Cannabinoids and the Human Endocannabinoid System: What Is CBD?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 9 min

As was the case with many other pioneering firsts, the discovery of the human endocannabinoid system was more happenstance than deliberate accomplishment. Like the petri dish contaminated by mold spores in the open window, or the melted candy bar in Percy L. Spencer’s pocket due to a chance interaction with a running magnetron tube, the human endocannabinoid system became evident to a team of researchers who were initially researching something else, specifically marijuana’s psychoactive effects. In only a few short decades since these discoveries, the CBD market has transformed into a burgeoning industry, and hemp-derived products can be found in more than 25,000 goods and counting. Nonetheless, we are still only just beginning to fully understand the human endocannabinoid system. So what is the endocannabinoid system? And how do cannabinoids affect this complex network imperative to our overall health? Let’s take a look…

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

As stated in a recent publication on the subject, it’s best to imagine the human endocannabinoid system as the “root level” of the human operating system. It’s involved in regulating many of the various systems in our bodies, ranging from the immune system to the reproductive system, to help us maintain homeostasis. This operating system of sorts is by no means limited to human beings; many other living organisms, including dogs and even sea slugs, have these cannabinoid receptors. At the most basic level, the endocannabinoid system is composed of three main components: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and the metabolic enzymes used to break down endocannabinoids after use. Together, cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids operate much like a series of locks and keys, with each key only capable of opening a specific lock. When one of these “keys” (cannabinoids and endocannabinoids) reaches its corresponding “lock” (receptor site), it performs a function in stimulating and regulating our bodies to achieve and maintain homeostasis.

What Do Endocannabinoids Do?

While the use of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant may lead to various psychological and physical effects, our bodies also produce similar compounds, chiefly anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (also known as 2-AG), to regulate and stimulate our vital systems and how these systems interact with one another. The prefix “endo” means “within,” hence these cannabinoids produced within our bodies are known as “endocannabinoids.” For example, after sustaining an injury such as a minor cut, our immune system reacts by releasing endocannabinoids to help us manage this sudden onset of pain. Endocannabinoids, just like cannabinoids introduced from external sources, interact both directly and indirectly with various cannabinoid receptors throughout our bodies, and some endocannabinoids produce different effects from other endocannabinoids. The exact functions of all endocannabinoids are not yet fully understood.

What Is the Cannabinoid Receptor System? THC and CBD Receptors:

The first cannabinoid receptor site was discovered in 1988, and just five years later, in 1993, researchers had identified the second cannabinoid receptor site. These cannabinoid receptors would be classified as CB1 and CB2 receptors respectively. These receptors are situated throughout the human body and respond to both cannabinoids and our own naturally occurring endocannabinoids. CB1 receptors are located mainly in the human brain and nervous system but are also situated in organs, along the gastrointestinal tract, gonads, glands, and even in connective tissues. These receptors are also involved in higher cognitive functions, memory, fine motor skills, coordination, and memory. Based on recent research, it is believed that the main function of CB1 receptors may be to inhibit the release of neurotransmitters. On the other hand, CB2 receptors can be found in our immune cells and in some neurons. In particular, CB2 receptors are highly concentrated along our gastrointestinal system and also in the spleen.

Because THC and CBD have molecular structural differences, these compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system in different ways. For example, while THC is capable of binding with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD has been found to have “little binding affinity” for these receptor sites. While CBD’s overall role in the inhibition process is not completely understood, it is believed that CBD acts on these receptor sites indirectly. Additionally, CBD indirectly affects other non-cannabinoid receptors in the brain, including dopamine and opioid receptors. The latest research indicates that CBD also interacts with serotonin receptors, which are involved in the regulation of pain, anxiety, mood, and sleep among others functions.

Purported CBD Health Benefits:CBD Oil Uses

Today, hemp-derived CBD has shown tremendous promise for treating chronic pain and inflammation. Recent academic studies have shown that cannabidiol specifically has a rather robust list of potential therapeutic properties, including but not limited to “antipsychotic, analgesic, neuroprotective, anticonvulsant, antiemetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, and antineoplastic properties,” according to a recent report by the journal Neurotherapeutics.

Cannabidiol oil has been shown to reduce the seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and in some instances stop these seizures altogether. Another recent animal study by the European Journal of Pain determined that cannabidiol, when applied to the skin, was able to reduce arthritis-related pain and inflammation. As noted in a report by Harvard Medical School, another CBD study demonstrated the compound’s ability to relieve pain related to inflammation and neuropathy, chronic conditions that have proven difficult to treat. There’s also evidence suggesting that CBD extract may be beneficial for treating mechanical allodynia, and it is believed that this relief may be associated with CBD’s effect on serotonin receptors. Recently, with funding provided by the National Institutes of Health, clinical trials have begun to test whether CBD can help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol abuse. While the results of this latest PTSD trial may be a few years off, the hemp-derived CBD marketing boom has already begun, and the buzz around the purported CBD health benefits is only growing.

RELATED: Here’s everything you need to know about the 2018 Farm Bill.

In recent years, even as more states continued to legalize marijuana, all forms of cannabis (including hemp) long remained classified as Schedule I controlled substances under federal law. However, in December 2018, the latest Farm Bill was signed into law, removing hemp from the controlled substances list and transferring oversight from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Department of Agriculture. The bill also explicitly allows hemp and hemp-derived products to be transferred across states lines.

Only time will tell how the FDA will go about enforcing its authority over cannabis products, however, the agency has recently sent warning letters to some manufacturers marketing CBD products. While there are still myriad legal challenges and semantic clarifications needed moving forward, this reduced red tape has given hemp-derived products a clear market edge over marijuana-derived products. Similarly, CBD products have a relatively low risk of adverse effects compared with THC products, making cannabidiol oil appealing for the treatment of chronic pain and other endocannabinoid deficiency related conditions.

The Future of Cannabidiol CBD Oil

Currently, the US hemp market is booming and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In fact, some analysts anticipate that the industry will top $10 billion in 2025. This is all rather remarkable considering how far along the industry has come in a relatively short amount of time. It wasn’t until 1995 that researchers determined that thousands of other animal species on this planet also have these unique networks of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Over the ensuing decades, researchers have slowly begun to unlock the mysteries of the endocannabinoid system.

As a testament to both the increased research into cannabinoids and the medical potential of these compounds, in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the seizure medication Epidiolex, the first FDA approved drug to contain a purified cannabis-derived substance. That said, we are now only scratching the surface of the potential of hemp-derived CBD oil and other products.

The endocannabinoid system plays an integral role in our overall health, and with the reclassification of hemp, the revived domestic hemp market, and the increased interest in the medical potential of cannabinoids, the market for hemp-derived CBD oil and other products will only expand in the coming years. The stage is set and 2019 is set to be a record year for hemp cultivation and hemp-derived CBD.

As more entrepreneurs enter the seemingly ever-expanding field of hemp-derived CBD, it’s imperative to be ahead of the production curve. For those in the market for an affordable, efficient tabletop CBD extraction machine engineered to give operators maximum control and acute precision with every extraction, look no further than OCO Labs Modular Tabletop Extractors.

We update our blog regularly, so stay tuned for the latest on hemp-derived cannabidiol extract, studies related to CBD health benefits, supercritical CO2 extraction, and much more!