While many people know about the high you get from cannabis (delivered almost exclusively by its THC component), there is often less focus on the medicinal benefits. For those suffering from a wide range of complaints, from cancer and arthritis to depression and epilepsy, this is, however, the most important aspect of the plant. The good news is that research is starting to back up what many users have been saying over the last couple of decades.
Cannabis, particularly CBD, has important health benefits.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol or CBD is a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. In other words, it doesn’t give you the high that THC does. More and more breeders nowadays are creating strains that are high in CBD and lower in THC to deliver the medical cannabis products that many users are looking for. Exactly how CBD works to deliver its therapeutic effects is still being investigated by doctors and researchers around the world but confidence is high that it could play a bigger role in healthcare in the future.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
You might think that CBD and THC are purely external compounds, but they only work because we have an equivalent endocannabinoid system in our own bodies. THC, for example, attaches to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the nervous system because they are a reasonably neat fit.
Think of these receptors as pieces of a jigsaw which only match with certain other pieces. Endocannabinoids essentially provide our natural THC in the body. CB1 receptors are found prolifically throughout the nervous system while the CB2 ones are normally associated with the immune system and areas like the stomach and periphery of the nervous system.
These receptors are involved with a wide range of functions from how well we sleep, digestion and appetite, mood and pain regulation, memory and even reproductive performance. Once initiated they send out the messages that you are hungry, sleepy or need something else.
Some of the research is telling us that. when these endocannabinoids are not doing their job properly, we can be prone to a range of health issues. Introducing them into our system through smoking weed, either via the THC or CBD compounds, could have several therapeutic effects.
This relationship and that between CBD and many receptor systems in the brain has got a lot of researchers excited. While in some cases, the potential benefits of CBD may have been overplayed, the notion that we may have a major medical breakthrough on our hands has been circulating for some time.
The Research on CBD and Endocannabinoids
The current research seems to show that CBD itself can activate certain receptors in the brain which lead to therapeutic effects. For instance:
- The University of San Paulo in Brazil and the UK’s King’s College have combined to discover that CBD could activate a serotonin receptor in the brain – this might well have an impact on psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, in particular by producing an anti-depressant effect.
- CBD can also combine with what are called TRPV1 receptors which are thought to be involved in our perception of pain – it could, therefore, help patients suffering from conditions such as arthritis and allow them to manage that pain more effectively.
- It’s not just activating receptors where CBD can help. It has also been shown to inhibit certain receptors such as GPR55 which helps in modulating a number of functions in the body like blood pressure and bone density. According to some research, it could work to prevent cancer cells from spreading.
- CBD could also work on individual cells to stop cancer proliferating. These have a receptor called PPAR-Gamma which could well help tumours regress and reduce spread but may even have a role to play in controlling conditions such as diabetes.
- CBD can also be inhibiting a substance called anandamide which could enhance the endocannabinoid levels in the brain and may be used in protecting, for example, people suffering from epileptic seizures.
- Other research has shown that CBD can change the way that a receptor transmits – it works this way with the CB1 receptor, the one THC normally attaches to. This could be why high CBD strains can ameliorate or dampen the high you might expect to get with significant levels of THC.
The research has a long way to go but many scientists and doctors around the world are now seriously beginning to consider the therapeutic aspects of medical cannabis seeds and how these could be used in the future. Delays have been caused by our focus on cannabis as a ‘harmful’ plant in the past, something to be curtailed and controlled rather than embraced.
It could well be time for this notion to change and for more money to put into how the current strains on the market can help in the world of medicine.