Cannabidiol (CBD) oils are low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products made from Hemp, a varietal of Cannabis sativa. Patients report relief for a variety of conditions, particularly pain and inflammation, without the intoxication seen in high THC medical marijuana. Both CBD and THC are examples of plant cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, which are able to interact with the endocannabinoid system to elicit the multitude of effects attributed to Cannabis consumption.
Endocannabinoid System and PhytoCannabinoids
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system closely tied to the nervous system. It is composed of endocannabinoids, a type of endogenous neurotransmitter, and cannabinoid receptors, a type of protein found throughout the body.
Endogenous neurotransmitters are the chemical signaling molecules our bodies use to communicate between neurons. The sending nerve cell, or presynaptic cell, releases neurotransmitters that bind to specific receptors on the receiving nerve cell, or postsynaptic cell. Endocannabinoids are a type of retrograde neurotransmitter, meaning the signals travel backward and temporarily reduce the release of more neurotransmitter. This process creates neural feedback loops to regulate neurotransmission, which allows the body to sensitively tune the nervous system.
Endocannabinoids are produced in small quantities whenever and wherever they are needed so they can bind to local cannabinoid receptors. Two main cannabinoid receptors have been identified: CB1, found mostly in the brain, and CB2, found mostly in the immune system. Additionally, two main endocannabinoids have been identified: anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG.
AEA, like THC, binds only to CB1 and activates it, which reduces the flow of subsequent neurotransmitters and dampens the excitability of the neurons. This calming effect is not directly responsible for the perception of relaxation – endocannabinoids regulate other regulators, coordinating with receptors and each other to maintain homeostasis and a well balanced body. AEA is also found in chocolate and is believed to contribute to the cravings seen for chocolate products.
2-AG can bind to CB1 and CB2 and are found in much higher concentrations than AEA. It is a better fit for both cannabinoid receptors and has a stronger activating effect. CBD can also bind to both CB1 and CB2, but does so weakly and has a deactivating effect. In high doses, CBD can slow down the breakdown of THC and reduce some of the negative side-effects of THC inebriation, such as preventing short-term memory loss. These interactions highlight the potential of cannabinoid mixes over isolates.
Pharmacology of Full Spectrum Extract, Terpenes, and Entourage Effect
The majority of positive health impacts attributed to CBD oil stem from the use of phytocannabinoid mixes, more commonly known as Full Spectrum Extract. These relatively unprocessed botanical products contain a wide variety of compounds, most importantly cannabinoids and terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic compounds responsible for most of the smells found in flowers. Far more than just scents, terpenes can have profound pharmacological effects themselves, such as the antidepressant effects of limonene found in citrus. Cannabinoids and terpenes can even bind to one another and work synergistically to produce what’s called the Entourage Effect. Studies disagree on the details of how cannabinoid mixtures affect cannabinoid receptors differently than isolated cannabinoid preparations, but it is generally accepted that symptom relief is significantly higher with mixtures over isolates.
This Entourage Effect helps to explain how and why patients can have such widely differing experiences from cannabinoid-based products, even when taking the same dose. The effectiveness of cannabinoid extracts, like CBD oil, is more a function of the effectiveness of its Entourage Effect, which in turn is dependent on the variety of functional compounds present in the Full Spectrum Extract. In other words, how “full” the Full Spectrum Extract is can be used to estimate its effectiveness, particularly for managing symptoms of systemic disorders.
Not all compounds found in Full Spectrum Extract are beneficial. Fatty acids, plant waxes, and chlorophylls can be harmful, especially when inhaled, and should be limited or removed. Winterization is a widely used alcohol-based process for removing the bulk of these undesirables, but requires distillation to remove the alcohol and strips or degrades many of the desirables. It is better to not extract the undesirables in the first place, by using a smarter process.