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Has the recent buzz about CBD got you curious about its benefits? As a relatively new supplement in the wellness industry, many consumers have not yet discovered the various potential applications of CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol.
Derived from plants, the CBD molecule is classified as a phytocannabinoid. It mimics molecules that already exist in the body called endocannabinoids. Both classes of cannabinoids bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), modulating neurotransmitter release and absorption, thus regulating a great number of physiological processes in the body.
As the body ages and is exposed to stressors, our endogenous cannabinoids, specifically anandamide and 2AG, become depleted, which leads to breakdown in the functioning of the ECS. This breakdown can affect many other bodily systems, disrupting homeostasis. Clinical deficiencies of endocannabinoids are highly considered as the potential root cause of many chronic ailments including pain, digestive, metabolic and mental disorders.
Acting in the same way as our endogenous cannabinoids would, CBD as a supplement safely and inertly replenishes cannabinoid levels in the body and restores ECS functioning. In other words, CBD acts to optimize bodily systems so they can correct themselves to healthier states. This presents as a number of health benefits.
Because CBD is still so new, the scientific community is vigorously studying its effects. Only a handful of benefits have been formally proven through empirical research, however, anecdotal and epidemiological evidence continues to grow on the vast number of applications CBD may have. Here we will review the areas in which CBD research has shown effect, as an introduction to understanding its benefits and potential use.
CBD has been examined for its promising anxiolytic potential. Administration of CBD in animal studies have shown a decrease in neurons associated with fear and a decrease in anxiety-related behaviors. Other studies have demonstrated that CBD alters blood flow in brain areas that participate in anxiety response, namely the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus. Human studies with CBD have echoed improvements in brain activity involved in anxiety conditions, demonstrating increased calmness and tranquility. Reduction of social anxiety and cognitive impairment as well as reduction of public speaking anxiety/discomfort have been clinically observed. Evidence supports CBD as an effective alternative to certain pharmaceuticals in the treatment of anxiety, like ipsapirone and diazepam (valium.) Yet other studies have demonstrated an increase in extinction learning, which can be used as a therapeutic approach for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Preclinical studies continue to find that CBD is effective for a whole host of anxiety conditions, including OCD and panic disorder.
CBD is actively being investigated for its potential antidepressant effects. Animal studies observing an increase in engagement of pleasurable activities, suggest that CBD may favorably affect serotonin and norepinephrine receptors in the brain. It appears to work not by increasing levels but rather by affecting how the brain responds to native neurotransmitters in the body. In effect, CBD shows the ability to control cerebral neurotransmission and stimulates synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis. Some human case studies suggest that CBD may lower feelings of isolation and may also be an effective alternative to SSRIs. As well, CBD has been observed to stabilize microglia, as lithium does, which helps with mood stabilization.
Because mood and stress are closely linked to eating habits, CBD may regulate appetite by acting on serotonin receptors controlling how we feel.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates a part of the medulla oblongata, which controls reflexes associated with nausea and vomiting. The stimulation of parts of the ECS by CBD is known to suppress nausea and inhibit the urge to vomit. It has been suggested that CBD does this by increasing anandamide, one of our endogenous cannabinoids, which acts as an antiemetic. Studies of this benefit have been mainly undertaken with subjects dealing with nausea as a side effect of chemotherapy.
Because CBD is purported to have sedative and calming effects, it is a popular supplement for treating sleep issues like insomnia. Animal models demonstrate that high doses of CBD leads to increased REM sleep and increased total percentage of sleep, improving both sleep quality and the sleep cycle itself. Although research in the area is still in early stages, one human study shows a 65% improvement in sleep quality scores after one month of 25mg of CBD daily. Success with CBD in research with sleep disorders is likely due to the fact that endocannabinoids may play a key role in regulating circadian rhythm.
CBD is well known anecdotally to have anti-inflammatory and pro-circulatory effects throughout the body. Preclinical studies propose the usefulness of CBD in the treatment of a number of pain conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, joint pain and IBS. Current research also shows the promise of CBD to help with chronic neurological pain caused by injuries, neuropathy, shingles or multiple sclerosis, although more evidence is required to determine its full therapeutic potential. Rodent studies using topical CBD for arthritic pain showed a significant reduction in inflammation and other signs of pain without any side effects.
Studies have shown that CBD supports hippocampus functioning, a part of the brain which plays a role in healthy emotion. Double-blind clinical trials on the use of CBD for psychosis show alleviation of symptoms equal to that from the use of antipsychotics, but without the side effects. CBD has also been recommended for the possible treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome
Evidence supports CBD as improving cognitive impairment, focus and executive function. Because CBD improves hippocampus functioning, it may also enhance working and episodic memory. Other conditions for which recommendations on the use of CBD exist also include autism and ADHD.
Researchers have found that supplementation with CBD in addition to routine psychiatric treatment reduced symptoms of PTSD like nightmares, again, without any of the side effects of pharmaceutical treatments.
A number of clinical studies around the effects of CBD on Huntington’s Disease show its medicinal value in the treatment of this condition. Animal studies demonstrate a promising capability of CBD to reduce striatal dopamine hypersensitivity, which leads to chorea. Another rodent model describes neuroprotective properties of CBD against striatal degeneration through its binding to CB2 receptors. It has also shown to reduce the aggressive behaviour seen in Huntington’s Disease.
Conventional treatment for opioid use disorder involves medications that are regulated and stigmatized. This has led to a demand for more accessible alternatives for those seeking support for drug withdrawal and maintenance treatment. Animal studies have shown that CBD reduces the rewarding effects of opioids, thus reducing opioid-seeking behaviours. This may be due to the fact that CBD acts on the same receptors as opioids, antagonizing their effects. Several studies have also shown the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of cannabis withdrawal via the same mechanism. CBD is also potentially protective of the side effects of THC, for example reducing psychotropic effects. Its use to aid in smoking cessation has also been reported. More human studies are required to solidify these findings as well as establish dosing and treatment regimens for such use.
A strong body of research, dating back to the 1970’s, has proven benefits of CBD for neurologic conditions, like Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In cases where anti-seizure medications are not effective, CBD has shown great promise as a moderator of neuronal hyperactivity. In treating pediatric epilepsy, one significant study found that the frequency of seizures was reduced by over 50% in 43% of patients, with the administration of CBD. Epidiolex is the first CBD-containing medication approved for use with certain pediatric seizure disorders.
Some pharmacological characteristics of CBD suggest possible benefits of its use to treat conditions of neurological decline, such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). CBD appears to interfere with amyloid plaque development in vitro and regulates the expression of key factors involved in the pathogenesis of AD. It has also shown to reduce inflammatory mediators and microglial activation in vivo. In one rodent model it demonstrated stimulation of hippocampal neurogenesis, which would, in fact, reverse the condition. CBD has also been found to reduce brain damage caused by trauma, like concussions, via an increase in metabolic activity. Studies continue in this area, however findings are already strongly supported by studies using MRIs and PETs
A large amount of research and literature supports CBD as demonstrating a strong anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on a number of different types of cancer cells. Interestingly, the effects of CBD on normal cells from the same tissues are mild. There appear to be different antitumor mechanisms depending on the tumor type. CBD also shows the ability to arrest tumor migration, invasion and vascularization. This suggests that the effects are both on the affected cells and the tumor environment. Further research in this area is urgently required as the potential benefits are multiple and significant.
A strong body of evidence is growing which suggests that the skeletal ECS plays a key part in the regulation of bone health. Endocannabinoids appear to influence bone remodeling by acting on CB1 and CB2 receptors on bone cells. Research has observed that increased activity at CB2 receptors inhibits bone breakdown and may reverse bone loss occurring in post-menopausal women by reducing bone reabsorption. This gives promise to the possible role of CBD as a treatment against osteoporosis. Pre-clinical models also show the enhancement of bone volume after a spinal cord injury with the use of CBD, further supporting the idea that the ECS plays an important role in the regulation of osteoclast and osteoblast activities.
Studies have shown that CBD demonstrates selective activity against a certain set of Gram-negative bacteria including some which are high priority drug-resistant pathogens. These studies also report that CBD doesn’t cause resistance after repeated exposure. Further research reported that CBD’s ability to kill bacteria, like staphylococcus, has a similar potency to that of common antibiotics, in some cases even acting faster than conventional antibiotics. This may be in part to the ability of CBD to disrupt bacterial biofilm, the barrier that challenges antibiotics.
It is proven that skin biology is another system modulated by the ECS, and although research is limited, what is certain is that receptors from the ECS have shown to be involved in skin afflictions. Topical CBD has drawn much attention anecdotally and pre-clinically for its therapeutic potential in helping with skin and cosmetic conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, pruritis, acne and other inflammatory issues. Studies have shown that it regulates sebum production, reduces inflammation and reduces the overproduction of excess skin cells.
CBD has shown potential to support healthy digestion. Cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids are prolific in the GI tract, so the ECS is considered a potential target to reduce lesions, hemorrhaging and inflammation in this system. The activation of ECS receptors by cannabinoids like CBD reduces gastric acid secretion, gastric motor activity and the forming of GI mucosal lesions. It has also been observed to slow intestinal inflammation in animal colitis models. Its ability to reduce pain and nausea may also help with symptoms of GI disorders. On-going research is needed in this field.
CBD shows great promise in helping with autoimmune conditions like lupus. Cannabinoids like CBD are known to act as immunomodulatory regulators, correcting the immune system from over- or under-reacting. If the immune response is exaggerated CBD can down-regulate it. On the other hand if the immune system has a deficient response it can increase immune activity. CBD is an agonist of CB2 receptor which suppresses immune activity and also boosts anti-inflammatory cytokines, balancing the system. It has also shown to suppress immune system memory pointing to the likelihood of decreasing future flare-ups. CBD also increases the expression of genes that combat oxidative stress, helping to mitigate cell damage from autoimmune attacks.
The wide range of benefits and applications that CBD offers is due to its effect on the ECS, which research has now discovered is present throughout our bodily systems. Its interaction with all of these systems allows CBD to access a vast array of functions, making it a highly compelling alternative to many pharmaceutical treatment options. Of course, CBD is still in the early stages of clinical research with respect to most of its promising effects, and its diverse potential demands many resources and much patience to be understood fully. This limits claims about its effectiveness, so until the body of research grows, it is up to consumers to use due diligence and collaboration with their doctors to determine if the use of CBD may provide benefit for them.
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