What Are CBD’s Effects On the Brain?
Updated: Feb 24
By Keith Alban
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a powerful compound that belongs to a class of over 100 cannabinoids. These unique compounds have actions within cannabinoid receptors located throughout different parts of the brain and body. CBD has emerged as one of the most medicinally potent and versatile of all the cannabinoids according to multiple pieces of research. It's pretty incredible that just 5 short years ago, CBD was relatively unheard of in the natural health world. These days, CBD permeates the masses and has seen a meteoric rise in popularity with no slowing down in sight. I believe that there's a very logical reason for this.
The level of versatility and appeal of CBD is unique in the supplement world. So many trends in the health world come and go, but cannabidiol has certain unique therapeutic properties that may help it remain relevant for years to come. Our bodies possess an endocannabinoid system that plays an incredibly important role in maintaining homeostasis and contributing to overall mental, emotional, and physical well being. It’s only within the last 25 years that scientists have uncovered this complex network that forms the endocannabinoid system.
Researchers first believed that these cannabinoid receptors were only within the brain and nerves, but this was proven to not be the case as more research emerged. It was discovered that our bodies contain these receptors literally all throughout the body. Different types of cannabinoid receptors have been found within different immune cells, bones, kidneys, GI tract, reproductive system, spleen, bone marrow, lungs, heart, blood vessels, liver, brain, spinal cord, and muscle tissue! This complex network is involved in many different processes such as pain perception, immune function, mood, appetite, inflammatory response, stress response, hormone secretion, sleep, cognition, and reproductive function. (1,2)
The ubiquitous nature of these receptors in the body would make endocannabinoids some of the most versatile compounds in the world. This may be the most logical explanation of why CBD may be effective for such a broad range of conditions with superb safety. CBD is safe enough even for children to use on a regular basis with proper dosing. If you're fortunate enough not to have a specific condition or reason for taking it, CBD still may help provide some shielding from the ravaging effects of living in a stressful, toxin-filled world. Any compound that offers the brain and body legitimate protection is worth its weight in gold.
One of the best attributes of CBD is helping to balance and regulate different functions of the brain. For some people, CBD can have a tangible effect on their mood from the first few doses. For others, the benefits build at a slower pace while CBD works on different cellular receptors. Research clearly shows that CBD can have an impact on anxiety and stress. This occurs because of its ability to influence the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the nervous system. These branches govern many different functions in the human body and mind. There are several problems that can occur when we’re in a sympathetic state for the majority of our day.
Since this state of sympathetic dominance is tied to the fight or flight response, it can cause stress-based hormones to be secreted in large quantities. High activity of sympathetic dominance causes nutrients to be used up at a much faster rate. This depletion of nutrients leads to serious deficiencies, a weakened immune system, poor DNA replication, more damage to different organs, and many potential health issues. It’s a cascade of events that starts with stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and other emotions. Studies have shown that CBD helps to calm down and inhibit the sympathetic portion of our nervous system from overexertion. (3) CBD may also help stimulate parasympathetic neurons, which is an overly scientific way of saying CBD may help with peace of mind and overall well being. This may be one of the core reasons why CBD has had good success so far.
This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the medicinal qualities and potential applications of CBD. Perhaps the most attractive quality of CBD is its safety profile, even compared to synthetic cannabinoids and THC. One of the most powerful benefits of CBD is the protection it offers. These protective benefits seem to be most prominent within neurons and different portions of the brain. CBD may help to reduce inflammation in the brain by promoting an increase in certain inflammatory repressing cells called myeloid-derived suppressor cells. (4) CBD has even shown potential in animal research as a protective agent following a stroke and different types of trauma to the brain. (5)
The potential of this potent cannabinoid seems almost unlimited. It might be too soon to tout its potential to protect against the progression of certain neurodegenerative disorders, but the possibility may be real according to preliminary animal research. If cannabidiol is able to sufficiently cross the blood-brain barrier, it may be able to stimulate synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and have an action against the plaque that plays a role in neurodegeneration. (6) Placebo-controlled clinical studies are still needed to determine how well CBD will work in subjects with these conditions. There’s a chance that CBD won’t work quite as well in the human brain as it has in other forms of research, but the potential is certainly there.
Preliminary research and a surplus of testimonials have helped elucidate the impressive potential for epilepsy and seizures. CBD is one of the safest options to potentially decrease these horrible incidents. In addition, CBD may also help to protect the brain from some of the damage that accumulates from regular seizures. (7,8) While it may not eliminate seizures completely, evidence from real placebo-controlled studies shows that it can help decrease the severity and occurrence of them. (9) Other options will be needed for severe cases of seizures, but full-spectrum CBD is a great addition to any supplement stack.
Perhaps one of CBD's most popular and widespread uses is for chronic and acute pain. A study by the Journal of Experimental Medicine showed that CBD may help to reduce pain and inflammation. (10) What was found was that tolerance did not form and side effects that are often seen with medications, opioids, and NSAIDS weren't there with CBD. There have been some reports of a tolerance forming in a small segment of people using CBD for seizures, but there are no reports of this occurring with those using it for pain. This can likely be avoided by using full-spectrum extracts instead of CBD isolate. The mechanisms in which CBD appears to work is by decreasing the expression of certain proinflammatory compounds like TNF-a, NF-Kb, and many others.
Along with the anti-inflammatory properties, CBD may help to attack pain from another angle by influencing receptors in the brain such as TRPV1 and glycine receptors. These cellular receptors play a role in the perception of pain. (11) The effects won’t be overwhelming to the point where you can’t feel any pain, but CBD is a safe, natural way of making pain slightly more bearable. The pathway that cannabidiol works through may also help with neuropathic pain. This means that anyone with nerve pain stemming from diabetes, celiac's disease, fibromyalgia, injuries, and the multitude of conditions that can cause nerve pain may benefit from CBD. (12)
Another very popular and important application of CBD is for depression and anxiety. Nearly every human being can legitimately remember times where some degree of depression or anxiety was present. For some people, it's a daily struggle that can sometimes feel like a bag of bricks you're constantly dragging along. CBD may offer safe and unique benefits for those with anxiety and depression. The mechanisms in which CBD works may be related to 5-HT1A receptors, GABA receptors, and others. Several different forms of anxiety such as social anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, public speaking anxiety, and PTSD responded well to CBD in studies. (13,14)
As far as CBD for depression, one study saw results that were comparable to the medication imipramine. Unlike antidepressant medication, which can take weeks to start working and cause numerous side effects in many people, CBD is often fast-acting, gentle, and has a balancing effect on brain cells. There are many other nutrients that may be helpful in the fight against anxiety and depression. For more tips and ways that may benefit anyone suffering from anxiety and depression, feel free to check out the articles “Top 10 Ways To Maximize CBD For Anxiety & Stress” and “Top 10 Ways To Maximize CBD For Depression”.
One of the things that makes CBD unique is the number of receptors it affects in the body and brain. CBD also has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier in very small amounts. (15) There seems to be a healing and regulating effect on the nervous system. Having said that, there is no guarantee that it will help your depression or anxiety. There are many different causes that can form conditions like anxiety and depression, which no single supplement can address alone. Causes such as candida overgrowth, gut dysbiosis, and heavy metal can be at the core of these conditions and need to be dealt with. Overall, CBD appears to be a safe, gentle, and effective option that affects the brain in a variety of positive ways.
*FDA DISCLAIMER The statements and products referred to throughout this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health condition or concern, consult a physician or your health care provider. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing new exercises. We recommend you educate yourselves on the scientific / nutritional facts.