Posted On: April 13, 2020
The cannabis plant has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to Ancient China and Egypt, even being used by William Shakespeare and George Washington. But changes in drug laws and attitudes in the 20th century have created stigma and controversy around the plant.
More recently, research into the medicinal effects of cannabis has led to a re-surged interest in the plant: in particular the chemical Cannabidiol, also known as CBD.
Usage has soared recently with 14% of Americans saying they use CBD products. The trend has ranged from seeing widely available CBD concoctions and medically prescribed treatments to…oddly, being infused into bed sheets and workout clothes.
So let’s have a closer look at this intriguing little chemical…
CBD is only one of 113 cannabinoids (that we know of) found in the cannabis plant. It is non-addictive and non-intoxicating. The high from smoking cannabis is produced by a different cannabinoid called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD and THC are the two most abundant cannabinoids in the plant.
THC gets you high by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the body’s Endocannabinoid system (more on that later). While THC does have medicinal benefits of its own it is still more heavily controlled due to its intoxicating effects.
The endocannabinoid system produces cannabinoids naturally in the body. These are known as endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant are called phytocannabinoids. The function of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis in the body.
The two main endocannabinoids that we know of are: Anandamide and 2-AG
Anandamide plays a vital role in stimulating neurogenesis: the production of new nerve cells in the brain. It has also been found to reduce anxiety and is thought to contribute to the famous “runner’s high.”
2-AG regulates mood and appetite. It is found in both human and bovine milk and is thought to be necessary to stimulate the appetites of infants.
CBD does not directly affect the cannabinoid receptors, but rather causes the body to use more of its own endocannabinoids. In particular, CBD appears to inhibit the reuptake and breakdown of the endocannabinoid: anandamide.
A variety of studies have shown CBD to be effective in a range of conditions but it is currently only prescribed by the NHS as a combination of CBD and THC in a nasal spray for Multiple Sclerosis-related spasticity. In America it is marketed as an anti-seizure medication for rare forms of epilepsy.
However, CBD can be beneficial in more ways than this. Studies have shown its effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic treatment (among others).
Along with its range of applications, CBD’s non-addictive properties and mild side effect profile could make it a welcome alternative to drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids which have a high potential for abuse.
CBD has also showed some promise as a sleep aid: reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and putting the body into REM sleep quicker. This could be an extremely useful application as insomnia is a huge problem for many people (25% of Americans experience insomniac episodes each year). Furthermore, current sleep medications such as diazepam and zopiclone have the potential to be extremely addictive and even over the counter sleep aids such as Benadryl can be harmful.
While CBD does not appear to directly affect the cannabinoid receptors, it does have an effect on other useful receptors in the brain. One of these is the 5HT1A serotonin receptor, which regulates sleep, pain, addiction, and anxiety. For this reason, many people use CBD as a non-addictive and natural alternative to prescription pain or anxiety medications. This may also be the reason that studies have found CBD as a promising treatment for opioid addicts where it was shown to reduce cravings.
Further research is still needed into its use as a medicine for addicts but, if successful, it could provide some much needed respite for those suffering in the opioid epidemic.
While CBD shows promise in a variety of conditions and is far safer than most other medications it does come with a few potential side effects that you should be aware of before taking it.
CBD is non-toxic and impossible to overdose on. Common side effects include:
CBD can also inhibit the metabolism of certain medications by the liver, leading to higher levels of these drugs in the bloodstream. This could potentially result in an overdose. If you are already being treated for a condition and want to try CBD for it, you should speak to your doctor first to find out about any potential drug interactions.