even get stoned, and I could work again. I was disabled from pain and other problems for 4 years. I’m back to work now, and I’m not going back to being disabled. Marijuana keeps me functioning and able to help other people.”
Unfortunately, L cannot give her identity for fear of losing her ability to help others and herself, but she wants the world to know that:
“As a psychologist working in a primary care setting, I cannot believe the number of people on very high doses of narcotic pain medications. We have one person under the age of 30 dying by accidental overdose of narcotics in my area. We could save so many lives and help so many people if medical marijuana was available, especially in a variety of forms such as CBD oils. We won’t have people walking around stoned or dying. We’ll have a much healthier population and a much safer way to deal with issues of chronic pain and other health problems.”
CBD Also Lowers Social Anxiety
CBD isn’t just great for physical afflictions. It’s great treatment for mental afflictions as well. Social anxiety disorder is a prime candidate for treatment because the CBD in marijuana decreases activity in the limbic system. It also plays a large role in the formation of memories.
Emotional life is largely housed in the limbic system which supports epinephrine flow, emotions, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction. Anonymous Colorado grower and dispensary owner Johnny Hempseed has tried CBD oil for social anxiety and agrees that it is great for people who want therapeutic benefits while avoiding the psychoactive effects of traditional cannabis.
CBD Saves Lives
Sanjay Gupta’s special landmark CNN documentary Weed has forever changed mainstream Reefer Madness perceptions of “stoners” by introducing the world to Charlotte Figi, a girl whose seizures began when she was three months old. By age five she was suffering from nearly three hundred seizures a week due to a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome.
Dr. Gupta’s documentary also introduced the world to the Stanley Brothers and their now legendary high-CBD, low-THC strain of cannabis now known as Charlotte’s Web which managed to calm Charlotte’s seizures within the first hour she took it as an extracted oil.
CNN reported that, thanks to two daily doses of three to four milligrams of oil per pound of Charlotte’s body weight, she is now speaking, feeding herself, and riding her bike. She is leading a normal life because her seizures only happen two or three times a month, and then mostly in her sleep.
Because of these dramatic results, dozens of other patients with similar, and even widely different, ailments began using the strain with much success. CBD has since become a major impetus for marijuana legalization.
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