Research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may be helpful as a therapeutic treatment for certain neurological conditions. How Does CBD Affect the Brain? Impact of Cannabidiol on Brain Function The one-of-a-kind neurological effects of CBD are the main reason why this supplement has grabbed the world of wellness Does the scientific evidence show beneficial effects of CBD on various ailments? We break it down.
CBD and the Brain: The Impact of Cannabidiol on Brain Health
Scientists are just beginning to unveil the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD). As new discoveries come to the forefront, we are learning that CBD could give your brain health a major boost, due to its ability to protect brain cells from the harms of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), stroke and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Learn about how CBD affects the brain, the neurological conditions the cannabinoid may help treat, and how to use it for maximum effect.
How CBD Affects the Brain
Before we can understand CBD’s effects on the brain, we need to understand how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works. Your ECS plays a fundamental role in homeostasis or balance. The ECS is involved in fertility, appetite regulation, pregnancy, pre- and postnatal development, pain sensation, mood, the pleasurable effects of voluntary exercise and the formation of memory.
The ECS plays an important part in the development and plasticity of the human brain throughout a person’s lifetime, with endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) playing a very important role in protecting the brains of newborns and the maturation of the adolescent brain.
When the ECS is disrupted, or if a person’s genetics do not encode cannabinoid receptors or endocannabinoids properly, health problems occur. The ECS can be disrupted by injuries or illnesses, which can form a part of an inflammatory event (e.g. a long-term viral or bacterial infection) that can cause both short- and long- term changes to the functioning of the ECS.
Age also plays a factor in how the ECS functions, just as the brain changes over the course of one’s lifetime. Keeping the ECS “in balance” could therefore help overcome or theoretically even prevent conditions that affect the human brain as it ages.
There are several neurological and mood disorders which are linked to disruption to the ECS, and there is some good evidence suggesting that the ECS is a key modulator of sociability, emotions and cognition. Some of these conditions are genetic and can occur at any age, while others are more likely to occur as we age (although there may still be a genetic component). Some are also autoimmune conditions.
There are several studies and reports suggesting that CBD and other cannabinoids (including THC in some instances) may be useful for the treatment of neurological and mood disorders such as:
, particularly childhood forms of epilepsy such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
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CBD vs. Other Cannabinoids
CBD is not the only cannabinoid that may help people with neurological conditions. Its psychoactive counterpart, THC, has been shown to affect the brain in different ways as well, although not all of these are positive.
As a general rule, CBD works best in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). This chemical “team effort” is known as the entourage effect.
Potential Health Benefits
CBD and other cannabinoids including THC may present the following neurological health benefits:
- Help reduce neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain)
- Facilitate neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells)
- Help with excitotoxicity (damage to nerve cells caused by prolonged activation of an excitatory neurotransmitter, commonly glutamate)
- Decrease hypothermia – CBD and THC may reduce body temperature , potentially lowering blood pressure , potentially easing certain cardiac conditions like arrhythmia
- Fewer motor and autonomic deficits in those with spinal cord injuries
- Enhancing anandamide signaling – disruption of which is implicated in autism
Research into these possible health benefits of CBD is ongoing, and more clinical trials are necessary.
Is CBD a Nootropic?
Nootropics are drugs that improve cognitive performance, including attention span, memory and even creativity. Some researchers consider CBD to be a nootropic, but there is currently no consensus in the scientific community.
CBD could be considered a nootropic because of its potential to improve blood flow in the brain, easing anxiety and depression and potentially treating conditions that affect the memory, like Alzheimer’s and PTSD. When people feel less anxious and less depressed, they are more likely to pay attention, remember things and be creative.
Using CBD for Brain Health
Effectively using CBD for brain health means pinpointing the best product, dosage and treatment duration for you.
Many CBD products may offer brain benefits, but we cannot say this for sure as there is little research to evaluate their efficacy. You can choose from CBD topicals, CBD edibles, sublingual CBD tinctures and smokable CBD products. Some CBD products may be better for treating insomnia (especially products containing higher amounts of myrcene and linalool), while others are designed to help people with anxiety and depression (where terpenes like limonene may be more helpful).
Dosing CBD is very much a customized process and depends on your personal needs and treatment goals. Beginner CBD consumers may start with as low as 5 milligrams (mg) of CBD per day, while more experienced consumers may take up to 100 mg per day, or potentially even more. Tweaking CBD dosages is common and the amount of CBD that feels good today may change in the near future.
It is also worth remembering that CBD has different effects at different dosages (i.e. it has biphasic effects). Lower doses (under 15 mg) of CBD may have more stimulating effects, whereas higher doses may have more sedative effects. Again, the effect CBD has and at what dose is very much individual, so take this as a rough guide. Check out our guide to dosing for more information.
One study found extended CBD use (twice daily for 10 weeks) to be beneficial. The researchers determined that, “Prolonged CBD treatment appears to have promising effects for improving psychological symptoms and cognition in regular cannabis users.”
Speak with your doctor about CBD dosing guidelines of how often and for what duration would be best for you personally.
The Bottom Line: CBD’s Impact on Brain Health
CBD appears to have numerous potential benefits for brain health. Improving focus, relieving anxiety, and reducing inflammation are just a few ways that the cannabinoid could strengthen your brain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does CBD oil relieve brain fog?
Some people report feeling more clear-headed when using CBD, while others may feel mellow or even fatigued. Your reaction to CBD depends on many factors, including your experience level with the cannabinoid, your body weight and body chemistry.
Can CBD heal the brain?
Research has shown that CBD may have neuroprotective properties, which means that the cannabinoid could indeed heal the brain. Notably, CBD may encourage the growth of new brain cells and reduce brain inflammation in some people.
What does CBD oil do to the brain?
For many people, CBD oil leads to a feeling of relaxation, while for others the cannabinoid lends an energy burst. CBD oil and other CBD products may also enhance the brain health of people with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Unlock the therapeutic potential of CBD and cannabis with your own medical marijuana card. Leafwell’s doctors are standing by to meet with you in our 100% virtual clinic and guide you through your application.
How Does CBD Affect the Brain? Impact of Cannabidiol on Brain Function
The one-of-a-kind neurological effects of CBD are the main reason why this supplement has grabbed the world of wellness products by the throat. Unlike other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, CBD has its own way of interacting with the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound whose largest concentration can be found in hemp , a close relative of marijuana – the two come from the same mother plant (Cannabis Sativa L.). CBD is non-intoxicating ; in other words, CBD doesn’t make people feel high , but it allows them to draw a myriad of health benefits from this particular cannabinoid.
The list of medical conditions alleviated by CBD includes anxiety, inflammation, pain, lethargy, aging, skin and bones injuries, and other health concerns . When administered, it allows a person to feel relaxed without the mind-altering effects induced by THC.
Why Is CBD Different From THC and Other Cannabinoids?
As we said, there is a notable difference between CBD and other cannabinoids, or chemicals that are found in both hemp and marijuana.
While all other active compounds of the plant interact with two cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, CB1 and CB2, Cannabidiol has very little effect on both. CB1 receptors are found in different regions of the brain, including those responsible for controlling emotion, pain, cognition, and memory . CB2 receptors, on the other hand, regulate inflammatory responses and bolster the immune system . [ 1 ]
Others spread myths about CBD over the internet that it interacts with the cannabinoid receptors, but they are completely mistaken. CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system to produce more of its own cannabinoids and slows their breakdown. [ 2 ] Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), on the other hand, binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, activating them and thus changing a person’s thinking, memory, pleasure, and pain perception, and concentration. These effects contribute to what we describe as a marijuana high.
Interestingly, CBD may also alter the effects of THC by blocking the CB1 receptors in places where THC taps. In higher doses, THC can induce anxiety and paranoia in some users, which is why many people are afraid to try weed. But strains that are high in CBD tend to mitigate these effects, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of marijuana without a disturbance.
Potential Neurological Effects of CBD Oil
CBD is known to have a tremendous number of medicinal properties, but because the field of marijuana research is in its infancy, we still need more studies to examine the full potential of the plant’s compounds.
Below, we list some of the documented neurological effects of CBD oil that may help you put an end to your ailments.
CBD could be helpful when it comes to treating neurological diseases due to its neuroprotective properties. In other words, CBD protects neurons from degeneration , which helps a person’s brain remain younger. In a study on Alzheimer’s Disease, CBD was shown to inhibit the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms [ 3 ].
CBD is a natural pain suppressor [ 4 ]. It’s capable of inhibiting neuronal transmission without causing analgesic tolerance and substance dependence. Because of these qualities, researchers came to the conclusion that CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids can be used as an effective alternative to prescription opioid drugs when it comes to treating chronic pain.
On top of that, the topical use of CBD has been shown by numerous studies to improve joint mobility and speed up the healing process after an injury. Many professional athletes use CBD to fight muscle inflammation and other pain-related issues .
As research shows, very high doses of CBD can be used to cease the growth of cancer cells due to its antitumor properties. What’s optimistic about the neurological effects of CBD oil is that it has no toxic effects on humans [ 5 ]. This study also shows that CBD could even help treat leukemia and similar illnesses.
CBD has long been praised for its anti-anxiety effects. Actually, this is the number one reason why people use CBD oil. When you scan the Internet for positive voices of Cannabidiol, you will come across a sea of success stories of patients that managed to go cold turkey on their drug cocktails thanks to CBD.
As for the scientific evidence, a 2011 study tested 24 patients with social anxiety disorders. 1.5 hours before the test, the patients were administered CBD oil or a placebo. It was found that the anxiety levels, cognitive impairment, and social discomfort in patients who were given CBD had dropped significantly as compared to the placebo subjects [ 6 ].
How Does CBD Affect The Brain
Cannabidiol acts through various molecular pathways , which explains the neurological effects of CBD oil. Although CBD doesn’t tap into two of the cannabinoid receptors, it stimulates the activity of the endocannabinoid system through several different receptor-independent routes . CBD also strengthens and inhibits the binding action of certain protein-coupled receptors.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the receptor systems that are affected by CBD.
1. CBD And The Serotonin System
Serotonin receptors affect a wide range of bodily and brain functions. For example, they affect a person’s cognition, mood, appetite, and pain perception , but they are also responsible for our reactions to stress – serotonin receptors regulate the release of hormones that control the above functions.
CBD targets the serotonin 1A receptor , which is why scientists believe Cannabidiol can be so useful in treating pain, anxiety, and obesity. Moreover, the increased activity of serotonin 1A receptors has been linked by researchers to CBD’s potential influence on certain issues such as depression, nausea from chemotherapy, neuropathic pain, and schizophrenia .
2. CBD And Vanilloid Receptors
CBD attaches to vanilloid receptors , also known as TRPV1 receptors, to achieve certain therapeutic effects. Because TRPV1 is an ion channel, it helps the body r egulate its temperature, control inflammation, and change the perception of pain .
3. CBD And Orphan Receptors
The orphan receptor has got its name because scientists are still unsure if it belongs to a larger receptor family. Also called GPR55 , the orphan receptor is responsible for regulating blood pressure, bone density, and bone reabsorption .
When the orphan receptor shows signs of constant overactivity, it may eventually cause osteoporosis and contribute to the multiplication and migration of tumor cells. CBD inhibits GPR55 signaling, which is linked to the ability of this cannabinoid to stop the growth of cancer.
4. CBD And Nuclear Receptors
Nuclear receptors are also referred to PPARs, short for proliferator-activated receptors. Their activity is attributed to antitumor effects. CBD activates PPARs, which are found on the surface of the cell’s nucleus. When the PPAR-gamma receptor is stimulated, it triggers an antiproliferative effect that has been shown to cause cancer to regress in lung cancer cell families .
5. CBD As An Anandamide Booster
A 2016 study published in the Frontiers of Pharmacology showed that CBD on the brain inhibits the breakdown of anandamide , which boosts endocannabinoid levels on the brain’s synapses. Anandamide is often called the human version of marijuana because anandamide and THC are much alike in their chemical structure. They also produce similar effects; anandamide controls mood, pain perception, body temperature, appetite, and more.
CBD interacts with the same intracellular molecules that transport THC and anandamide to different parts inside the cell. It also has a strong bond with three kinds of fatty acid-binding protein (FABP). Once endocannabinoids get inside the cell, the process of anandamide’s breakdown begins. Cannabidiol reduces anandamide’s access to transport FABP and thus delays it from entering the cell, slowing its breakdown [ 7 ].
Medical Benefits of CBD For the Brain
Now, let’s sum up some of the most noteworthy therapeutic properties of CBD.
1. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
While THC can increase anxiety in some people , especially if administered in high doses, a study conducted by Neurotherapeutics has found that CBD can help reduce the anxiety experienced by patients with anxiety disorders. The neurological effects of CBD could lead to the emergence of all-natural anti-anxiety therapies in the nearest future [ 8 ].
According to a study posted in Epilepsia, CBD may treat seizures, epilepsy, and neuropsychiatric disorders . Not only does CBD have a wide range of antiseizure properties, but it also has a low risk of undesired effects on people who already suffer from epilepsy. This particular quality of Cannabidiol has given rise to more and more studies aimed at determining how exactly CBD and other cannabinoids can potentially treat disorders linked to epilepsy, especially neurodegeneration and neuronal injuries.
Since CBD can help reduce stress, anxiety, and pain, it may prove an effective natural sleep aid. CBD also controls the sleep-wake cycle ; in other words, it induces wakefulness and reduces daytime sleepiness in low doses, but large amounts of these cannabinoids administered a few hours before bedtime can have a sedating effect that often results in a good night’s sleep [ 9 ].
Unlocking CBD’s Unequivocal Potential
While most of the research available today has put its focus on understanding the relationship between humans and THC, CBD on the brain has been recently shown to have great potential with regard to its medical versatility. Once we fully understand all the properties of hemp and marijuana, we will be able to unlock its full power and use it in a way that could benefit us even more than it does now.
Let’s hope that scientists will soon find newer ways to improve human health and regeneration with natural resources so that people can have true freedom of choice when it comes to choosing their treatment options.
- Battista N., Tomasso D. M., Bari M., Maccarone M. The Endocannabinoid System: An Overview. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2012; 6: 9. Published online in March 2012. Pre-published online in December 2011.
- Ahn K., McKinney K. M., and Cravatt B. F. Enzymatic Pathways That Regulate Endocannabinoid Signalling in the Nervous System. Chemical Reviews., 2008, 108 (5), pp 1687 – 1707. Published online in April 2008.
- Campbell V. A., Gowran A. Alzheimer’s Disease: Taking the Edge Off With Cannabinoids? Department of Physiology and Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin.British Journal of Pharmacology (2007) 152, 655-622. Published Online in September 2007.
- Russo E. Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management (2008); 4(1): 24-259. Published online in February 2008.
- Massi P., Solinas M., Cinquina V., and Parolaro D. Cannabidiol as Potential Anticancer Drug. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (2013); 75(2): 303-312. Published online in April 2012.
- Beramaschi M. M. et al. Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naive Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology (2011); 36(6): 1219-1226. Published online in February 2011.
- Deutsch DG. A Personal Retrospective: Elevating Anandamide (AEA) by Targetting Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) and the Fatty Acid Binding Proteins (FABPs). Frontier of Pharmacology (2016); 7:370. Published online in 2016.
- Blessing E. M., Steenkamp M. M., Manzanares J., and Marmar C. R. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics (2015); 12(4): 825-836. Published online in September 2015.
- Devinsky O. et al. Cannabidiol: Pharmacology and Potential Therapeutic Role in Epilepsy and Other Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Epilepsia (2014); 55(6): 791-802. Published online in May 2014.
Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
The Science Behind CBD’s Effects on the Brain and Body
Our current reality is undoubtedly anxiety-inducing. And understandably, demand for household products such as toilet-paper and hand sanitizer has spiked in response. But perhaps more surprising is the surge in e-commerce sales of self-care products containing CBD oil. CBD is perhaps best known for its beneficial effects on anxiety and sleep, and up until recently, this was merely hearsay. The past five years have been pivotal for the legalization of CBD and its use in clinical trials. But does the science support the hype behind this craze? We’re laying out the research so you can be an informed consumer.
As always, consult a medical doctor before taking any nutritional supplements InsideTracker recommends. If you have or suspect a medical condition or are taking any medications, please consult a doctor before acting on any of our recommendations.
First, CBD largely does not come from marijuana plants
Let’s start from the beginning. Derivatives of the ancient plant family Cannabis sativa have been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. The plant contains nearly 100 active compounds called phytocannabinoids, two of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, AKA “THC”) and cannabidiol (CBD). And generations of selective breeding of cannabis plants have produced two of the most common modern strains: hemp and marijuana. The difference between these two strains can be distinguished by their ratio of CBD and THC: while marijuana plants are bred to have relatively high amounts of Δ9-THC, hemp plants are bred for higher concentrations of CBD and actually contain negligible amounts of Δ9-THC—less than 0.3% per unit of dry weight.
The similarities and differences between THC and CBD
In the body, Δ9-THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), an important signaling pathway that regulates stress, inflammation, anxiety, and depression. And while Δ9-THC and CBD have the same molecular structure, slight differences in the arrangement of their atoms impart very different effects on the ECS.
Δ9-THC is known for producing psychoactive effects in the body through the activation of two receptors in the central nervous system called CB1 and CB2.[2,3] The activation of these receptors triggers physiological processes across multiple organ systems, most notably the release of neurotransmitters from the central nervous system that impart the psychoactive effects associated with feeling “high”.
Alternatively, CBD binds to CB1 and CB2 at a much slower rate than Δ9-THC, which results in the activation of similar physiological processes without the psychoactive or “high” effects. These physiologic effects make CBD promising for clinical benefits, many of which have been tested in small-scale trials and evaluated in systematic reviews over recent years. Now, let’s get into those results and summarizing what we know so far.
A summary of the research of CBD on.
The most commonly-reported use of recreational CBD is as a treatment for anxiety. In one study, participants with social anxiety disorder who were given a one-time dosage of 600mg one hour before speaking publicly had reduced self-reported anxiety compared to a control group. These anxiety-mitigating effects were replicated in a separate study of healthy subjects who were given a 300mg dose. And it seems that these results are standard—a review of 11 trials found that CBD reduced anxiety when taken one hour before an anxiety-inducing event, and a compilation of case reports found that nearly 80% of patients given CBD for anxiety saw reductions in one month.[7,8]
These studies yield promising results, but cannot definitively determine that CBD improves anxiety. Larger, well-designed trials must be conducted to confirm the association between CBD and improved anxiety. For now, you can also try these strategies to reduce stress.
Multiple reviews have concluded that sufficient evidence is still lacking on the effects of CBD on mental disorders or their symptoms.[9,10] One study found that CBD may reduce nightmares and sleep disturbances in those with PTSD, but again, larger scale, well-designed trials are warranted to confirm this relationship.
Alternative therapies for pain management are of particular interest given the highly-addictive nature of modern pain medication. Early, small-scale studies suggest that, while CBD is not effective for the management of acute, short-term pain, it may play a role in chronic, long-term pain.[12,13] In one study, 97 chronic pain patients swapped their opioid prescriptions for 30mg of daily CBD for a year. The results showed that CBD improved quality of life in 94% of participants, reduced or eliminated opioid use in 53% of participants, and significantly improved sleep quality in the group after just eight weeks.
Such results aren’t always clinically relevant, however. Another study found that, while CBD was effective in reducing chronic pain by about 1.5 points on an 11-point pain scale, such a change was likely not large enough to make a clinical difference in patient outcomes. So, again, these promising preliminary results warrant larger, higher-powered studies.
CBD likely has a dose-dependent effect on sleep—it appears that low doses are stimulating and keep you awake, but larger doses have a sedating effect and can improve sleep time and wakefulness during the night.[16,17] But scientific evidence behind these effects is limited and the mechanism behind them is not yet clear. Further trials are warranted, and until then, check out these proven ways to improve your sleep.
Physiologically, it would make sense that CBD could play a role in lowering inflammation levels due to its interaction with the ECS. In cellular and animal studies, CBD has displayed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.[4,18,19] And while this data is promising, the impact of CBD on inflammation must be tested in humans before this relationship can reliably be marketed. But watch this space—the relationship between CBD and inflammation will be important to understand, as inflammation plays a role in many chronic conditions.
As is standard in trials of a novel substance, these studies closely monitored adverse effects of taking CBD—and none were found. However, the FDA has yet to approve CBD as safe due to gaps in current knowledge on potential side effects, most notably for “liver injury, drug interaction, male productive toxicity, and drowsiness.” Additional studies in larger populations are underway and should shed more light on the safety and efficacy of CBD.
The latest on CBD’s legal status
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, creating a huge market opportunity for the CBD industry—reports now suggest that CBD is an expanding multi-billion dollar industry.[20,21] However, though the plant source was legalized, current drug trials of CBD prevents the cannabinoid from being a legal dietary ingredient in foods, beverages, or supplements. In addition, the FD&C Act prevents the sale of food products or dietary supplements containing an active drug component like CBD to be sold across state lines.
So then, how are retailers selling hemp-derived CBD products? Ultimately, they’re just willing to take on some risk. The FDA is keeping close watch on the CBD market and is developing regulations for the legality of CBD as both a drug and as a food ingredient.
A summary of CBD’s effects in the brain and body
- Based on currently available science, InsideTracker cannot recommend with certainty that you will benefit from recreational CBD use.
- The science does look promising, and clinical trials investigating the impact of CBD are underway.
- Based on preliminary evidence, CBD may reduce anxiety, particularly in individuals with social anxiety.
- CBD may reduce pain in individuals with chronic pain and reduce symptoms of frequent opioid consumption.
- CBD may impart anti-inflammatory effects.
Michelle Darian, MS, MPH
Michelle is a Nutrition Science Intern at InsideTracker. Complete with her dietetic internship, you’ll find Michelle analyzing the research behind recent nutrition trends to inform novel food and supplement recommendations.
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