By Jenny Menzel, H.C.
If you’re embarking on a quest for knowledge about how cannabidiol (CBD) can benefit your health, chances are you’ve felt slightly overwhelmed with information at least once. The hemp-derived cannabis compound is a potent influencer of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), arguably one of the most complex cell-signaling systems studied.
Upon its discovery by scientists in the 1990’s, it was originally believed that cannabinoid (CB) receptors reside only in the brain and nerves. As research persisted, however, CB receptors were discovered in immune cells, skin, liver, kidneys, and the gastrointestinal tract, to name a few.
This intricate physiological involvement by the ECS means that CBD can influence, and possibly reverse, cell signaling in a variety of processes seen with aging and chronic illness — processes like immune dysfunction, pain, mood disorders, cognitive decline, difficulty sleeping, metabolic issues, and inflammation.
With our brains acting as our body’s central computing station, how CBD benefits its function is of particular interest. So how exactly can CBD boost your brainpower? Let’s count the ways.
7 Ways CBD Boosts Your Brainpower
1. It Replenishes Dopamine to Motivate You.
If you’ve ever had even a mild addiction to things like social media, caffeine, or a favorite food, you’ve experienced the power of dopamine as a mood booster. Dopamine “hits” are when these neurotransmitters respond to pleasure, increasing our perception of a reward and inspiring motivation. When abruptly omitted, a lack of motivation may result.
While CBD doesn’t produce a dopamine-spiking euphoria in the way THC does, over time, THC has been shown to deplete dopamine levels. In contrast, CBD may indirectly replenish dopamine receptors by modulating GABA, according to a trial published in Neuropsychopharmacology. This stabilizing effect to dopamine eliminates the risk of dependency, making it a safe, non-habit forming option for boosting dopamine.
2. It Enhances Serotonin to Balance Your Mood.
It seems the ECS and serotonergic systems have some overlap, working together intimately to modulate neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Serotonin 1 receptors (5-HT1A) are found in the brain, as well as our digestive tract, nerves, and blood. Interestingly, CB receptors are also found on serotonin neurons, which is why CBD can be used to improve mental and physical conditions such as poor sleep, depression, and chronic stress. When CBD regulates integral neurotransmitters like serotonin, hormones needed for a healthy metabolism, quality sleep, and effective stress responses are brought to a comfortable middle ground — creating a balanced, happy brain.
3. It Increases Amygdala Activity to Ease Anxious Memories.
At the base of our brains is a group of cells called the amygdala, an important part of the limbic system tasked with giving meaning to our emotions. CBD can block CB1 receptors responsible for contributing to anxiety and influence CB2 receptors, which modulate the relaxation of emotional stress responses in the brain and throughout the body.
While further research is needed, one neuroimaging study in humans found CBD reduced anxiety by activating the limbic system — lessening the amygdala’s connection to the anterior cingulate cortex during the task of processing fearful facial expressions.
4. It Improves Anandamide Signaling to Produce Bliss.
Rooted in the Sanskrit word for “joy,” anandamide is considered a cannabis-like “bliss molecule” — one of the most important neurotransmitters to influence the endocannabinoid system. As it binds to CB receptors in the brain, anandamide promotes an intense sense of mental ease and happiness. Its neuroprotective qualities show promise as an intervention for severe mental conditions like schizophrenia.
For example, a recent randomized controlled trial demonstrated an improvement in schizophrenic symptoms after six weeks of CBD use. An earlier review published in Translational Psychiatry supports CBD as a bliss molecule booster due to its ability to inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme known to break down anandamide.
5. It Increases Cerebral Blood Flow to Improve Your Memory.
As we age, our brain experiences the loss of cells and neurons needed for healthy signaling between body systems. However, recent research shows CBD improves memory processing by increasing blood flow to the hippocampus, a part of the limbic system located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. While the study only used single doses of CBD in healthy volunteers, it gives hope to those suffering from conditions that result in cognitive decline.
6. It Inhibits Vanilloid Receptors to Reduce Chronic Pain.
If you’ve ever been in pain for even a couple of days, you might recall a dip in your mood. Our brain controls many things, and among them is the perception of pain. But one study suggests CBD can modulate pain by binding to vanilloid receptors (TRPV1), receptors in charge of regulating inflammation and body temperature. The TRPV1 receptor is implicated in such conditions as neuropathy and rheumatoid arthritis, lending further credence to the reputation CBD of providing relief for difficult chronic pain conditions and improving mood.
7. It Reduces Oxidative Damage to Slow Aging.
CBD has been known as a potent antioxidant that helps neutralize toxic free radicals — saving healthy brain cells from death. Cell oxidation occurs from daily living and requires an antioxidant-rich diet and lifestyle to prevent and reverse oxidative damage in the brain. CBD reduces oxidation by influencing the CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system — restoring brain function to optimal levels. Research has shown the long-term application of CBD in mice can prevent the development of memory deficits similar to those experienced with neurodegeneration.
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