CBD, THC and the Human Body
Marijuana-derived products, CBD and THC, have taken the market by storm! All of a sudden, they are everywhere; even in the impulse-buy section at your local grocery store. Marijuana products aren’t something that you just smoke anymore. Now you can eat them, swallow them in a concentrated pill form, drink them in Kombucha, coffee, or tea, or rub them on your body in lotions and salves. This is all very exciting, but if you’re like us, you probably have some questions:
What does it do in the body?
What is the difference between THC and CBD?
What are the benefits?
Below is what we have gathered in our research adventures regarding the use and forms of THC and CBD. Keep in mind this isn’t medical advice; this is simply some information to chew on as the research continues.
CBD vs. THC: The Body, and Some Scientific Stuff
First things first, it is important to understand the human endocannabinoid system. We all have this system build into us. In fact, it is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Its key pieces evolved a long time ago and can be found in all vertebrate species. It plays a crucial role in our body’s constant mission to maintain homeostasis. The best way to understand homeostasis is to think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: your body wants everything to be juuuust right, and is constantly undergoing changes to keep it just so.
That classic fairy tale illustrated the idea that the best outcome often lies somewhere in the middle, between two extremes. Homeostasis is the concept that most biological systems are actively regulated to maintain conditions within a narrow range. Our body doesn’t want its temperature to be too hot or too cold, blood sugar levels too high or too low, and so on. Conditions need to be just right for our cells to maintain optimum performance, and exquisite mechanisms have evolved to draw them back to the Goldilocks zone if they move outside of ideal. The body’s endocannabinoid system is a vital molecular system for helping maintain homeostasis—it helps cells stay in their Goldilocks zone.
There are three key components of the endocannabinoid system:
- Cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of cells and “listen” to conditions outside the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell, kick-starting the appropriate cellular response.
- Endocannabinoids are molecules that, like the plant cannabinoid THC or CBD, bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. However, unlike THC/CBD, endocannabinoids are produced naturally by cells in the human body (“endo” means “within,” as in “within the body”).
- Metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids after they are used. Gotta take out the trash.
The three components can be found within almost every major system of the body. When something brings a cell out of its Goldilocks zone, these three pillars of the endocannabinoid system are often called upon to bring things back, thus maintaining homeostasis. Because of its role in helping bring things back to their physiological Goldilocks zone, the endocannabinoid system is often engaged only when and where it’s needed.
So, THC and CBD are cannabinoids that come from outside the body and attach to cannabinoid receptors inside the body in the endocannabinoid system and trigger cellular changes.
There is a close relationship between the two compounds, CBD and THC, that often leads some to assume that both have the same impact on the body. However, a comparison of the two reveals the exact opposite to be true.
CBD and THC have the exact same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The two are nearly identical twins. What differentiates the two compounds is the arrangement of a single atom, and this single atom makes all the difference.
Before we dive too deep, it’s important to understand what cannabinoids are and how they work with the body. There are currently 85 known cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, the most prominent of which are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) that interact with the body’s two endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are found abundantly in regions of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, high cognition, emotion, and motor coordination, while CB2 receptors are found throughout the central nervous and immune systems.
The interaction between the CB1 and CB2 receptors with cannabinoids like CBD and THC is the catalyst for health benefits such as pain relief, anxiety relief, appetite stimulation, mood management, and more.
Now here is where the different positions of that tiny atom come into play.
Because THC and CBD have different molecular structures, they do not interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same manner. Think about keys: not every key fits every lock. This greatly differentiates the effects each has on the body, which is likely the biggest concern when comparing CBD to THC.
Both CBD and THC bind to the CB2 receptors (found mostly in central nervous system), but they interact with the CB1 receptors (found mostly in Brain) in different ways. Because of its molecular structure, THC is able to bind directly with CB1 receptors. When this bond is formed, the reaction creates signals that are sent to the brain, which results in the psychoactive effects of “getting high.” (Insert any Cypress Hill song here.)
In contrast, research shows that CBD does not directly bond with the CB1 receptors, and its presence can even counteract the bond between THC and the CB1 receptors, effectively neutralizing the psychoactive effects induced by THC. That is a chemical Goldilocks in action!
Great, but why CBD?
THC offers tremendous health benefits, but its mind-altering effects aren’t preferred by everyone. CBD, on the other hand, can deliver many of the same benefits of THC without inducing its psychoactive effects. According to a report from the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
It is important to keep in mind that this is an emerging field, and there is limited research in place, but the possibilities are endlessly exciting. It is also important to note that although research is limited, marijuana and hemp derivatives have been used to treat pain as far back as 2900 B.C., and it has been part of the Chinese herbal medical system for centuries.
Possible Benefits of CBD
Pain Relief and Inflammation
Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters. A study done on rats found that CBD injections reduced pain response to surgical incision, while another rat study found that oral CBD treatment significantly reduced sciatic nerve pain and inflammation. Several human studies have found that a combination of CBD and THC is effective in treating pain related to multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are usually treated with pharmaceutical drugs, which can cause a number of side effects including drowsiness, agitation, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and headache. Additionally, medications like benzodiazepines can be addictive and may lead to substance abuse. CBD oil has shown promise as a treatment for both depression and anxiety, leading many who live with these disorders to become interested in this natural approach. In one study, 24 people with social anxiety disorder received either 600 mg of CBD or a placebo before a public speaking test. The group that received the CBD had significantly less anxiety and less cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance compared to the placebo group. CBD oil has even been used to safely treat insomnia and anxiety in children with post-traumatic stress disorder. CBD has also been proven to have antidepressant-like effects in several animal studies.
Alleviate Cancer-Related Symptoms
CBD may help reduce symptoms related to cancer and side effects related to cancer treatment, like nausea, vomiting, and pain. One study looked at the effects of CBD and THC in 177 people with cancer-related pain who did not experience relief from pain medication. Those treated with an extract containing both compounds experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those who received only THC extract. CBD may also help reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, which are among the most common chemotherapy-related side effects for those with cancer. A study of 16 people undergoing chemotherapy found that a one-to-one combination of CBD and THC administered via mouth spray reduced chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting better than standard treatment alone.Some test-tube and animal studies have even shown that CBD may have anticancer properties. For example, one test-tube study found that concentrated CBD induced cell death in human breast cancer cells.
May Reduce Acne
Acne is a common skin condition that affects more than 9% of the population. It is thought to be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, bacteria, underlying inflammation and the overproduction of sebum, an oily secretion made by sebaceous glands in the skin. Based on recent scientific studies, CBD oil may help treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce sebum production. One test-tube study found that CBD oil prevented sebaceous gland cells from secreting excessive sebum, exerted anti-inflammatory actions, and prevented the activation of “pro-acne” agents like inflammatory cytokines. Another study had similar findings, concluding that CBD may be an efficient and safe way to treat acne, thanks in part to its remarkable anti-inflammatory qualities.
Possible Neuroprotective Properties
Researchers believe that CBD’s ability to act on the endocannabinoid system and other brain signaling systems may provide benefits for those with neurological disorders. In fact, one of the most studied uses for CBD is in treating neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Though research in this area is still relatively new, several studies have shown promising results. Sativex, an oral spray consisting of CBD and THC, has been proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce muscle spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. One study found that Sativex reduced spasms in 75% of 276 people with multiple sclerosis who were experiencing muscle spasticity that was resistant to medications. Another study gave 214 people with severe epilepsy 0.9–2.3 grams of CBD oil per pound (2–5 g/kg) of body weight. Their seizures reduced by a median of 36.5%. Several studies have shown that treatment with CBD improved quality of life and sleep quality for people with Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, animal and test-tube studies have shown that CBD may decrease inflammation and help prevent the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In one long-term study, researchers gave CBD to mice genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease, finding that it helped prevent cognitive decline.
Could Benefit Heart Health
Recent research has linked CBD with several benefits for the heart and circulatory system, including the ability to lower high blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to higher risks of a number of health conditions including stroke, heart attack, and metabolic syndrome. Studies indicate that CBD may be a natural and effective treatment for high blood pressure. One recent study treated 10 healthy men with one dose of 600 mg of CBD oil and found it reduced resting blood pressure compared to a placebo. The same study also gave the men stress tests that normally increase blood pressure. Interestingly, the single dose of CBD led the men to experience a smaller blood pressure increase than normal in response to these tests. Researchers have suggested that the stress and anxiety-reducing properties of CBD are responsible for its ability to help lower blood pressure.
Research on the potential health benefits of CBD oil is ongoing, so new therapeutic uses for this natural remedy are sure to be discovered in the very near future. Though there is much to be learned about the efficacy and safety of CBD and THC treatment, results from recent studies suggest that these cannabinoid elements may provide a safe, powerful, natural treatment for many health issues. We will certainly be keeping an eye out for more research as CBD and THC treatments soar in popularity!