The role CBD plays in the brain is both interesting and complex. For example, unlike THC, CBD does not have psychoactive effects. This is because CBD does not activate CB1 receptors.
Instead, CBD interacts with CB1 receptors in a way that prevents other compounds like THC from binding to the receptor. As a result, CBD reduces many of the effects of THC, such as anxiety and memory problems.
CBD also increases anandamide levels in the brain. Anandamide is one of the few cannabinoids found naturally in the human body.
Anandamide is responsible for regulating levels of other chemicals found in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. By increasing anandamide levels, CBD ultimately regulates other important neurotransmitters as well.
Many cannabis users are familiar with the drug’s ability to relieve stress and promote relaxation. While THC can make some people feel more relaxed, it also seems to increase anxiety in others. This has led researchers to focus on CBD as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
In one human study, researchers used imaging scans to understand which brain regions are involved with CBD’s anti-anxiety effects.
They found that CBD causes a reduction in blood flow to specific regions of the brain linked to anxiety, such as the hypothalamus. These regions typically become overactive in anxiety disorders, whereas CBD seems to quiet their activity. CBD was also effective at reducing the overall anxiety scores of participants in the study.
Besides reducing anxiety, CBD has been found to work as an antidepressant.
CBD seems to work to balance dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system of depressed patients. It has also been found to act on a serotonin receptor that influences symptoms of depression.
This has opened the door for clinicians and patients alike seeking alternative ways of treating depression. Unlike CBD, current antidepressant medications have significant side effects and may take several weeks to begin working.
Despite the popular belief that marijuana damages your brain, studies show that compounds in marijuana, such as CBD, can protect brain cells from harm.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent in 1999 for the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids (US patent 6630507).
The patent asserts that cannabis and its chemical compounds can protect brain cells in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia.
Researchers investigating what role CBD plays in protecting the brain have also found that it can reduce brain damage caused by various traumas. In a study involving animal models of brain injury, researchers found that CBD increased the number of viable brain cells and reduced the number of injured brain cells by more than 50%.
The neuroprotective effects of CBD are related to its action on the CB2 receptor. CBD acts on CB2 receptors to produce anti-inflammatory responses in immune cells of the brain, thus minimizing the extent of damage caused by inflammation.
Oxidation also contributes to damage in brain tissue, and is partly responsible for the brain damage seen in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Studies show that CBD acts on the CB2 receptor to reduce oxidative damage.
Damage to brain cells can cause additional harm by disrupting normal cellular functions. When brain cells are disrupted and begin firing repeatedly, the damage is known as excitotoxicity. CBD can help minimize this effect and maintain normal function in brain cells which would otherwise be susceptible to excitotoxicity.