First, a little history. In the 1960's, Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist successfully extracted Tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) from a cannabis plant. Cannabis had been a part of medical procedures in several cultures for centuries before Mechoulam worked on it. However, nobody had been successful in producing a scientific account of the structure of a cannabinoid or its effects on the human body. It had proved particularly difficult to study the properties of cannabinoids because of their highly unstable form. Anyone who ventured to study a cannabinoid could end up studying an entirely different substance. Mechoulam and his team found a way to make the cannabinoid undergo a chemical reaction which converted it into a more stable form and isolated it.
That proved to be a defining moment in medical science. It was already known that cannabis had numerous benefits in medical science, but it was difficult to manipulate it effectively before Mechoulam. It created a huge spike in research on cannabinoids and its effects on humans and animals. If you want to learn more about the History of the Endocannabinoid system, click here!
Cannabinoids and the Human body
Of around 480 different compounds found in the cannabis plant, over 100 of them are known as cannabinoids. THC and CBD, isolated by Mechoulam and his team are two different types of cannabinoids.
Soon, it was proved that our body responded especially well to cannabinoids. In fact, there were special receptors in our body that only attached to cannabinoids. These were the receptors CB1 and CB2.
- CB1 binds with THC and their combinatory effect is often responsible for the “high” produced by marijuana. This receptor is found in several parts of the central nervous systems such as the brainstem, cerebellum, neocortex and hippocampus. Additionally, eyes, testes and spleen also contain the CB1 receptor.
- CB2 was found in cells of the immune system and the central nervous system.
It was also observed that the chemical reaction that followed from the binding of CBD or THC with these receptors resulted in the release of neurotransmitters.
This made the scientists wonder what those receptors were for, before they were exposed to external cannabinoids. Mechoulam pointed out that the existence of cannabinoid receptors indicated the presence of similar substances in the body that activated these receptors. As it turns out, our body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, which attach to these special receptors.
Soon, an endocannabinoid, which came to be known as ‘anandamide’, which attached to CB1 was isolated. Followed by the discovery of another endocannabinoid, known as 2-AG.
Differences between CBD and THC
- While CBD and THC are similar in their source, there is considerable difference in their structure. They are composed of essentially the same atoms but the arrangement of these atoms within these two cannabinoids makes all the difference.
- Because of this difference in their structure, the way they interact with the receptors, is different. THC binds with the CB1 receptor. The CB1 receptor has influences in the central nervous system of the brain that are responsible for psychoactive effects. As a result, THC can cause the “high” often associated with recreational uses of cannabis.
- CBD on the other hand, has no particular affinity to either receptors, but when it binds, it binds to our CB2 receptor. CB2 affects the peripheral nervous system. As a result, the effects of its interactions are more wide-spread. The interaction of CBD with CB2 receptors are known for their many effects on different parts of the body. This way, CBD may benefit the body without causing the “high”.
Also, some pioneering works on the effects of CBD and THC have shown that when used together, CBD suppresses the psychoactive effects caused by THC.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Cannabidiol (CBD)
Discovery of endocannabinoids and their effects led to the discovery of an entire system that works with help of cannabinoids. Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the body and they are in a way responsible for all physiological functions. The endocannabinoid system is primarily responsible for ensuring optimum conditions for all bodily functions ie; homeostasis. Although cannabinoids have different functions depending on which part of the body they bind to, the end goal is always homeostasis.
A lack of a properly functioning ECS can cause chronic health problems. Because the reach of the ECS is so wide, covering different physiological pathways, ECS deficiency can also have widespread effects. In these cases, an external administration of cannabidiol can be helpful.
Cannabidiol is a type of compound found in cannabis, that is not involved in the psychotropic effects of cannabis. Cannabidiol can actually stimulate the production of endocannabinoids in our body, which in turn bind to help to balance the system.
Unlike other enzymes, cannabinoids are not produced and stored for future use. They are produced when there is a trigger for it. CBD gets into the body by attaching to a fatty acid binding protein (FABP). These transport molecules also attach to our endocannabinoids anandamide (the bliss molecule) and 2AG. So when we introduce CBD, a phytocannabinoid, into our system, we introduce more cannabinoids than there are transport molecules ending with a delay in anandamide's access to FABP and and delaying its' passage to be broken down within the cell. This means that CBD functions as an anandamide reuptake and breakdown inhibitor, which actually raises endocannabinoid levels in the brain's synapses.
This is why CBD seems to have an effect on everyone. It's not the CBD itself, but our Endocannabinoid System that is responsible for so many stories. CBD has multiple effects across several physiological pathways in our body. It combines with different receptors in our nervous system, immune system and receptors for releasing neurotransmitters such as serotonin. As a result, CBD has been known to have several healing effects in cases where nothing else has worked. A lot of much needed research is stuck in the pipelines due to the legal hurdles of using cannabinoids on human beings. Most of the findings we have now are from research done on rats and pigs, since their physiology resembles that of humans to a large extent. That is changing quickly though and we are excited to learn more.