By now, most of us have no doubt heard of CBD’s purported benefits in regards to pain relief or deeper sleep. Perhaps less known however, is CBD’s emergent use as a potential means for improving cognition and brain health.
To explore this topic in more detail, we’ll cover some of the basics on what CBD is and how it affects the body, along with new research on its implications for improved brain performance and mental well-being.
For those still unsure of what CBD is at a fundamental level, we’ll start first with some of the basics.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of literally hundreds of naturally occurring plant compounds known as phyto-cannabinoids (“phyto” meaning “plant”). While phyto-cannabinoids are found in a variety of plants such as coneflower ( Echinacea) and even cocoa (yes that includes chocolate!), the most abundant source in particular, is found in the flower or aerial parts of both hemp and cannabis plants..
Now, before we move forward, first an important distinction; hemp and cannabis are two completely different ball games. While both plant strains share many of the same cannabinoids, cannabis contains a disproportionately high amount of the cannabinoid known as Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. If you’re completely new to the cannabis game,
THC is very simply the part of the plant that gets one “high” or “stoned’, and is only available for sale in select states and sold through marijuana caregivers and dispensaries.
Hemp on the other hand, contains little to no THC (less than 0.3% of total cannabinoids) and is generally classified as non-psychotropic or non-high inducing. The other key point here is that hemp contains the highest concentration of CBD available anywhere, and is where most CBD supplements and products are derived. Chances are if you’ve seen CBD for sale, it likely came from a hemp plant.
Now to back track a bit, part of why CBD and most other cannabinoids for that matter, have the effects they do, is due in large part to the interactions between these compounds and certain receptors found within our bodies.
As it happens, all humans (and most mammals for that matter) are “wired” with an internal system known as the endocannabinoid (“endo” meaning within) system. Similar to other systems, such as the nervous system, the endocannabinoid system has vast networks which branch throughout the body. In short, these networks act as pathways, connecting phyto-cannibinoids, such as CBD, with corresponding receptors within our bodies.
The main receptors comprising the endocannabinoid system are CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are found in clusters within our organs and tissues and are what largely contribute to the benefits commonly observed by users, such as decreased pain signalling, lowered inflammation and improved sleep.
With all that said, a lesser known effect, yet one with even broader implications, regards CBD and its overall effect on the brain. This expanding field of study, has yielded a number of research papers and has even led to the development of an FDA approved drug (epidiolex ), which offers CBD as the key active ingredient.
Generally speaking, CBD and it’s neurological effects can be divided into two categories. These include mental performance and mood or “mindstate”, which we’ll explore a bit further in the following sections.
We all like to think a bit clearer or faster, right? While research into the mental performance aspects of CBD are limited, CBD has been shown to supply increased brain activity or alertness when had in lower dosage ranges. Beyond this, CBD appears to have a unique ability to promote mental clarity.
A recent review published in April 2018 outlined how CBD interacts with CB1 receptors inside the brain to reduce inflammation or oxidative stress. For most people this inflammation can have a profound impact both on how we perform mentally and focus on tasks. An easy way to conceptualize this is to think back to the last time you had “brain fog”, odds are brain inflammation was the likely culprit.
Most of us will agree that stress and anxiety are mounting issues (especially at the time of this writing). According to a recent gallup poll taken from countries around the world, 55% of Americans reported “high levels of stress” compared to 35% globally. Considering that America is the wealthiest nation on earth, this should probably come as a surprise.
So where exactly does CBD come into the picture? As it sits, CBD is believed to have a notable impact on stimulating serotonin receptors (partly responsible for mood and happiness) within the brain. To once more cite research, a 2011 study conducted on subjects with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), revealed that after being administered a 400/mg dose of CBD, patients experienced “significantly decreased subjective anxiety”.
As further backing for these findings, a recent 2018 review again found CBD to exhibit antianxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antipsychotic properties
All in all, CBD and it’s effect on mental performance and well-being is a continually evolving field of study. With the current efforts for new and continued research, we can hope to gain even more insight into both the mental and physical effects from CBD use.In a future article we’ll expand even deeper into CBD’s mental enhancing effects and look at how neuroactive compounds such as caffeine and various nootropics carry the potential to complement or even enhance what CBD has to offer the brain.