By now, many people have heard of CBD (short for cannabidiol), a substance from the cannabis plant that does not make you high but does support your health in many ways. There are a lot of rumors going around about CBD. Also that it would be a body’s own substance. However, this is not correct, although the mistake is understandable. In this blog you can read where this confusion comes from.
CBD belongs to a group of substances called cannabinoids. The prefix ‘canna’ comes from the word cannabis, the plant in which these substances were first found. In the 1960s, a group of researchers led by Professor Raphael Mechoulam investigated cannabis. In addition to being able to isolate the molecules CBD and THC, they wanted to discover the mechanism of action of cannabis in humans. Why do people (and animals) react so strongly to cannabis? What exactly did cannabis do in our brains and bodies, and why do people have so many different reactions (laughing/talking/being anxious/wanting to eat a lot, etc)?
The group of researchers discovered that the membranes of human cells (the secretion of the cell) contain receptors to which cannabinoids from cannabis can bind. You could see these receptors as a kind of keyholes in the cell membrane. A substance such as a cannabinoid fits like a key to this lock of the cell. The moment this happens, a certain action takes place in the cell. Think of producing a certain protein or breaking down fats or sugars.
Two types of cannabinoids were found: cannabinoid binding receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid binding receptor type 2 (CB2). The researchers saw that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychotropic substance of cannabis, can bind to the CB1 receptor and to a lesser extent to the CB2 receptor. Now the question arose as to why the human body apparently had receptors that seemed to be specially made for substances from cannabis? The answer to that question came more than ten years later: researchers saw that people themselves also produce substances that connect to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Because these receptors were already named after cannabinoids, these new endogenous substances were called endocannabinoids. In other words, the body’s own cannabinoids (endo stands for ‘inside’).
The first was an endocannabinoid that could bind to the CB1 receptor. This substance, called anandamide, provides a pleasant, happy feeling and was named after a Sanskrit word: “ananda” (meaning “inner bliss”). The second endocannabinoid discovered is 2-AG. This substance can bind to the CB2 receptor, which mainly affects and benefits our immune system.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors together with the endocannabinoids make up the endocannabinoid system. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been seen to have little ‘affinity’ with the CB1 receptor. This means that CBD cannot bind to this receptor properly, and therefore cannot exert a direct effect on it. CBD can influence the CBD2 receptor. In addition, there are many other receptors in the body that CBD exerts an effect on.
CBD is therefore not a substance of the body. The confusion has arisen because our bodies create substances that are similar to substances such as CBD, and work in a similar way in the body.
In summary, the following points at a glance:
- CBD is produced in the hemp plant.
- Endocannabinoids (such as anandamide and 2AG) are produced in the human body.
- CBD is a phytocannabinoid.
- Phytocannabinoids were discovered earlier than endocannabinoids (the body’s own cannabinoids).
- Endocannabinoids are named after phytocannabinoids.
- CBD has an effect on certain receptors in the human body (including the CB2 receptor).
- CBD is not a natural substance, but it does have an effect on the same receptors that the body’s own substances also have an effect on.
Text by Dyveke Kok