Why CBD Could Be Transformative For Mental Health

If you have been keeping an eye on the news lately, you might have stumbled across a story about cannabidiol, or CBD – a compound that is transforming the world of medical cannabis. The cannabinoid is helping to destroy the age-old stigma about the herb, which claims it’s a blight on society, causes laziness, a lack of motivation and even worse.  

But in fact, the complete opposite appears to be the case. Not only is CBD a non-intoxicating substance, research into the compound has found that it may actually be helpful for mental health patients, as a treatment for anxiety, depression, insomnia and more.  

In this article, we’ll story CBD’s rise to mainstream attention, and delve into just why this amazing compound can help with conditions that conventional treatments are seemingly so ineffective for. 

The history of CBD  

The medical benefits of cannabis have been recognized and adopted by cultures for thousands of years and remained in use up until the 20th century when the plant was banned by most countries.  

The CBD compound was first isolated from the rest of the cannabis plant in 1940, and we received a better understanding of the compound in 1963 when Israel’s Raphael Mechoulam – who one year later became the first person to isolate THC – determined the chemical structure of the compound. 

In the 1980s, the first evidence emerged that CBD could be an effective treatment for various types of pain, nausea and anxiety, however progress was slow, and it took more than 20 years after that for the public to start learning about the benefits of CBD in the form of CBD oil. 

By then, CBD was showing to have potent anti-seizure qualities, working in a mechanism that traditional epilepsy treatments clearly do not, since the compound was helping people – and particularly children – with medication-resistant conditions. Chemotherapy patients were also being recommended CBD as a non-psychoactive way of managing the pain and nauseous symptoms from treatment.  

The discovery of anandamide, an endocannabinoid, in 1992 (again by Mechoulam) was also a crucial development. This helped pave the way for a deeper understanding of the endocannabinoid system, the primary network that CBD and other cannabinoids functions in. The discovery of this system was extremely significant for human biology, as it has given medical experts new ideas on how to combat illnesses.  

For example, opioids are now being challenged as the best type of painkiller, with CBD products demonstrating potent analgesic effects. The endocannabinoid system’s influence on immune system response can be used to tackle conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and arthritis. Cannabinoid receptors are also found in the skin and could hold the key to several skin complaints (including acne, eczema and psoriasis) for which we have no cure.  

The endocannabinoid system may also have a vital role to play in mental health.  

CBD for anxiety 

CBD’s effect on the GABA neurotransmitter helps to reduce anxiety. GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) helps to calm neuronal activity in the brain when working as it should. It’s important for the brain not to be over active, as this is when mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety and insomnia (more on insomnia later) can manifest.  

Despite being a cannabinoid, CBD does not follow the way of THC and bind with cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it helps to promote endocannabinoids that do interact with these receptors, by regulating GABA. GABA neurons synthesize two essential endocannabinoids – anandamide and 2-AG. These can act directly on both cannabinoid receptors and GABA receptors, and scientists are confident that these interactions are why CBD helps to reduce anxiety while THC, for the most part, doesn’t.   

CBD for depression 

Science is constantly changing, and experts are not always as sure as they seem. The old line was that the “runner’s high”, which is experienced after a prolonged period of running when pain subsides, comes from endorphins, which are natural opioids. However, the inability of endorphins to pass through the blood-brain barrier makes this effect impossible. Enter anandamide. 

Anandamide can pass through the blood-brain barrier, a finding that was detailed in 2015 in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The study showed that the flow of anandamide into the brain provides the “runner’s high,” which is logical given that the endocannabinoid has antidepressant properties. Therefore, exercise can be used to manage the symptoms of depression. But those with major depressive disorder may be unable to summon the mental or physical energy to go on a run, meaning anandamide levels have to be increased another way.  

Research published in Nature in 2012 revealed that CBD stimulates anandamide signalling. Furthermore, CBD is known to stifle fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that causes the degradation of anandamide. By stopping its breakdown and improving its signalling, CBD not only increases the levels of anandamide in the body, but ensures it gets to the right place.  

CBD for insomnia 

Reducing anxiety helps to ease insomnia and other sleeping issues, as it’s more difficult to get some shuteye when the brain is racing with – often worrisome – thoughts. Studies have also found that chronic pain patients who also have insomnia can benefit from CBD – since the pain is likely what is contributing to their lack of sleep, CBD has a double effect. 

CBD is a biphasic compound, meaning that it has different effects depending on the dose. In low doses, CBD works as a stimulant, and can boost focus and concentration. The sleep-wake cycle is also strengthened by these energizing effects – exertion in the daytime makes sleeping easier in the night-time. In high doses, CBD is more sedative, inducing sleep – further to this, most cannabis strains recommended for sleep have increased levels of CBD.  

CBD also has an influence on sleep patterns. Those who find themselves waking up regularly during sleep are likely spending more time in rapid-eye movement (REM sleep) and other light sleep phases than deep sleep. CBD boosts the time that the body spends in deep sleep, where it can rejuvenate for the coming day.  

Deep sleep may also have a neuroprotectant effect, as this is the time when cerebrospinal fluid can get into the “hidden caves” of the brain and flush out neurotoxins which can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to 2013 research. 

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