Despite its increasing availability as a legal herbal supplement, cannabis still has a bad reputation and conjures up images of sullen, drug-addicted teenagers with bad memories and insatiable snack cravings. But as public awareness of the differences between CBD and THC grows, this trend is changing.
Published scientific studies are beginning to reveal just how beneficial CBD can be for health and well-being. New products and brands are offering family-friendly options for CBD-infused balms, honey and even water, making this herb easily accessible to everyone from your grandmother to your toddler and even your dog.
Studies have shown that CBD can be extremely beneficial for both children and adults struggling with cognitive disorders, from mood-related illnesses to attention disorders.
In this article, we will take a look at how CBD interacts with brain chemistry. Then, we will look at the specific benefits CBD can provide to people struggling with cognitive disorders.
What is CBD?
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of “phytocannabinoids”: specific chemical compounds that include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), among others.
CBD is mainly derived from Cannabis indica strains and, unlike THC, does not produce psychoactive effects. While both THC and CBD offer health benefits, products containing THC are more stigmatized due to their association with “getting high”. Some strains of hemp are now grown directly for their high CBD content.
How CBD works?
Research reveals that humans have a natural, tangible network of cannabinoid receptors and chemical messengers that determine many of our body’s daily actions and processes.
This system is called the endocannabinoid system. This means that we have a natural ability to react to chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. By interacting with molecular “buttons” called CB1 and CB2 receptors, these compounds can control body functions ranging from pain perception to hunger levels and feelings of sleepiness or alertness. The endocannabinoid system even helps regulate your body temperature.
When CBD is consumed, it interacts with these CB1 and CB2 receptors. CBD can also directly affect receptors on the immune system, dopamine, serotonin and opioid systems, causing various healing effects. We have covered the general effects of CBD in our comprehensive cannabis guide, but in this article we will look at a more specific topic: CBD’s effects on cognitive abilities and how it can help with cognitive disorders.
Cannabidiol for cognitive disorders
With cannabinoid-sensitive receptors acting in organ systems such as the heart, liver, skin and reproductive system, as well as in nervous system cells, there is almost no part of the body that is not affected by the endocannabinoid system – which can be beneficial for cognitive disorders.
Recent studies suggest that CBD may help alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, aspects of autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, but research has yielded mixed results on the effectiveness of cannabidiol for treating general anxiety. A 2010 study examined the effects of CBD on patients with social anxiety disorder and found that the compound altered their normal mental responses to anxiety and changed blood flow to areas of the brain normally associated with the anxiety response.
Another promising study has shown the effects of cannabidiol on anandamide, a neurotransmitter that can reduce pain sensitivity and improve mood. CBD can inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase, an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, thereby prolonging the action of anandamide in the endocannabinoid system and increasing its potency. Higher levels of anandamide, also called the “happiness molecule”, are thought to strongly improve mood and reduce psychotic symptoms – which could be vital in treating patients with disorders such as schizophrenia.
Previous results have shown that THC can exacerbate psychotic disorders by overstimulating the endocannabinoid system, and ECS hyperactivity is cited as a possible cause of psychotic conditions. However, by demonstrating the presence of CBD, researchers have found that cannabidiol is accompanied by a noticeable increase in serum anandamide and that the increase in “bliss molecules” can lead to clinical improvement in patients.
CBD has the ability to increase natural endocannabinoids in the body’s systems by blocking enzymes that normally break them down. One study found that genetically modified mice that failed to produce 2-AG, the most important endocannabinoid in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional control center, were increasingly likely to show signs of anxiety and depression. The animals’ responses to stressful situations and their overall resilience to stress improved thanks to their increased ability to produce 2-AG. By blocking the CB-1 receptor in the amygdala, CBD can prevent the breakdown of 2-AG and allow the body to replenish and increase the supply of its natural resources. This result could be particularly useful in the treatment of patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related mood disorders.
Clinical trials are currently underway to explore the possibilities offered by CBD’s ability to interact with various receptors. Some studies have revealed promising interactions between CBD and the 5-HT1A neuroreceptor, a serotonin receptor that is often the target of pharmaceutical antidepressants such as SSRIs. When injected into rats during a series of controlled experiments, the results seemed to indicate that CBD promotes anxiolytic effects by directly activating 5-HT1A receptors. Similar studies have shown that CBD helps 5-HT1A neurotransmission, which cannot function normally due to neuropathic pain conditions. CBD’s effects on the serotonin system may therefore help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders, as well as opioid addiction and neuropathic pain. But more research is needed to say anything definitive.
Because disorders such as anxiety and depression are complex as a result of a wide range of biological and environmental factors involving multiple networks and systems in the brain, it is difficult to assess the true impact of CBD. In the meantime, some effects appear to be more clearly identifiable, such as the neuroprotective and antispasmodic benefits of CBD for children with epilepsy and its chronic pain relief benefits – both of which may contribute to dramatic overall improvement in cognitive function.
Looking to the future
While the current results look promising, there is not yet enough evidence to definitively support CBD as a universal treatment for cognitive disorders. However, CBD-containing products are still worth a try, because all research to date suggests that benefits are likely, while side effects are minimal. Therefore, for adults suffering from cognitive impairment, the personal experience should be affordable and very low risk.
As for children, the conventional wisdom applies: start slowly, with a low dose and monitor your child’s progress. Also, make sure you buy products from a qualified supplier who can provide high-quality products with regulated CBD percentages and without harmful chemical additives or pesticides. If CBD manages to become the non-invasive holistic health treatment that is taking shape, it will definitely be worth a try.