CBD, THC, and ECS

I recently had the chance to do some research on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabidiol (CBD). What I realized was that there are lots of myths, some truths, and way too much marketing. So, in this post, I’ll simply present to you what the research says. No gimmicks, I’m not selling anything, and you’re free to make your own decisions.

Endocannabinoid System

The ECS consists of three parts: ligands, receptors, and deactivating enzymes. The ligands are lipid-based molecules called endocannabinoids and they bind to the receptors, CB1 and CB2. Deactivating enzymes do exactly that, deactivate the ligands after they’ve done their jobs.

They’re Everywhere!

The interesting thing about endocannabinoid receptors is that they’re everywhere. You can find them in the nervous system, but also in all different types of tissue. Some articles out there simply say that the ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, but I find that to be a bit too vague. So let’s dive a bit deeper.

The Ligands: THC vs CBD

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD stands for cannabidiol. Both of these are considered to be a type of phytocannabinoid. Basically, cannabinoids produced by a plant. They’re molecularly different from the cannabinoids we naturally produce (endocannabinoids, with the pre-fix “endo-” meaning “inside”), but are able to bind to our ECS receptors.

THC is psychoactive. When you ingest THC, you experience an altered state of mind. CBD on the other hand, is not psychoactive. There are over 100 other cannabinoids, but most research focuses on THC or cannabinoids as a whole. There’s only a handful of literature on CBD.

THC, CBD Function

We’re still not quite sure the exact function of the ECS, though we do know that there’s lots of CB1 in the brain. CB2 is found on immune system cells (B-Cell, NK-cells, etc). THC binds to both CB1 and CB2.

Cannabidiol on the other hand doesn’t bind to either CB1 or CB2. In fact, CBD receptors are found on the axon terminals of a neuron and acts as an inhibitor of the action potential. Some studies showed that CBD might actually counter the effects of THC.

Claims

Remember that post about causation and correlation? Well, the medicinal use of cannabis sort of works like that too. There are thousands of anecdotes, but if you look at the studies, the evidence is interesting, not compelling. The most solid CBD research focuses on its anti-seizure properties and it is used to treat epilepsy.

Other claims about CBD, such as it being anti-anxiety, an analgesic (pain reliever), anti-cancer, etc. are not substantiated by solid studies. What do I mean by solid? I mean, large sample size, double-blind, not just in mice. Like I said, the studies are interesting and I encourage you all to jump on pubmed.gov to poke around. However, interesting is just that… interesting.

The Billion Dollar Industry

Since CBD is legal in more states and countries than THC, there’s a booming industry out there aimed at selling all sorts of products. My local grocery store sells CBD brownies and I’ve also seen dog treats, oils, tinctures, cookies, candies, creams and lotions, etc.

Overall, it seems rather harmless since it’s practically impossible to overdose on CBD. Plus, unlike THC, you’re probably not going to end up losing hours of your life sitting on the couch, lost in “thought”. I simply suggest that we all exercise a bit of skepticism, good science, and good sense.

  • Skepticism refers to the lack of solid research on CBD used outside of epilepsy treatments.
  • Good science refers to reading up on supplements before using them liberally.
  • Good sense refers to spending your money wisely and not falling for marketing gimmicks and advertising tricks.