The Science Behind CBD

UPDATED ON DECEMBER 16, 2018

Understanding the Cannabis Plant

Like most plants, there is a male and female version. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the part of the marijuana plant that makes you high and is only present in female cannabis plants since they’re the ones that flower. Male cannabis plants are the plants known as hemp which sometimes have no THC, and do contain CBD (cannabidiol). CBD is also present in female plants as well which makes them both suitable options to extract CBD. Cannabis plants can also be both male and female, or hermaphroditic, which means they contain both THC and CBD.

The structure of the cannabis plant itself is typically found to have a stem with roots, then have leaves and sometimes colas that stick out in between some of the leaves. These colas are a clump or mass collection of buds. These buds are actually flowers and they are the part of the plant that is THC is extracted from.

Each bud contains sugar leaves which are coated with crystal-appearing trichomes, a component that directly contains THC. There are also pistils and stigmas, which are tiny hair-like structures that are found among the sugar leaves for protection. The calyxes and bracts also contain potent quantities of cannabinoids. Both plants have something called resin. This can be scraped off the buds and leaves. Usually, the resin is brown in color. It gets pressed together to form a solid lump. The female cannabis plant creates more resin compared to the male cannabis plant.

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are actually cell membrane receptors that are part of the G protein-coupled receptor family. They detect molecules outside the cell and activate internal signal transduction pathways (the process by which foreign DNA is introduced into a cell by a virus or viral vector) and cellular responses.

CB1 receptors are mostly located on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and are also found in some peripheral organs and tissue which include the spleen, white blood cells, endocrine gland and parts of the reproductive, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts.

There are an abundant amount of CB1 receptors in the cerebellum, basal ganglia, hippocampus, and dorsal primary afferent spinal cord regions. This explains why cannabinoids influence memory processing, pain regulation, and motor control. 

CB2 receptors are mainly found on white blood cells, in the tonsils, and in the spleen. Our immune cells express both CB1 and CB2 cells, although they express more CB2 than CB1. Cannabinoid receptors play an important role by regulating cytokine release, which is an inflammation response. When the CB1 receptor is stimulated, it produces marijuana-like effects on the psyche and circulation, while no such effect is seen when the CB2 receptor is activated. 

Does CBD trigger CB1 and CB2 receptors?

Although CBD is a cannabinoid, CBD does not directly interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, it affects the signaling through these receptors indirectly. This would explain why, in contrast to THC, CBD is non-intoxicating or does not cause the “high” effect. CBD can also increase the levels of the body’s own naturally producing cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) by simply inhibiting the enzymes that break them down in the body.

CBD also influences non-cannabinoid receptors in the brain. It interacts with receptors that are sensitive to a variety of drugs and neurotransmitters. An example of this would be opioid receptors, whose role is to regulate pain. CBD can also interact with dopamine receptors.  Dopamine is responsible for regulating behavior and cognition, including motivation and reward-seeking behavior.

Cannabinoid receptors can also be triggered in other ways naturally such as when we exercise, get a massage, consuming foods high in Omega-3, and eat leafy greens. THC, of course, comes with other side effects unlike the rest we listed here.

What Happens When Receptors are Triggered by CBD?

CBD is very intriguing with its abilities to interact with a variety of receptors in our brain.  It can influence opioid and dopamine receptors which may help with curbing drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Further research is being done on the impact it has on the serotonin system, to see how it may activate serotonin receptors to reduce drug-seeking behavior. This opens the door for more research to be done to look at the anti-anxiety properties and abilities of CBD. 

The activation of these receptors from CBD has shown a number of potential therapeutic applications. In other words, there is plenty of supportive research and clinical research on CBD which provides proof of medical benefits it has on a variety of health concerns. Ongoing research and clinical trials continue to be done to evaluate the efficacy in the use of CBD for a variety of treatments. During those clinical trials, they study behavioral and physiological effects and also measure their pharmacological interactions and mechanism of actions. These studies allow us to draw accurate conclusions about the safety and effectiveness of potential therapeutic uses of CBD.