CBD oil is often touted as a cure-all by die-hard fans. It’s also dismissed by those who believe it’s just another apparent panacea that’s been brought to fame by celebrities chasing the next wellness trend. The truth is, it’s neither of these things. What it is, is a name given to a product that varies wildly from one brand to the next – some of which are, sadly, not all that great. Others which are reportedly life-changing, going by anecdotes of regular users. But, while the quality may differ, the science behind how cannabinoids actually work in the body is very solid – particularly for CBD, which has now been heavily researched and the subject of thousands of studies and clinical trials all over the world.
So, going with the science – what can CBD really help with?
Can CBD reduce stress?
Perhaps the most famous reason people turn to CBD products is for stress relief and there are multiple mechanisms through which the CBD molecule can help your mind and body achieve this.
First and foremost is the action CBD has on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a complex network of receptors found throughout the entire body, which regulates all bodily functions. It does this by being activated by endocannabinoids – neurotransmitters synthesized and released on demand to help bring the body back into balance, in whichever way it needs. Essentially these endocannabinoids relay information from outside of a cell, into a cell, to inform appropriate responses in all areas.
One of these endocannabinoids, Anandamide, is incredibly important when it comes to modulating the stress response. Healthy levels of Anandamide in the brain effectively acts as a gate keeper for stress, preventing the fight or flight response from kicking into gear unless absolutely needed. When there is not enough Anandamide present, as in the case when there is an endocannabinoid deficiency, there’s nothing to stop stress from taking hold at the drop of a hat.
There are a number of things believed to contribute to an endocannabinoid deficiency (when endocannabinoids are not produced as they should be), such as poor diet, lack of sleep and chronic stress – physical or emotional. As well as healthy lifestyle habits, taking CBD oil regularly and consistently helps to support the endocannabinoid system by inhibiting the enzyme which ordinarily degrades endocannabinoids. This action results in higher levels of endocannabinoids, which in turn can help to regulate all functions and responses, including stress.
Can CBD improve sleep?
For some, simply reducing stress may go a long way in helping promote a more restful night’s sleep. But, there’s more!
Continuing with the role the ECS plays on everyday processes, it’s been found that the ECS is heavily involved in the circadian sleep-wake cycle, including the maintenance and promotion of sleep. In fact, it’s been hypothesized that the ECS ‘serves as the link between circadian regulation systems (i.e., superchiasmatic nucleus) and the behavioural and physiological processes that are affected, including sleep’
As a result, cannabinoids (particularly CBD and THC) hold exciting promise for future treatments for conditions such as insomnia, and as such are at the centre of investigations for how cannabinoid therapy might impact sleep. One key study among individuals with insomnia found that 160mg CBD a day led to longer sleep time and less disturbances throughout the night. However, low-dose CBD (15mg) has been shown to increase wakefulness, thus demonstrating its biphasic effect (promoting different actions dependant on dose).
Can CBD relieve pain?
Although most studies point towards other cannabinoids, such as THC and CBG, as potential cannabinoids to utilize for pain relief, the CBD molecule brings its own offerings to the table, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
One stand-out study reported that direct application of a CBD gel onto an arthritic knee for four consecutive days produced a significant reduction of joint swelling, as well as less spontaneous pain. These findings indicate that topically applied CBD may hold great therapeutic potential for the relief of rheumatoid arthritis pain and inflammation, and other inflammatory pain conditions.
Another property of the CBD molecule is its ability to directly activate serotonin receptors – an action which then releases this ‘feel good chemical’ into your body. Serotonin is a well-known mood lifter, so this is yet another way CBD has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, but serotonin actually does much, much more. It’s actually essential for digestive processes, sleep, sexual function and plays a major role in modulating pain perception – to name a few actions!
SSRI medications are commonly prescribed for pain conditions, such as Fibromyalgia, and they work by increasing serotonin which then reduces pain signals. The CBD molecule acts through a different mechanism (directly activating serotonin receptors to increase levels, rather than inhibiting the ‘mop up’ of serotonin as with SSRIs), but as you might imagine, the results found in studies are similar.
Incredibly, this is merely scratching the surface of what the CBD molecule is known to do. In addition to directly activating serotonin, CBD also activates Capsaicin receptors (heavily involved in pain transmission) and dopamine, as well as having an interaction with GABA and other pathways in the body. As trials continue across the world, we’re likely to see more and more exciting results about how CBD can be used.
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