How CBD effects the brain
Your brain is constantly dealing with an onslaught of damage every day from simply being awake and living life. Free radicals are a stressor naturally brought on by metabolism, but can be exacerbated by our environment, diet, exercise, and lack of sleep. If left unchecked, excess stress brought on by free radicals can lead to oxidative stress and a long list of health problems including neurodegeneration, alzheimers, and dementia. The good news is, our body has natural mechanisms to combat this assault that can be greatly assisted by healthy lifestyle choices, namely a healthy diet and adequate sleep. Interestingly enough, studies are also showing that CBD and other cannabinoids could also be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle to promote brain health. In order to understand how this works, allow me to give a brief summary of the endocannabinoid system.
Different types of cannabinoids for the body
Put simply, the endocannabinoid system is a system that every mammal possesses which consists of receptors that interact with cannabinoids, both endogenous (chemicals the body makes itself) and exogenous (chemicals that are made outside the body). Endogenous cannabinoids include compounds such as anandamide, which plays a role in appetite, immune function, motivation, pleasure and more. Exogenous compounds include THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. These compounds bind with CB1 receptors, which are primarily found in the brain, and CB2 receptors, which are primarily found on white blood cells.
CBD is a CB1 antagonist, meaning it binds to the receptor but does not activate it (as opposed to THC which is a CB1 receptor agonist and does activate the receptor). This action inhibits the enzymatic break-down of anandamide, raising anandamide levels in the brain. Anandamide itself has antioxidant properties, and both anandamide and CBD have been shown to have a protective effect against beta-amyloid protein toxicity. Though anandamide is shown to play a role in this effect, this study claims there to be action independent of CB1 receptor activity. Being that chronic beta-amyloid protein toxicity is believed to be responsible for forming plaques associated with alzheimer’s disease, combating the build up of this toxin is a wise step to help ensure a healthy brain into old age.
CBD won’t build up a tolerance like THC
Another unique characteristic of CBD is that it does not appear to cause the body to develop a tolerance as THC is shown to cause. While it is well known that prolonged use of THC leads to it being necessary to consume larger quantities to achieve the same level of intoxication and pain relief, it seems that this tolerance is also shown to necessitate larger quantities to provide the same neuroprotective effect over time as well. In a study comparing the therapeutic effects of THC and CBD on cerebral ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the brain), both cannabinoids are shown to increase blood flow to the brains of mice with cerebrovascular disorders at first. Over repeated exposure though, it seems that this effect diminishes with the same dose of THC while remaining constant with CBD. Additionally, this study also claims that CBD has a more powerful antioxidant effect than THC overall, and that these effects are independent of CB1 receptor activity.
So what does all of this mean?
As promising as these studies may sound, it’s important to keep in mind that this field of research is still very much in its infancy. These are not human studies and the results of these studies should not be directly interpreted to mean that CBD will prevent or treat alzheimers or any other neurodegenerative disease. The purpose of this article is simply to highlight what the current research shows in order for you to make more informed decisions about supplementing with CBD. With that said, however, as someone with a family history of alzheimers and dementia I look for anything that may have the potential to reduce my chances of developing these quality of life robbing diseases in the future. Given the abundance of early studies showing the potential benefits of CBD and lack of studies showing any potential downsides, I see CBD as another tool to help me stay sharp in the coming decades. I encourage anyone looking to do the same to do their own research on this topic and to speak to their doctor before taking any regular supplements, including CBD.
Pacher, P., Bátkai, S., & Kunos, G. (2006, September). The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2241751/
Iuvone, T., Esposito, G., Esposito, R., Santamaria, R., Di Rosa, M., & Izzo, A. A. (2004, April). Neuroprotective effect of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component from Cannabis sativa, on beta-amyloid-induced toxicity in PC12 cells. Retrieved from
Hayakawa, K., Mishima, K., Nozako, M., Ogata, A., Hazekawa, M., Liu, A., . . . Fujiwara, M. (2007). Repeated treatment with cannabidiol but not Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol has a neuroprotective effect without the development of tolerance. Neuropharmacology, 52(4), 1079-1087. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2006.11.005 Retrieved from