CBD is short for cannabidiol. It is just one of several different molecules called cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. We’ll take a quick look at some other common cannabinoids later on.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are active compounds produced by all cannabis plants. They account for most of the health benefits of cannabis. Cannabinoids found in plants are technically called phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids mimic compounds that we call endocannabinoids that are produced naturally by all mammals.
- Phytocannabinoids — Cannabinoids produced by plants
- Endocannabinoids — Cannabinoids produced by the human body
Other cannabinoids found in PCR hemp include cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG). Cannabichromene (CBC) is the third most common cannabinoid found in cannabis. Like CBD, cannabichromene is non-psychoactive. Cannabigerol (CBG) is produced early on in the hemp’s growth cycle. Both CBD and CBG are believed to have properties similar to those of CBD.
What Do Endocannabinoids Do?
Endocannabinoids, those produced naturally by our bodies, are signaling molecules. They are technically called neurotransmitters. Hormones are a more familiar type of neurotransmitter.
A vast array of neurotransmitters are produced by the nervous system in response to various states of health and also environmental factors. They interact with receptors found on the surface of cells throughout our bodies. Their job is to instruct a cell to adjust its activities. This can include changing how cells react to other neurotransmitters.
In order to illustrate how neurotransmitters work, let’s use an analogy.
The brain doesn’t connect with every cell in your body, just like traffic officers can’t connect directly with every car on the road to be able to instruct individual drivers how to behave in every traffic situation. In order to manage traffic, we implement traffic signals. These include street signs, traffic lights, the lines on the road and so on. Traffic signals inform drivers where they can and cannot travel, when they should stop and when they should go, how fast they are allowed to move and so on.
Some of these signals can sense what’s going on in the environment, such as when a car pulls up to a traffic light. The sensor triggers a controller, causing the light to change, thereby changing the behavior of the drivers approaching that intersection.
In the same way, your body’s nervous system connects to a wide variety of sensors to keep track of every system in your body. The signals from these sensors are decoded by the brain and the nervous system. If it is determined that a system has gone out of balance, the nervous system produces neurotransmitters, which travel through the bloodstream and interact with receptors on cells, instructing them to adjust their behavior.
The Human Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Now that we understand how neurotransmitters work to adjust our cellular activity, let’s take a look at the role of cannabinoids in particular and their role in maintaining homeostasis — a state of balance, within the body.
For example, CBD is known to mimic a signaling molecule called anandamide. Anandamide is responsible for the production and uptake of serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the “bliss molecule” because levels of serotonin in the body are directly associated with mood. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for “runner’s high.” Serotonin levels are often low in people suffering from depression and anxiety. Supplementation with CBD has been shown to raise serotonin levels.
Additional Functions of Cannabinoids
Although cannabinoids are mainly known for the role they play in the human endocannabinoid system, they also function in other ways.
For example, cannabinoids are known to have antioxidant effects. Vitamin C is an example of a common antioxidant.
The process of metabolizing food can produce harmful molecules we refer to as free radicals. These molecules can latch onto molecules in our cells, causing oxidation, the same process that causes metals to rust. Free radicals can harm or kill a cell and damage DNA. Antioxidant molecules such as cannabinoids can latch onto free radicals, rendering them harmless.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of volatile hydrocarbon compounds produced by the cannabis plant as well as most other plants. Terpenes readily evaporate at room temperature, and our noses are highly sensitive to them.
Terpenes are recognized as safe for human consumption by the Food and Drug Association and are used in a wide variety of food and cosmetic products.
In nature, terpenes act as both a repellent for pests and as attractants for pollinators and seed spreaders. In cannabis, terpenes are produced in highest concentrations in the plant’s female flowers.
Although terpene molecules are all very similar, each has its own unique scent and flavor. Various combinations of terpenes are responsible for the distinct aromas of cannabis strains.
Terpenes can also have powerful effects on our bodies. In fact, terpenes have been utilized by humans for millennia in a healing modality known as aromatherapy. For example, the scent of citrus is produced primarily by a combination of limonene and pinene, both of which are thought to elevate mood.
Some terpenes can act as neurotransmitters. They can also act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, enhance norepinephrine activity and increase dopamine activity, all of which are known to produce antidepressant effects.
More importantly, terpenes also act on cannabinoid receptors and are known to modify the effects of cannabinoids.
The Entourage Effect
Although not as potent as cannabinoids in terms of their overall effects, terpenes are valuable medicinal components of cannabis.
The overall effect of the rich combination of cannabinoids and terpenes is known metaphorically as The Entourage Effect. In the case of cannabis, these cannabinoids and terpenes work together to produce a range of effects that is thought to be greater than the sum of its individual components.
More research is needed to determine the exact role that terpenes play in the overall effects of CBD oil, but it seems clear that terpenes work in concert with cannabinoids to produce a richer effect than CBD alone.Some CBD oil products are actually oil infused with pure CBD. These products do not have the added benefits of terpenes and other cannabinoids and do not produce the entourage effect. They are not recommended.