The Endocannabinoid System and CBD: Is the Excitement Worthy of the Research?

So what’s the Endocannabinoid System and why do we need to understand it first?

Cannabinoid receptors are distributed in the central nervous system and many peripheral tissues of the body including the immune system, reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts, sympathetic ganglia, endocrine glands, arteries, lungs and heart.

The two main receptor systems are referred to as CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor system has a broad variety of interactions with many different many neurotransmitters and neuromodulators in the central and peripheral nervous system. For example, activation of the CB1 receptor leads to the retrograde inhibition of the neuronal release of acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, histamine, serotonin, glutamate, cholecystokinin, D-aspartate, glycine, and noradrenaline. Besides their involvement in controlling excitotoxicity and inflammation, there is also compelling evidence suggesting that CB1 receptors in the CNS can play an important neuroprotective role.

The CB2 receptor systems are identified peripherally in the circulating immune cells, the spleen and on macrophage-derived cells including osteocytes, osteoclasts, and hepatic Kupffer cells. CB2 receptors can also be found in the enteric nervous system where their interaction with endogenous ligands play an important role in the regulation of GI motility, secretion, proliferation and immune function. 

Interestingly, the CB2 receptor system also has a neuroprotective role especially it seems where activation of the microglia and neuroinflammation is present. Current research is pointing to endocannabinoids serving a “protective role” in many medical conditions. Several diseases like enesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, anorexia, epilepsy, glaucoma, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, metabolic syndrome related diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome could possibly be treated by drugs modulating the endocannabinoid system.

How does the Cannabinoid content of Cannabis fit in?

Cannabis sativa L. Has been an important source of food, fibre and medicine for thousands of years in the old world. Its achenes (“seeds”) as well as other pant parts have been recorded in Chinese medical texts for nearly 2000 years. References to cannabis are found throughout classical Chinese literature, including many famous works of philosophy, poetry, agriculture, and medicine.

In Europe, medications based on cannabis were used at the end of the 19th century to treat pain, spasms, asthma, sleep disorders, depression and loss of appetite.

There are over 550 chemical compounds and over 100 plant cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids isolated from Cannabis sativa, including Δ9 - tetraydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

What’s the difference between THC and CBD?

One of the more common misconceptions in this landscape lies in the differences between the major endocannabinoids. THC is a major constituent of Cannabis and serves as an agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol (CBD), the second major constituent of Cannabis, is virtually inactive at the CB1 receptor and because of this negligible activity lacks the psychoactive effects that accompany the use of THC.

In addition, CBD has been demonstrated to antagonise some undesirable effects of THC, including intoxication, sedation, and tachycardia, while sharing protective, anti-oxidative, anti-emetic, and anti-carcinogenic properties.

CBD is a well-known antioxidant, exerting neuroprotective actions that might be relevant to the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and Huntington’s Disease (HD).