How and Why CBD Works Medically in the Body

Cannabis medications (such as CBD) work so efficiently and effectively because of the endocannabinoid (EC) system, present in all humans and many animals as well. This system consists of a series of receptors that are configured only to accept cannabinoids, especially tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

"Chemical components of Cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system," according to the National Cancer Institute at

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of endogenous (having an internal origin) cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, consisting of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors.

Neuromodulation is the physiological process by which a given neuron uses one or more chemicals to regulate diverse populations of neurons. This is in contrast to classical synaptic transmission, in which one presynaptic neuron directly influences a single postsynaptic partner.

are molecules that contain hydrocarbons and make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells. Examples of lipids include fats, oils, waxes, certain vitamins, hormones and most of the non-protein membrane of cells.

Cannabinoid receptors are part of the cannabinoid receptor system in the brain and are involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. Cannabinoid receptors are of a class of cell membrane receptors under the G protein-coupled receptor super family.

Researchers have identified two cannabinoid receptors: CB1, predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; and CB2, predominantly found in the immune system and its associated structures. Many tissues contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The Endocannabinoid System

A brief history
The endocannabinoid system is believed to have started evolving more than 600 million years ago. Endocannabinoids are present in fish, reptiles, earthworms, leeches, amphibians, birds and mammals. Essentially, every animal with the exception of insects.

Although there are reports of potentially therapeutic effects of cannabis dating back as early as the 1500’s, research on the endocannabinoid system is relatively new. On July 18, 1990, Lisa Matsuda and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health reported they found the DNA sequence possessing a receptor sensitive to certain phytocannabinoids. Now that scientists knew where to look, research possibilities surrounding cannabis greatly expanded.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors (CB) and endocannabinoids, which are compounds produced by our bodies that bind to these receptors.

Researchers have identified two cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 (both are G-protein-coupled receptors). According to studies, when activated, they can cause various effects such as euphoria, anxiety, muscle relaxation, hunger, and inflammation reduction. The specific effect seems to depend on which receptor is activated. CB1 has been linked to the euphoric and anticonvulsive effects and is located on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. It’s also been found in the endocrine and salivary glands, spleen, reproductive system; and regions of the brain that control movement, memory and pain modulation. Research performed on genetically engineered mice lacking CB1 receptors showed that THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes a high) had virtually no effect because it did not have this receptor to bind to.

CB2, on the other hand, was said to be responsible for regulation of the immune system and the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids.

Our CB receptors respond to these three types of cannabinoids:

Endocannabinoids — produced within our bodies
Phyto-cannabinoids — found in plants such as cannabis
Synthetic cannabinoids — manufactured chemically in a lab

Potential Uses
Research on the various cannabinoids (or phytocannabinoids) found in cannabis are currently taking place all across the world, and is still considered to be in its infancy.

Over 80 cannabinoids have been found in cannabis. The two most abundant are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC is the psychoactive compound that gives cannabis it’s recreational tag for causing a “high,” CBD has thus far been noted as safe and is non-psychoactive. No adverse side effects or risks have been discovered, with the exception of minor discomfort in the stomach when significant amounts were taken.

The various cannabinoids bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors to alter several biological processes.

“CB1 receptors in high density occur on presynaptic neuronal terminals in brain influencing neurotransmission thereby number of functions–pain perception, inhibition of stress reaction, regulation of motor functions, cognition, emotional reactions, regulation of food intake, psychical homeostasis and motivation.”

Excerpt from Martykánová L. (2010). Endocannabinoid system I–the role in regulation of physiology functions. Cas Lek Cesk. 2010;149(8):363-7.

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