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How does the cannabis compound CBD actually work?

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How does the cannabis compound CBD actually work?

While CBD has quickly become one of the most popular ingredients in wellness – and increasingly in the medical world, there is still a lot to learn about how this cannabis compound actually works. But fear not! In this article, we outline what we do know about how CBD interacts with our bodies.

The Endocannabinoid System

To start from the beginning, we have to look at it endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is a system present in the human body that can influence physiological and emotional responses. It consists of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that synthesize these endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids – compounds produced naturally in the body and named after cannabis compounds such as CBD – interact with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. CBD, THC and other cannabinoids have also been found to interact with these receptors, leading to a number of effects.


The most well-known endocannabinoids are Anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide is known to interact with CB1 receptors and trigger responses in the brain related to reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. The name for 'Anandamide' comes from the Sanskrit word 'Ananda', which means 'bliss' or 'happiness'.


Once the endocannabinoids have done their job, they must be broken down to avoid stimulating the ECS indefinitely. This is where enzymes come in. The best-known ECS enzymes are FAAH (which breaks down anandamide) and MAGL (which breaks down 2-AG).


Cannabinoids are compounds that are also able to interact with the receptors in the ECS. A large number of cannabinoids are found in the cannabis plant, the most common being THC and CBD. These are also called phytocannabinoids.


THC is the main cannabinoid agonist of anandamide and may have similar antianxiety effects at low doses. However, at higher doses, THC is believed to overstimulate CB1 receptors, interrupting the reactions between the natural cannabinoids and receptors. This can even lead to heightened feelings of anxiety.

Nevertheless, THC has been found to have a number of important health and wellness properties that could make it useful as a medicine. In fact, it is increasingly being prescribed for a range of conditions and symptoms, including spasticity, pain and epilepsy.


On the other hand, CBD does not interact directly with the receptors in the ECS. It is actually a strong “negative allosteric modulator” of the receptors. This means that it changes the way the receptors interact with endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

This prevents THC from binding to the receptor. This, in turn, can help prevent overstimulation of CB1 receptors and reduce the psychotic effects and 'high' caused by THC.

The modifying effect of CBD also affects the serotonin receptors. As a result, the body essentially sends messages to the proteins responsible for making serotonin. This can lead to anxiolytic (reduced anxiety) effects. The discovery of this response has been the subject of many studies on the effects of CBD.

There is still a need for more detailed knowledge about the endocannabinoid system and the effects of cannabinoids on this system. In fact, only a handful of doctors in the world are trained in the endocannabinoid system.

However, despite the lack of research on cannabinoids and the ECS, theories about the benefits of CBD intake are increasing. Self-administration of CBD is possible and acceptable, as the World Health Organization has stated that it is safe and well tolerated.

Potential Drug Interactions

CBD is broken down by a receptor that breaks down many different types of therapeutic drugs. Therefore, CBD can increase the blood concentration of certain drugs, such as macrolides, calcium channel blockers, benzodiazepines, cyclosporine, sildenafil, antihistamines, haloperidol, antiretrovirals, and some statins. It is imperative that you consult your doctor before trying any CBD products.

Sources including Canex (EN), DrOz Show (EN), Harvard (EN), which (EN)

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