For centuries, the hemp plant has been considered a herbal powerhouse for its medicinal properties. Although it has been somewhat neglected in the modern medical age, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the plant and its therapeutic potential.
The popularity of hemp as a natural remedy is due to the numerous compounds found in the plant – one of which is a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol or CBD.
In recent years, intensive research has been conducted to explore CBD’s potential to support health, and its use has increased at an astonishing rate. One study found that nearly 3.7 million people in Germany used CBD products in 2018, and that number continues to rise.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of about 140 cannabinoids found in the hemp plant (Hemp sativa). It is the main active ingredient in hemp-based products, including CBD drops, CBD snacks, ointments, and CBD capsules.
CBD has been used by people for thousands of years for its various beneficial properties. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicating ingredient in hemp, CBD is not intoxicating, so it does not make you “high” or addictive, making it completely safe to consume.
How does CBD work?
CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell signaling network found throughout the body. This system regulates many vital functions, including sleep, mood, pain, appetite, and memory, and helps maintain a stable balance (or “homeostasis”) in the body.
The ECS consists of three main components: Endocannabinoids, Cannabinoid Receptors, and Enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are endogenous molecules that regulate many neuronal functions. They bind to cannabinoid receptors and signal the ECS when it needs to become active (e.g., to relieve pain).
The two most important endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA), which affects the brain’s reward system, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which regulates blood circulation.
- cannabinoid receptors
Endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors to help the body. The two main types of cannabinoid receptors are known as CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system and peripheral organs.
Enzymes break down endocannabinoids after they have fulfilled their function.
The two main enzymes involved in this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down anandamide (AEA), and monoacylglycerol lipase, which breaks down 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
What is CBD
While experts are not yet entirely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS, it is thought to bind weakly to CB receptors and indirectly affect the body. For example, CBD prevents the enzyme FAAH from breaking down endocannabinoids such as anandamide, thereby increasing endocannabinoid concentrations and allowing them to have a stronger effect on the body.
When CBD is consumed along with the intoxicating cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the prolonged presence of endocannabinoids such as anandamide may, in turn, prevent THC from binding to CB receptors in the brain and producing a “high.” In this way, CBD can also indirectly counteract the intoxicating effects of THC.
Hemp originated in Central Asia and is believed to have come to Europe around 1,200 BC before subsequently spreading throughout the world. At the time, the plant was used primarily for its medicinal benefits. In folk remedies and earlier medicines, various parts of the plant were used to treat cramps, dysentery, arthritis, birth complications, rheumatism, and even insomnia.
The compound CBD was first discovered in the 1940s when Roger Adams managed to isolate CBD and another cannabinoid from hemp called CBN (cannabinol). However, at that time, scientists were more interested in researching THC, which we will talk about later in this article.
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