Cannabinoids are complex chemical compounds that act on receptors in cells. Similar to the hemp plant, which produces over 100 different cannabinoids (or phytocannabinoids), the mammalian body also naturally produces cannabinoids (or endocannabinoids). Within each and every mammal exists an Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is comprised of a series of receptors with the sole purpose of accepting cannabinoids throughout the body. The ECS is responsible for physiological processes such as appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory, and despite the multitude of functions performed in each area of the body, the primary objective of the ECS is always the same – homeostasis, as it is quite literally the bridge between the body and our mind.
Most interestingly, the ECS is not just affected by endocannabinoids (cannabinoids created by the human body), but it is also affected by plant-sourced cannabinoids, like THC and CBD. Of the 113 different cannabinoids found in the hemp plant, the two most prominent are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Although THC is easily the most popular cannabinoid due to its psychoactive effects, which result in the user feeling “stoned”, CBD has gained traction due to its non-psychoactive, therapeutic effects. When we inhale or ingest phytocannabinoids (like CBD and THC) along with other plant-based molecules (like terpenes and flavonoids), there is a synergistic effect, resulting in enhanced, therapeutic benefits.
The human endocannabinoid system
The ECS is comprised of two primary endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 (found predominantly in the brain, nervous system, and outlying organs and tissues), and CB2 (found predominantly in white blood cells, tonsils, and spleen). Although CBD has a low affinity for either receptors, it does interact with other nominal receptors with remarkable effects. For example, research has found CBD as an agonist to the 5-HT1A receptor, which is involved in a variety of biological and neurological processes such as anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, and pain perception. These findings convey a promising explanation for cannabidiol’s antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and neuroprotective effects. CBD also binds with various TRPV ion channels, namely TRPV1 receptors, which are responsible for both pain perception, and inflammation, as well as activating the receptor GPR55, which has been shown to assist in treating both pain and inflammation.