So, how can CBD be useful for so many different issues in so many different people? Its usefulness is because it acts as an adaptogen – my favorite class of botanical medicines – which balance, or modulate our health. Adaptogens help the body adapt to mental as well as physical stress, but how exactly do adaptogens work? Our founding doctor provides a science lesson….
Adaptogens bind to receptors weakly and either stimulate an empty receptor, or block an overactive one. In this way, they balance physiology.
In the case of CBD, the receptors of interest are the CB1 And CB2 receptors (and a few other known ones). Collectively this receptor system is referred to the endocannabinoid system. More familiar receptor systems include the neurotransmitter system which releases serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Or the opioid system which releases endorphins (and others).
When CBD binds to CB1 receptors, which are located primarily in the central nervous system, the effects occur primarily in the brain; calming pain, anxiety, tremor and other CNS effects. When CBD binds to the CB2 receptors, which are primarily in the immune system, effects related to reducing inflammation and allergy are activated. (Ref 1). This is why CBD has such a wide range of applications.
Consider these case studies of 2 typical people - one prone to anxiety in times of stress, the other person tends to slip into depression and despondency when things get rough. Both take CBD which binds to their CB1 receptors. The anxious person may be overproducing excitatory signals that bind to the receptors, literally overstimulating them. CBD, which has a milder effect, binds and displaces those signals, quieting the system down. The depressed person feels that way because they may have a deficiency of excitatory signals and thus a lot of empty unstimulated receptors. CBD fills those vacancies, creating a gently stimulating, uplifting effect. This is what we call an adaptogen, or a partial agonist.
If you are interested in learning more about the concept of adaptogens, National Geographic wrote an interesting piece about rhodiola (my favorite adaptogen before I learned about CBD). This Russian sedum was researched by the best biochemists and sports physiologists in an effort to give the USSR Olympic team a leg up in the era before pharmaceutical doping and steroid abuse. The adaptogen helped athletes perform better and recover more quickly, without the addictive and destructive effects of the drug! (Ref 2)
To summarize this science lesson, CBD activates or blocks effects in the endocannabinoid system effecting change in the nervous system (CB1) and immune system (CB2). The result is a more balanced inflammatory response and a quieter mental space.