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Molecular Pathways and CBD

There has been no shortage of feel-good stories stemming from people trying CBD for the first time. Nice anecdotes are welcomed, but it’s better to understand the science behind these “miracles.” How are this many people getting good results for such a wide range of maladies? 

Simply put, our body is designed to receive a multitude of benefits from CBD. That’s because cannabinoids like CBD and THC can interact with dozens of molecular pathways within our bodies. With so many different places for CBD to call “home,” this special molecule can play a wide variety of roles when it comes to bodily functions. While CBD has many landing spots, the most significant ones concern the cannabinoid's relationship to the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

In the 1990s, scientists discovered all vertebrae have an ECS and the ability to create their own endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG. We also learned that not only can we produce cannabinoids, but we can supplement our ECS with the consumption of exogenous, plant-based, cannabinoids like CBD and THC.  These compounds occur naturally in several plants, but cannabis is our most bountiful source of cannabinoids on Earth.  When ingested, cannabinoids like CBD land on the ECS’s two receptor sites located throughout the body. CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are most abundant in our immune system and gut. While these locations have the largest concentration of cannabinoid receptors, we have cannabinoid receptors throughout; skin, spleen, urinary tract, hypothalamus, fat tissue, kidneys, and skeletal muscles, for example. 

Given the ubiquity of cannabinoid receptors, it’s easy to see how CBD can affect us in so many ways. That’s because the ECS has a hand in a remarkable portion of the body’s functions. Essentially, the ECS modulates processes within the body and does its best to make sure these functions operate on balanced levels. This mission for equilibrium, better known as homeostasis, is crucial to a healthy body.  That said, the ECS has a hand in regulating digestion, motor functions, immune system response and inflammation, mood, appetite, pain, blood pressure, bone growth, memory, amongst many others. 

However, our body’s own regulatory system (the ECS) can itself be out of alignment. Even though we produce our own cannabinoids, sometimes we can make too many or too few. Our individual body's balance of cannabinoids is referred to as our endocannabinoid "tone". And when our tone is improperly balanced, we can experience chaos on a molecular level. (Think: disease)

Like other systems in our body, the ECS can operate below and above ideal functioning levels. For instance, when there is an endocannabinoid deficiency, CBD acts as a positive allosteric modulator by turning up signaling and restoring low cannabinoid levels to a healthy balance.

While CB1 and CB2 are the most commonly referenced landing spots for cannabinoids, there are dozens of known pathways that interact with CBD. 

- CBD binds to serotonin 5HT1A, which contributes to the cannabinoids’ anti-anxiety and anti-depressive properties

- CBD activates the TRPV1 or the vanilloid receptor, which mediates inflammation, pain levels perception and body temperature.  

- CBD has shown the ability to lower GPR55 levels, which could explain some of CBD’s anti-seizure anecdotes (like Charlotte Figi and Dravet Syndrome). A study confirms that CBD has the ability to block GPR55 activity in the hippocampus - a critical area for seizure activity. 

- As a GPR55 antagonist CBD deactivates the receptor - an overactive GPR55 is associate with osteoporosis.

- CBD is a PPAR-gamma agonist — suppression of this gene has been linked to Alzheimer's and schizophrenia

- CBD is a positive allosteric modulator for the GABA-A receptor which allows CBD to reduce anxiety.

- CBD also acts as a reuptake inhibitor for the body’s own cannabinoids (Anandamide, 2-AG), which means that CBD can help your body stay flush with active cannabinoids for longer. 

These are only a handful of examples from CBD’s robust pharmacological profile. Given the innate relationship between cannabinoids and our bodies' balanced health, there is still plenty to discover. Considering we have found this many benefits, at such an early stage, this cannabinoid may prove to be even essential years from now. 

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