Five remarkable facts about cannabis and CBD

Five remarkable facts about cannabis and CBD

Cannabis is a plant that most people have heard of, but that few know much about – increasingly, the same can be said for one of the plant’s compounds and cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD). However, it is clear that cannabis has a growing role to play in modern-day society: the herb has gained plenty of recognition for having unique medicinal properties, and it remains a favorite of the recreational user. Politicians in the United States, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere have subsequently been taking steps to either improve medical access, or totally legalize.

But just what makes cannabis, a plant that grows in most parts of the world, such an essential, in some shape or form? Read on to find out five remarkable facts about cannabis and CBD.

Cannabis has a key regulatory effect on the body

There was a common assumption that cannabis users were overplaying the benefits of the plant, by claiming that it could be taken to remedy ailments as far apart as physical pain to depression. But in the late 20th century, scientists discovered that cannabinoids, the most influential compounds in cannabis, interacted with receptors and chemicals that functioned as part of a grander system: the endocannabinoid system. This finding was made when Israeli researchers located the endogenous analogue for the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is known as ‘anandamide’. A neurotransmitter, anandamide can help to improve mood and reduce the perception of pain.

Interestingly, CBD makes several nuanced interactions with the endocannabinoid system, and works to ensure that endocannabinoids and receptors can bind together, in the necessary quantities and in the right location. CB1 receptors, which regulate mood and appetite, are mostly found in the central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors mostly modulate inflammation, and are present in the peripheral nervous system. The system can be activated by ingesting CBD products, vaporizing CBD e-liquid and even by rubbing CBD creams into the skin.

CBD doesn’t get you high

Before researchers were able to scientifically study the plant and isolate cannabinoids in it, there was no way to tell whether the effects of the plant could be altered. This changed with the isolation of THC in the 1960s, which confirmed that the psychoactive effects of cannabis were mostly from one compound. The second-most abundant in the vast majority of cannabis strains is CBD, which does not have psychoactive properties – and therefore, consuming it will not result in a “high” or “stoned” effect.

The knowledge that the psychoactive impact of cannabis could be filtered out and still have potent therapeutic effects has given rise to CBD products, which can be made with extracts from hemp or cannabis.

The arrival of non-psychoactive cannabis oil has been transformative for patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy, and especially children who had long-suffered with side-effect-laden and ineffective medication. For some, taking CBD oil could reduce the frequency of seizures to just a handful per month from hundreds per week.

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years

Integrating cannabis back into society would not be a peculiar move – in fact, restricting it is the more radical thing to do in consideration of human history, since the plant did not become prohibited in the United States until the late 1930s, which led many other countries to follow suit.

But travel back through recorded history and mentions of cannabis can be found anywhere from ancient arts and texts in today’s Egypt, China and India. In China, cannabis was part of traditional, herbal medicine and also made appearances in Ayurvedic medicine writings found in ancient India. In ancient Egypt, cannabis was likely used as a medicine and as an aid to induce trance-like states in ritualistic ceremonies.

But it’s possible, and perhaps probable that homo sapiens were using cannabis long before even then. The body’s endocannabinoid system first appeared in life forms up to 600 million years ago, suggesting that it has had an integral influence in evolution.

Cannabis can help to control the immune system

We would all be a lot healthier if we could regulate our immune systems better – many conditions emerge due to overactive immune systems, or an immune system that is destroying tissues and organs in the body, as happens with autoimmune diseases. Depression, acne, bruising and swelling and Crohn’s disease are all illnesses and health issues that manifest due to inflammation.

Attempts to make effective anti-inflammatory drugs has yielded some success, with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) working, but sometimes causing side effects such as headaches, stomach ulcers and ringing in the ears.

But researchers have a new target for anti-inflammatory treatments in the CB2 receptor, which is activated by anandamide and 2-AG, two endocannabinoids. Research on the immune system and endocannabinoids indicate that these chemicals can cool down inflammation when required, so that its effects aren’t detrimental – for instance, to prevent excess swelling.

CBD topicals are ideal for treating problems affecting the exterior, like bruising, acne and even psoriasis. For internal immune system problems, CBD vape oil and e-liquid, edibles and capsules may be more useful.  

Cannabis can be used to improve, not worsen mental health

“Cannabis impairs mental health” paraphrases one of the biggest fear stories that has fuelled Western negativity over cannabis. This arguably started in the 1960s with the beginning of the War on Drugs, but there is an element of truth in abuse of cannabinoids causing problems, with the hashish crisis in Egypt in the early 1900s.

But most of the anti-cannabis stories came from emotion, ignorance and not from scientific evidence, which, over the past 25 years or so, has painted a clearer picture on cannabis and mental health, and one that prior to the endocannabinoid system era, could not have been imagined. It remains true that long-term overuse and abuse of THC-rich strains can lead to mental dependency, and perhaps trigger serious mental health issues, but much more positive news can be found from the CBD compound.

Indeed, CBD even offsets some of the more unhelpful aspects of THC – for one, it suppresses the binding affinity of the CB1 receptor to limit psychoactive effects. This mechanism is now being researched as a way to treat psychosis. CBD can also rebalance the brain, stopping overexcitation which can trigger anxiety, and by boosting anandamide levels to enhance mood. Moreover, the anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and neurogenesis properties of CBD may be vital to managing depression. Firstly, CBD stops inflammation in the brain, and by stimulating the creation of neurons through neuronal stem cells, it may also repair neuronal circuitry in regions of the brain that have been closely linked to depression, including the prefrontal cortex.

This article was sponsored by

Emerald contributor since March 2012


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