CBD and other cannabinoids play extremely versatile roles in the body. They have many therapeutic properties that we touch on in this series, but the focus of this article is on their value to the human brain. Humans have both CB1 and CB2 receptors that respond to chemical signals called cannabinoids. CB1 are mostly located in the brain and CB2 are primarily found throughout the immune and digestive systems in the rest of the body. First, let’s touch on how neurons and other cells in the body are affected by “signals”.
What are chemical signals?
Neurotransmitters are called signals because they produce one consistent response in the body for a specific purpose, like a traffic signal. Each chemical signal only affects one kind of receptor, and each receptor only has one action that it produces; chemical signals either boost this action or block it. There are three different ways that various chemical signals can do this:
An agonist is like a neuronal “green light”. It attaches to the receptor and activates it to do what it does.
An antagonist is like a neuronal “red light”. It prevents the action of the receptor when it’s attached.
An inverse antagonist is like a “U-turn” for a neuron. It attaches to the receptor and produces the opposite of what is caused by the agonist.
CBD and CB1 receptors
CBD is a Negative Allosteric Modulator (NAM) of CB1 receptors, having the net effect of an antagonist. Orthosteric modulators like THC and anandamide bind with the primary receptor head to exert their function. Allosteric modulators bind with another part of the receptor. A negative allosteric modulator changes the shape of the receptor in a way that diminishes the effect of agonists like THC, but because it isn’t a full antagonist, it still produces an effect within the neuron by affecting the receptor.
In brain cells, this action allows the neuron to more easily respond to other signals. Each neuron in your brain has many different kinds of receptors; CBD increases the potency of the other receptors and reduces the potency of its own receptor. By facilitating this give and take between stop and go signals, it promotes homeostasis and efficient brain function.
CBD and CB2 receptors
In immune cells, these receptors stimulate the overall activity of the cell, including production of hormones that trigger immune responses and modulate sensitivity to certain toxins and allergens. In the brain, these immune responses protect the casing around neurons and speed up the brain’s process for removing old brain cells and replacing them with new ones.
CBD is an agonist of serotonin (5-HT1a) receptors
CBD mimics the effect that serotonin produces. This particular receptor is responsible for your mood and feelings of satisfaction and success.
When serotonin receptors are activated, the neuron blocks adrenaline and other “alarm”, “discomfort”, and “frustration” signals. This is the chemistry behind the feeling you get when you don’t have a threat or stressor to react to, as though a weight is lifted off of your shoulders.
Serotonin is removed from its receptors when you make a mistake or something bad happens to you. This results in the negative feelings above, and your brain assigns them to whatever bad thing happened to you. This negative feeling drives you to solve the problem, and when you do, serotonin comes back and the negative feeling goes away.
If you have depression or anxiety, then you suffer from a lack of serotonin, but there’s no real issue to assign the negative feeling to. Many antidepressants cause serotonin to stay in your brain longer, so it can have more of an effect on its receptors and boost your mood.
By activating this receptor, CBD imitates serotonin and relieves the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Put all of these effects together, and you have a supplement that can increase brain health and enhance your mood, with no negative side effects.