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Short for cannabidiol, CBD is the rapidly rising star of the natural wellbeing world. According to a UK-based market penetration study CBD is not just popular with ‘trendsetting millennials’, and neither is it a passing fad. Over in the US, meanwhile, a survey carried out in August 2019 suggests one in seven Americans use CBD products, including CBD oils, tinctures, creams, foods and drinks.
There are hundreds of naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant, 66 of which are called cannabinoids. CBD is one of them, making up around 40 per cent of the plant resin extract (CBD is thought to be the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis).
Another cannabinoid you may have heard of is THC (or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). This is the main psychotropic substance in cannabis (the substance that gets you high). CBD, on the other hand, is not known to be psychotropic.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
While researching THC in the early 1990s, experts identified a complex cell-signalling system in the body and called it the endocannabinoid system (all vertebrates have this system, not just humans). And while they don’t know everything there is to know about the endocannabinoid system yet, experts believe the body uses it to help maintain homeostasis.
How does this system work?
The endocannabinoid system is believed to be made up of three main components:
- Endocannabinoids are molecules made by the body that are similar to the cannabinoids in cannabis and some other plants (phytocannabinoids). One of these endocannabinoids is anandamide, which is sometimes called the ‘bliss’ molecule because it’s thought to trigger mood enhancement and anxiety relief.
- Endocannabinoid receptors are also part of the system, the main two of which are called CB1 and CB2. These are found throughout the nervous system and the body, including the skin. Their job is to signal the endocannabinoid system when cannabinoids – either endocannabinoids made naturally in the body or ingested phytocannabinoids from plants – bind to them.
- Enzymes in your endocannabinoid system then break down the endocannabinoids once they’ve served their purpose.
Together, these components work to maintain a balance in the body, such as making you sweat to cool you down when you’re too hot.
So what effect does CBD have on the endocannabinoid system?
Research is still at an early stage with regards to exactly how CBD works with the endocannabinoid system, and there are several conflicting opinions on the subject. But what most experts seems to agree on is that CBD doesn’t bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the same way as THC.
One theory is that CBD may help the body’s own natural endocannabinoids – such as anandamide – from being broken down by the receptors, which means the endocannabinoids can have a greater effect on the body. Others suspect CBD might bind to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet. It’s also thought that CBD may bind with lots of different types of receptors in the body, not just those in the endocannabinoid system.
While details of how it works are still under debate, what we do know however is that CBD is very much a hot research topic. Scientists have so far only scratched the surface of CBD’s potential and are discovering more about it on a regular basis. In other words, expect lots more discoveries and benefits to come – watch this space.
- To find out more about CBD and its potential benefits, take a look at our ingredients page.
- CBD is one of many natural substances found in the cannabis plant, called cannabinoids.
- Discovered in the early 1990s, the endocannabinoid system is found in all vertebrates and regulates many essential body functions.
- Experts aren’t sure about exactly how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system yet, but frequent discoveries are being made.