Some clinicians think of CBD as a nutrient that our bodies need. The far-reaching impact of CBD and other cannabinoids on the human body is still being discovered by scientists. What we do know is that CBD can promote wellness and treat multiple health conditions.


The Basics

  • The cannabis plant features about 400 chemicals, including more than 100 phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD.
  • Cultivars vary by ratios of CBD to THC, which is the most accepted way of indicating the amount of each cannabinoid.
  • Terpenes are intensely aromatic chemicals that give cannabis its aroma and interact with cannabinoids to impart health benefits. Additionally, terpenes have their own health effects irrespective of interactions. (For more insight on terpenes, see the chart below.)
  • Cannabis interacts both directly and indirectly with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a part in just about every bodily process.
  • CBD works a little differently in the body than does THC. It indirectly interacts with endocannabinoid receptors by modulating them, as well as using other cell signaling systems such as dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and GABA—all neurotransmitters.
  • CBD also inhibits the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid produced in the body, making it more available in the brain.

The Endocannabinoid System

Although studies of specific cannabis compounds on the human body are somewhat limited, there was a time when cannabis was at the forefront of U.S. government research. The National Institute on Drug Abuse was trying to prove the negative impacts of cannabis to support the War on Drugs. That is not exactly what happened. During this research, scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS), named for the plant that led to the discovery. Working like a lock-and-key system, the ECS is extremely important because It interacts with multiple systems of the body, including the immune, nervous, and digestive systems. By promoting balance and homeostasis, the ECS helps the body adapt to stressors.

Diagram of the endocannabinoid system

Cannabinoid Receptors

The ECS is made up of cannabinoid receptors—referred to as CB1 and CB2—that pick up biochemical cues and affect surrounding cells. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and affect brain development, coordination, movement, learning, sleep, pain, appetite, anxiety, addiction, nausea, and vomiting. CB2 receptors are mainly found in the peripheral nervous system, immune system, gastrointestinal tract, and various organs, including the brain. CB2 activation affects immune responses, such as inflammation, and promotes neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form neural connections throughout life.

Common Terpenes in Cannabis

Alpha-pinene Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, bronchodilator, neuroprotective Pine, rosemary, sage
Beta-caryophyllene Anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective Black pepper, cardamom, cloves, oregano
Beta-myrcene Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, sedative Eucalyptus, hops, lemongrass, mango
Limonene Anti-anxiety, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antioxidant Grapefruit, lemons, oranges
Linalool Analgesic, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant, antidepressant Cilantro, coriander, holy basil, lavender


Cannabinoids are the actual molecules that interact with various receptors in the body—including, but not limited to, CB1 and CB2. Endocannabinoids are those produced in the body, anandamide and 2- AG. Phytocannabinoids come from plants (hence the prefix phyto-), the most well-known being THC and CBD.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD does not directly bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but it does indirectly influence them. That means the presence of CBD can change the binding of other molecules such as THC and anandamide. That is why a small amount of CBD in cannabis with THC (marijuana) can influence the psychoactivity of THC. Some of the receptor systems that CBD impacts include:

  • SEROTONIN RECEPTORS. When CBD activates serotonin receptors, it can alleviate anxiety, addiction, appetite loss, insomnia, pain, and nausea.
  • VANILLOID RECEPTORS. CBD can ease pain and inflammation by activating vanilloid receptors.
  • ORPHAN RECEPTORS. When the orphan receptor—also known as GPR55—is overactive, it can trigger high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and the spread of cancer cells. CBD can help deactivate the GPR55 receptor.
  • NUCLEAR RECEPTORS. PPARs, or nuclear receptors, regulate energy, insulin, and metabolism and may help stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. CBD may help PPARs kick in.

We Make Our Own Cannabinoids

When researchers were looking into how THC affects the brain, they stumbled upon the chemical anandamide, or the “bliss molecule,” whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word for divine joy, ananda. Interacting specifically with CB1 receptors, this endocannabinoid stabilizes mood, relieves pain, and increases well-being. Because THC is structurally similar, it can also trigger the release of feel-good chemicals.

The other major endocannabinoid is 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG. One of its functions is to help regulate the immune system. Together, these chemicals are crucial for optimal wellness and disease prevention. They can also assist in disease treatment because of their impact on the major systems throughout the body.

It’s All about Homeostasis

Biologist Robert Melamede remarked, “Endocannabinoids are central players in life’s multidimensional biochemical balancing act known as homeostasis.” Although cannabis or CBD has the potential to improve various health conditions by interacting with numerous systems in the body, it is ultimately all about balance and homeostasis.

In 1998 Vincenzo DiMarzo theorized about the actions of endo- cannabinoids alone or in combination with other mediators and summed it up by theorizing that some of the messages produced include:

  • Relax
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Forget
  • Protect

That says it all!

Understanding Homeostasis

Homeostasis means all of your systems are stable, working well, adapting to your needs, and maintaining your body’s internal balance. Every system in your body—including nervous, respiratory, digestive, reproductive—requires homeostasis to function optimally. Because all of the systems are connected, a lack of homeostasis in one can create problems in another.

Why Homeostasis Is Important

Consider this example: When your blood sugar spikes after you eat, your brain signals the release of insulin to regulate it. If this process malfunctions, as it does in diabetes, other organs and bodily processes are affected. One monkey wrench in the works can damage the whole system. In extreme cases, a lack of homeostasis can be deadly.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency and Tone

In 2001 neurologist Ethan Russo presented a compelling theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED), based on the notion that some neurological disorders are associated with neurotransmitter deficiencies. As humans, we have an underlying endocannabinoid tone, reflecting levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG. Theoretically, CED can be treated by increasing the production of endocannabinoids, decreasing the breakdown of endocannabinoids, and changing endocannabinoid receptors. In addition to using cannabis or CBD to correct CED, several lifestyle behaviors can affect levels:

  • Food and nutrition, or eating habits
  • Herbal medicine
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Ayurveda
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Movement activities, such as swimming
  • Sex with orgasm
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Qigong
  • Massage

Big Pharma Gets Involved

Pharmaceutical companies have taken notice of the healing properties of CBD-rich oil extracts, especially in relation to seizures. The FDA recently approved Epidiolex®, a cannabidiol isolate, for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (two severe forms of epilepsy).

Isolating CBD from the rest of the plant’s components ignores the fundamental principle guiding cannabis as medicine—the entourage effect. Scientists believe that the plant’s components are far better together than each is alone, and they are confident that changes in national opinion and law will lead to more studies that will reveal the holistic healing properties that cannabis—both with and without THC—has to offer.