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The science behind CBD

Colleen Quinn takes us on a tour of the body’s endocannabinoid system

CBD is one of the most powerful parts of the cannabis and hemp plant. Unlike THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive chemical element of the plant, you can benefit from the therapeutic effects of CBD without any psychedelic effects.

CBD is what is called a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. They closely resemble compounds called endocannabinoids that our own bodies produce naturally. It is considered to be one of the most effective compounds to help support our immune system and decrease anxiety and depression, as well as being an influential neuroprotectant, defending and supporting the vital neurons which make up our brain function. Two major contributors to the breakdown of brain cells are oxidation and inflammation. CBD has robust antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Distinguished neurologist and pioneer in cannabis science Dr Ethan Russo has said that “research implies that the combined use of essential oils and cannabinoids may be a potential novel therapy for the treatment of neurodegeneration, and associated symptoms.”

CBD covers a lot of ground while on its therapeutic travels. All types of inflammation, including digestive disorders and arthritis, may be improved through CBD-based therapy. However, one thing CBD will not do is get you high. It can relax you and ease anxiety, but it will not produce the impaired psychotropic effect that the cannabinoid THC provides. The science behind CBD is most interesting, but once you appreciate how it works with our body, CBD becomes positively enthralling.

Meet the endocannabinoid system

As CBD is absorbed by our skin, it makes its way to our endocannabinoid system and stimulates it, activating a series of processes beneficial to our health. The endocannabinoid system (abbreviated as ECS) is a remarkable network of compounds and receptors in the brain often described as a central component of the health and healing of every human and almost every animal. This vast grid has the capacity to influence functions in the brain, including memory, mood, pain response, appetite, perception, cognition, sleep, emotions, motor function, and anti-inflammatory function, as well as brain development and protection. The ECS is omnipresent in the body—in the skin, the brain, major organs, connective tissue, glands, immune cells, etc. In each area of the body, it carries out different tasks, but the goal is always the same and it is a rather wonderful one: the ECS works tirelessly to maintain the body’s internal balance and physical wellbeing. It creates an internal equilibrium, harmony, and peace, which resists even the most hostile fluctuations in the external environment. This state is known as homeostasis (from two Greek words which mean “standing still”).

The science is relatively new. In 1988, in a government-funded study at the St Louis University School of Medicine, Allyn Howlett and William Devane determined that the brains of mammals have receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis. These receptors, named cannabinoid receptors, turned out to be the most abundant type of neurotransmitter receptor in the brain. It was not until 1992, however, that the endocannabinoid system was discovered by Dr Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was researching the cannabis plant at the time. It is almost unbelievable to think this discovery is so recent, considering that the ECS is so fundamentally important. There are two types of cannabinoid: phytocannabinoids or plant cannabinoids (phyto is the Greek word for “plant”) and endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are produced naturally in the body—endon is the Greek word for “internal”). These two types are so incredibly similar that our body responds to them as though they are one and the same. At times when our body, on its own, does not produce enough endocannabinoids to maintain that desirable state of homeostasis, it will happily use phytocannabinoids to make up the deficit. It is safe to say the endocannabinoid system is the controlling system of essentially all functioning within our body and mind.

Your CBD buying guide

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS: Be sure you are familiar with the cannabis legislation where you live.

USE A REPUTABLE BRAND: When buying your CBD oil, it is important to choose reputable brands with a history of supplying plant-based concentrations.

CBD CONTENT: It may sound obvious, but you do need to check that the product you are purchasing actually contains CBD! A lot of stores are selling hempseed carrier oil as cannabis or CBD oil, which it is not. Equally, beware of products labelled hemp essential oil – they do not contain CBD.

LABEL INFORMATION: Look at the label! It should include all of the following information:

LAB REPORT/CERTIFICATE OF ANALYSIS: It is very important to look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for the product you are interested in. This should be readily available on the brand’s website. It is important to know if the analysis was performed by an accredited laboratory. A good indication will be if they are accredited in accordance with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This report will show you the CBD concentration. It is a nice comfort check to ensure your product truly has the CBD concentration advertised. Note that the lab report should be reasonably recent, preferably within the last 12 months.

Extracted from The CBD Beauty Book by Colleen Quinn, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

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