Does CBD Oil Lower Cortisol


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Cannabis affects hormones through two of its many compounds. However, these two compounds, THC and CBD, have very different effects. Research indicates CBD oil’s effect on hormones may aid in managing many health conditions, including anxiety, depression, diabetes, PMS, and insomnia.

How Cannabis Affects Hormones: THC vs. CBD

With cannabis being legalized in more states and countries, the effects of its compounds are just beginning to become more understood. One area of concern is how cannabis affects hormones. Research focuses on two major compounds THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

THC brings on the ‘high’ that is associated with cannabis. It affects hormones significantly. CBD affects hormones as well, but in a different way.

Cannabis contains about 80 different compounds, but these two spur most of the research.

The majority of the cannabinoids work by binding with receptors that exist in your body naturally. These receptors exist in the brain, lungs, kidneys, immune system, and liver. Researchers believe these receptors make up the largest receptor system in the body.

They help your body experience pain, regulate metabolism, feel anxious, have food cravings, grow bones, and maintain your immune system.

The Endocannabinoid System

Before going further into how cannabis affects hormones, you need to know about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in your body. The ECS contains the receptors for cannabinoids throughout your body.

Researchers believe this system plays a role in almost all of the activities in the body. It helps regulate the balancing of emotions, assists in homeostasis, helps with memory, encourages sleep, and helps with reproduction. Endocannabinoids exist naturally in the body in small amounts and act on these receptors to support normal bodily functions.

The body contains several types of these receptors, but two, CB1 and CB2, are the most important to understanding how cannabis affects you. Both THC and CBD bind with these receptors. Through this binding, cannabis affects hormones but with different results.

THC and How Cannabis Affects Hormones

Information regarding THC and the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis shows that it has significant effects on hormones. This axis regulates metabolic functions, brain development, muscle control, and heart and digestive functions. Cannabis affects hormones by inhibiting the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. It appears this inhibition is attained through the effects of THC on the release of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) in the hypothalamus.

The more THC consumed, the greater this effect.

When cannabis affects hormones in this way, your body contains lower levels of circulating T3 and T4. These low levels of thyroid hormones lead to hypothyroidism with symptoms like fatigue, cold intolerance, depression, weight gain, unusual menstrual cycles, and lower libido.

How Cannabis Affects Hormones in the HPG Axis

Another axis in which cannabis affects hormones in your body is the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. This axis regulates reproductive functions as well as modulating hormones and their effects on all functions of the body.

Cannabis affects hormones in many parts of the HPG axis. By means of its regulation of GABA and glutamate in the hypothalamus, THC indirectly reduces the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH stimulates the pituitary to release luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Both of these hormones affect ovarian functioning and regulate menstrual cycles in females. In males, they play important roles in the production of sperm and testosterone. THC also affects GnRH through its effects on dopamine which lowers the signaling of GnRH.

In women, THC affects both the maturing of follicles in the ovaries and ovulation. A natural surge in endocannabinoids comes during ovulation. Cannabis affects hormones by increasing cannabinoids and disrupting ovulation, leading to irregular menstrual cycles. THC also causes menstrual problems in women by interrupting the conversion of pregnenolone into progesterone.

Cannabis affects hormones in men through THC’s ability to lower sperm count, reduce testosterone levels and sperm motility, and decrease the sperms’ ability to complete conception.

All of these ways cannabis affects hormones lowers fertility in both males and females.

How THC Affects Hormones in the HPA Axis

The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the main pathway by which your body first responds to stress. Initially, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and vasopressin (VP). These two chemicals stimulate the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone then prompts the adrenal glands to release cortisol into the bloodstream.

Cortisol functions as the main stress fighting hormone in your body, but it also performs many other functions. It works to control blood sugar levels, decreases inflammation, helps regulate metabolism, affects blood pressure, and helps with the formation of memory.

However, continually high levels of cortisol ultimately harm the body.

One way cannabis affects hormones influenced by the HPA axis shows up as increased levels of cortisol. THC raises circulating cortisol levels. Over time, increased usage of cannabis leads to prolonged high levels of cortisol, resulting in a reduction of your body’s natural sensitivity to changes in cortisol levels. It also affects women’s libido and menstrual cycles negatively.

High levels of cortisol caused by cannabis also work to blunt the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR). This response works to help you wake up by causing a spike in cortisol in the morning. With inhibition of this response, your body has to work harder at waking up and may experience trouble with normal daytime functioning.

How CBD Affects Hormones in the HPA Axis

CBD is the other major compound found in cannabis. Its effects on hormones is different from those of THC.

One of the major differences in how CBD affects hormones relates to the receptors of the ECS throughout your body. THC binds directly to CB1 receptors found in your central nervous system, leading to its psychoactive results. CBD works indirectly through other cells that bind with these receptors. Working indirectly results in CBD not having the psychoactive results of THC.

Another result of this indirect work on receptors is an increase in two endocannabinoids, AEA and 2-AG. This increase allows the ECS to work more effectively in balancing the body in times of stress.

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When cannabis affects hormones through CBD’s effects on the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), it helps lessen anxiety. These two brain areas work together to indicate when stress and anxiety are present. CBD serves to reduce anxiety through its work on these areas of the brain.

How Stress Affects Your Body

As has already been mentioned, the HPA axis stimulates your adrenal glands to release cortisol and other hormones to fight the effects of stress. Ideally, once the source of stress has been handled, your adrenals return to a normal state and cortisol levels reduce.

However, stress tends to increase and become chronic in the culture today. This means your adrenals continue to have more demands placed on them to release more cortisol. At some point, your adrenals stop producing and releasing sufficient cortisol because of fatigue. The demand doesn’t go away, however. Thus begins Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and its associated symptoms.

When stress becomes chronic, your body responds with the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. This comprises a system of six interrelated circuits composed of organs and systems that work together to help you handle stress.

Each circuit holds three organs or systems that overlap with the other circuits. Thus, what affects one circuit affects others as well. With continuing stress, these circuits can get overwhelmed and become dysfunctional. Symptoms of varying severity result.

The Hormonal Circuit and THC Effects

In those who suffer from AFS, the hormonal circuit feels the effects of cannabis use the most. THC increases the level of cortisol in your body. In the early stages of AFS, cortisol levels are high as the adrenals increase their release of this hormone.

With continued stress, your adrenals feel the pressure to release more cortisol to meet demand. This puts additional burden on your adrenals. Add to this the effects of THC increasing cortisol levels, and it can lead to multiple organ resistance.

In women, this often manifests as an imbalance in the ovarian-thyroid-adrenals (OAT) axis, bringing on other imbalances in the ovaries and thyroid. In males, the adrenal-thyroid axis becomes imbalanced.

The thyroid aspect of this imbalance gains importance since research shows cannabis tends to reduce thyroid function tremendously, possibly as much as 90%. This suggests sufferers from AFS who experience hypothyroidism may be especially adversely affected by THC.

CBD’s Effects on the Hormonal Circuit

CBD affects hormones almost the opposite of THC. To begin, it lowers cortisol levels. In addition, CBD works to help the HPA modulate cortisol released under stress. Lowered cortisol levels with CBD also increase insulin sensitivity, benefit the immune system, help with fat loss, and improve bone strength and mineralization.

Typically in the early stages of AFS, people experience anxiety, sleeplessness, and irritability. CBD helps with all of these symptoms.

When a person works at recovering from AFS, decreasing overall stress and increasing sleep are essential in the effort. Cannabis, at least the CBD component, tends to help relieve stress temporarily and increase the ability to get improved sleep.

Since cortisol affects insulin function in your body, decreasing cortisol levels with CBD helps AFS. Lower cortisol leads to better balanced blood sugar levels. Overburdened adrenals lead to drops in blood sugar levels. This then brings on lightheadedness and dizziness. On the other hand, using cannabis with THC leads to spikes in blood sugar.

The use of cannabis with high levels of CBD also helps lower overall stress levels. This benefits people with AFS since lower stress is a goal of recovery. Anxiety, stress, and depression are all symptoms and causes of AFS. CBD works to the person’s benefit in all of these areas.

Other Ways Cannabis Affects Hormones

As your adrenals become fatigued and no longer able to produce enough cortisol, mechanisms in your body that fight inflammation no longer function well. One of the ways cannabis affects hormones is to help them fight inflammation.

High levels of cortisol suppress the functioning of your immune system. Using cannabis also suppresses the immune system. With AFS and high levels of cortisol, this leads to compromised immune functioning. It also leaves you open to opportunistic infections.

Cannabis is a natural substance making it safer for use in AFS than prescription drugs. However, long-term use can lead to dependency. Its use should only be considered under the direction of a health professional.

In Summary

Research clearly shows the multiple ways cannabis affects hormones. The two major compounds in cannabis – THC and CBD – affect hormones in opposite ways.

Throughout your body, there are multiple receptors for endocannabinoids. These are the natural cannabis-like compounds that occur in your body.

Binding with these receptors, THC and CBD carry out their effects in nearly all functions of your body. THC binds directly with the receptors, especially those in the central nervous system. This brings about its psychoactive results. CBD works indirectly and does not have these effects.

The THC in cannabis affects your thyroid by decreasing the levels of T3 and T4 available to you. This leads to hypothyroidism. The more THC you consume, the greater this effect.

THC also affects the hormones of your body by decreasing the amount of FSH and LH. Both of these hormones affect males and females. In females, the decreased amounts of these hormones causes difficulty with menstrual cycles and ovarian functioning. In males, they affect sperm production and function, along with decreasing testosterone levels.

THC also increases cortisol levels which can lead to significant problems. Too high cortisol levels for too long brings harm to your body.

CBD lowers overall cortisol levels and improves the functioning of numerous systems in your body. One benefit of CBD is increasing insulin sensitivity. This leads to a balancing of blood sugar levels.

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It also helps strengthen immune functioning and helps with weight loss. CBD lowers overall stress, decreases anxiety, and improves sleep.

In general, using cannabis may bring on benefits for people with AFS. Only cannabis with high CBD content should be considered, however. All use of cannabis should be undertaken only under the supervision of a medical professional.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

What are the ways in which cannabis affects hormones?

Cannabis affects hormones in several ways. The two major components of cannabis, THC and CBD, have opposite effects on hormones. THC increases cortisol, decreases insulin sensitivity, and may be addictive. CBD lowers cortisol, increases insulin sensitivity, and helps anxiety. CBD also lowers overall stress, bringing relief to AFS sufferers.

CBD Oil’s Effect On Hormones: Potential Benefits

There is much in the news these days about all the positive effects of cannabidiol (CBD) oil on our general health and wellbeing. These benefits are usually cited as anything from inflammation control to addressing anxiety. However, not much is said about CBD oil’s effect on hormones, or how it impacts your endocrine system, the glands throughout your body that produce hormones. These hormones play a very important role in just about all body processes, including hunger, sexuality, mood, and your heartbeat.

While research is continuously being conducted on CBD oil’s effect on hormones, these are the benefits the research has found thus far.

CBD Oil’s Effect on Hormones

In order to understand CBD oil’s effect on hormones, you first have to look at how the endocrine system and its various hormones function. The glands making up the endocrine system include the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenals, ovaries, and testes.

Proper hormone function has a major impact on numerous bodily processes. Amongst these are included your metabolism, reproduction and sexuality, mood, appetite, and even growth. Numerous studies indicate CBD oil’s effect on hormones is both wide-ranging and profound.

CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis Sativa plant. It contains more than 100 phytocannabinoids. These various compounds may, to a large extent, mirror your body’s own endocannabinoids.

The Endocannabinoid System

Your endocannabinoid system is a neuromodulatory system – in it, certain physiological processes employ certain chemicals in the regulation of neurons. The neuromodulators that play a role in central nervous system function, for example, include norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. Different neuromodulators tend to have an effect on specific target areas.

Neuromodulators are not neurotransmitters, per se, but they fulfill a similar function.

The neuromodulatory system plays a role in your body’s response to internal and external factors, synaptic plasticity, and the development of your central nervous system. Your endocannabinoid system is made up of enzymes that synthesize and degrade endocannabinoids, enzymes, and various cannabinoid receptors.

How CBD Oil Interacts with Your Endocannabinoid System

Much research has thus far been done on the effect of CBD oil and its impact on our bodies, including our mechanical, physical, biochemical functions, and psychological functions.

Two phytocannabinoids in CBD oil that have undergone much research are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Most marijuana users are familiar with a high that is the result of the THC. CBD, however, has no intoxicating effect on your body.

The CBD oil reacts with CB1 and CB2, cannabinoid receptors found in your brain and body. They are responsible for a number of physiological actions including inflammation, pain, and mood. When these different receptors are activated, the CBD oil stimulates your endocrine glands’ function.

CBD Oil for Cortisol

The body’s cortisol is mainly produced in the adrenal glands. It is commonly referred to as the stress hormone because of its ability to manage the stress response. Your stress response is also known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response because many systems are affected. Your NEM is governed by the brain, or more specifically, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.

When a threat is perceived, the hypothalamus sends chemical messengers signaling this threat to the pituitary gland which, in turn, sends its own chemical messengers to the adrenals. The result is a cascade of hormones issued throughout the body to deal with the situation.

Cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, plays a large role in your body’s ability to handle stress. An increase in cortisol production also causes a decrease in certain bodily functions while others may stop altogether. Your body prioritizes immediate survival. Once the situation causing the stress passes, cortisol production usually returns to normal, as do other processes that were affected.

Constant, high cortisol production is found when stress continues, such as when you have a lot of stress due to your job. This could have a huge impact on your health and result in numerous health issues. Amongst these are adrenal fatigue.

Amongst the various processes affected by higher cortisol production are included:

  • Mood and behavior
  • Libido
  • Sleeping patterns
  • Physical activities
  • Digestion
  • Circulation

The anti-catabolic properties of CBD oil may help with cortisol production regulation. In this way, it may help to reduce stress and mitigate the effects of cortisol on your body.

CBD Oil for Insulin

Insulin is produced in your pancreas. An insulin imbalance may result in heart issues, obesity, and diabetes.

Insulin plays a role in turning glucose into the energy your body needs in order to function correctly. It also plays a role in storing excess energy, i.e. glucose, in your fat cells and helps with nutrient absorption. When your body’s insulin production is compromised, and not enough is produced, blood sugar levels may rise. This could result in damage to your nerves, your blood vessels, and your organs.

Diabetes may be the result of inflammation in the pancreas and a reduction in insulin production. CBD oil may have a beneficial, anti-inflammatory effect which may be of aid for pancreatitis, i.e. inflammation of the pancreas. By reducing pancreatic inflammation, CBD oil may thus have a beneficial effect on the production of the hormone insulin. CB1 receptors have been found at the sites of insulin production.

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CBD Oil for the Thyroid

The thyroid gland takes iodine from food and converts it into thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine. The thyroid is the only organ in your body that can absorb iodine. Every cell in your body depends on thyroid hormones because they control metabolism at a cellular level. In other words, thyroid hormones are needed to convert oxygen and calories into energy so that your body can work at an optimal level.

An imbalance in thyroid hormones resulting from a compromised thyroid may result in hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism which may lead to a number of health conditions. Your endocannabinoid system has a strong influence on thyroid function and thus the production of thyroid hormones.

Research indicates the presence of cannabinoid receptors on the thyroid gland and that CB1 receptors control thyroid hormone release. Studies on CBD oil have found that it plays a role in thyroid hormone production. In addition, CBD oil may benefit those with both benign and malignant thyroid lesions.

Interestingly, the pituitary gland has endocannabinoid receptors and is responsible for the sending of chemical messengers to the thyroid. It thus seems that CBD could communicate with this gland as well. It could potentially play a beneficial role in thyroid function and hormone production.

CBD Oil for Sleep

CBD oil’s effect on hormones could help improve your sleep cycle and sleep quality. Sleep issues are often the result of unbalanced hormones.

The pineal gland in your brain has cannabinoid receptors and is responsible for the production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates your circadian rhythm and your sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm, to a large extent, helps regulate many bodily functions. Obesity, diabetes, and depression are linked to low melatonin production. By activating the CB1 receptors in the pineal gland, CBD oil may help improve your sleeping habits.

As previously mentioned, CBD may also help manage your adrenal glands’ cortisol production. Higher levels of cortisol in your body may keep you in a state of readiness, alertness, and anxiousness. By helping to manage cortisol production, and effectively lowering its production into a normal range, CBD oil may improve sleep.

CBD Oil for Women’s Health

Women are not strangers to shifts in their hormone levels. They usually have temporary hormone imbalances during puberty, while menstruating, and during menopause. These hormone imbalances are commonly associated with a number of symptoms such as sleep issues, increased stress, weight gain, and pain due to cramps. CBD oil’s effect on hormones may help manage most of these issues.

While CBD oil is known for its pain relief properties, it also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help with the cramps and pain felt during menstruation. This may also make it beneficial for premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.

Furthermore, CBD oil helps manage your body’s cortisol levels. This means it may be able to significantly reduce your feelings of anxiety during times of hormonal upheaval, while its insulin and melatonin regulating abilities may help prevent loss of sleep and weight gain that often happen during these times.

CBD Oil for Brain Health

Stress is one of the main causes of anxiety and depression. It is also linked to adrenal fatigue and its numerous biological and psychological health implications. Amongst these are included irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, insomnia, stomach aches, weight loss or weight gain, heart problems, and various chronic ailments. Many of these conditions are marked by the presence of inflammation.

Besides its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD oil’s effect on hormones may be beneficial to brain health due to positive interaction with the brain’s serotonin receptors.

Serotonin is mainly found in the brain, blood, and bowels and is a neurotransmitter that is believed to help in smooth muscle constriction. It is the hormone that is associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing. It is also the precursor hormone of melatonin, the hormone responsible for circadian rhythm regulation.

With regards to CBD oil’s effect on hormones and dopamine, more studies may be needed. What is known, however, is that CBD oil may have a partial action on dopamine D2 receptors, which could account for its positive actions on certain psychological issues.

Thus far, the CBD oil’s effect on hormones may help reduce feelings of anxiety, mild depression, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, autism symptoms, psychosis, and even Alzheimer’s.

In Closing

There are too many studies that show positive results with regards to CBD oil’s effect on hormones for one to make it out as a myth hatched up by those propagating cannabis use. Due to our natural endocannabinoid receptors binding so readily with the phytocannabinoids present in CBD oil, one could almost describe this as a product that works in harmony with our own bodies.

However, please consult your healthcare practitioner before you start using CBD oil as a supplement. CBD oil may have an interaction with medications you may currently be using. It could also have an effect on certain health issues. Your healthcare practitioner may also need to adjust your dosage of certain medications for chronic conditions. CBD may also put a strain on your liver, so if you have liver congestion it might worsen your symptoms.

Generally speaking, when starting out with CBD oil you usually start out at a relatively low dosage, slowly working your way up to the recommended dosage. This is because your body takes time to adjust to the oil, with the oil working optimally once your highest recommended dosage is reached.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Does CBD oil’s effect on hormones help diabetes?

There are many factors connected to diabetes. Insulin production is one of these. Research shows that CBD oil’s effect on hormones may help mitigate insulin production. In doing so, it may thus help address the high sugar levels that are associated with diabetes.

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