It’s said to relieve stress, alleviate the symptoms of everything from epilepsy* to post-traumatic stress disorder, and even to manage insomnia, inflammation and obesity. Many already swear by it as part of their self-care rituals, and there is a biological basis to why hemp-derived CBD may have all these seemingly miraculous effects on your body.
Delving into the biology of it is pretty interesting, and at the heart of it all is the fact that cannabis compounds - known as cannabinoids - aren’t just found in the cannabis plant. They’re also found in your body, and they’re thought to be there to keep many of your body’s other systems running smoothly. That’s the raison d’etre of the endocannabinoid system, which has been a topic of scientific research since the 80s and 90s. But what does the endocannabinoid system do?
The endocannabinoid system and CBD: a brief biology lesson
The endocannabinoid system is made up of naturally occurring substances called endocannabinoids, along with enzymes that break them down, and two different kinds of cannabinoid receptors known as ‘CB1’ and ‘CB2’. CB1 receptors are mostly found in your spinal column and brain, around the bits that control essential things like your memory, coordination and emotions. CB2 receptors are more widely distributed around your central nervous, digestive and immune systems, and these help with things like inflammation and immune response.
So, why do we have cannabinoid receptors? These receptors are what allow endocannabinoids to do their job, helping to keep many systems in your body in check, from your temperature to your appetite. But it’s also the interaction between the compounds found in cannabis and these receptors that produces the psychoactive effects of THC (the mind-altering component of cannabis) - as well as the anti-inflammatory impact of CBD.
It’s worth remembering here that the reason why THC gets you high and CBD doesn’t is because it bonds itself directly to your CB1 receptors, while CBD doesn’t. While there is a clear connection between cannabinoid and receptor, THC going after CB1 and CBD preferring CB2 receptors, it's more complicated than that. “It turns out though it is not so day and night with these two receptors.” says Dr. Adam Friedman, Professor and Interim Chair of Dermatology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “We are learning more about them every day and it's possible that activation of either can have a similar effect on symptoms such as pain and itch or immune responses for example, just through different mechanisms,” he says.
When was the endocannabinoid system discovered?
While humans have grown hemp for millennia, and known about the psychoactive properties of cannabis since as early as 2700BC - its first known use as a drug, in China - the endocannabinoid system is a much more recent discovery. CBD and THC were only extracted from cannabis in the early 1940s, and the subsequent popularity of marijuana as a recreational drug led to a flurry of research in the decades that followed - mostly focusing on its mind-altering component.
Interestingly, scientists had discovered opiate receptors in the human body in 1973, but although researchers were beginning to observe CBD’s effects on epilepsy, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a team at St Louis University unearthed proof of cannabinoid receptors. Another breakthrough came in 1992, when the first endocannabinoid was isolated by one of the most prominent researchers in this field, Raphael Mechoulam. Since then, many more have been identified and the endocannabinoid system is recognised as working in a similar way to the immune system, regulating chemical release throughout the body and helping it to withstand damage and disease.
Today, our understanding of the endocannabinoid system continues to develop thanks to new studies, as well as research into the effects of CBD on the treatment of all manner of physical and mental ailments. Some studies focus on using CBD to alleviate pain, such as period pain or achy joints or muscles, while others concentrate more on its purported ability to help people cope with stress. We’re particularly interested in research looking into how CBD can help those of us who suffer from sleeplessness, while we’ll also be curious to learn more about how CBD can help to heighten intimate sensations. And, now that it’s an integral part of our skincare routine, we think it’s going to be interesting to see what scientists find out about how CBD can provide a natural and organic way to moisturise skin and tackle common complaints such as dry skin and irritation.
With the endocannabinoid system still at the cutting edge of scientific research, we’re excited to be here to discover, test and share all the latest CBD wellness developments with you. Watch this space...
*In June 2018, the FDA approved the first ever cannabidiol (CBD) treatment for two rare forms of epilepsy.
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