How Does CBD Work?

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We now know the benefits CBD has the potential to provide our minds and bodies with, but how does it work exactly?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the non-psychoactive dominant compound found in the cannabis plant. Simply put, CBD is the part of cannabis that gets you healthy, not high. This is the reason CBD is getting so much attention lately – It’s wide range of (non-toxic) health benefits are causing some individuals to think its varying therapeutic effects are too good to be true, but many findings are dubbing this as the “miracle molecule.”

Dependent upon the reason you are taking CBD (anti-inflammatory, anti-depression, general health improvement or other), and how you are consuming it, CBD can seriously help people who are in physical or mental pain.

This post takes a magnifying close look at how CBD works so we can can better understand the incredible healing properties users and researchers alike are claiming the cannabis compound to have.

And in order to explain all of that, we need to give you a little science lesson. (We promise not to get too technical!) Once you understand how everything connects, you will be able to clearly see the numerous ways CBD can improve your health and well-being.

Overarching science lesson on how CBD works – understanding the Endocannabinoid System:

Intro to the Endocannabinoid System

When someone takes CBD, the compound gets into your system and your bloodstream (the same way an antianxiety or other prescription drug would), and travels to the Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, in order for users to feel and benefit from CBD’s healing effects.

What is the ECS, you ask? Every one of us has an endocannabinoid system. It plays a very interesting, very crucial, role in keeping us healthy and stable. In its most basic sense, the ECS maintains homeostasis within the body. It is made up of endocannabinoids (naturally-producing cannabinoids within the body) and cannabinoids (cannabinoids produced externally by our environment, like CBD). The main difference between the two cannabinoids is where they come from. To keep it straight, remember “endo” means within, hence, endocannabinoids are produced within the body.

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The ECS brings balance to our digestive, endocrine, immune, nervous and reproductive systems, as well as to our heart, and is constantly working to keep us in neutral, which is a good thing.

Cannabinoid receptors (remember, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids) are responsible for regulating multiple processes that we experience every day including mood, appetite, memory and pain sensation. When these cannabinoid receptors are activated (here is where CBD comes in), they send signals to the brain to help us with everything from decision-making to problem solving, with the end goal of maintaining harmony amongst our bodily systems.

Simply put, when you’re feeling hungry or down in the dumps, those feelings get triggered by cannabinoid receptors, CBD included, to alert your body that you need food or a hug.

Now, taking it a bit further, there are two cannabinoid receptors worth mentioning in regards to how CBD works: CB1 and CB2 receptors of the ECS.

Here is what their roles play as we consume CBD:

CB1 and CB2 Receptors

CB1 and CB2 receptors are designed to interact with the endocannabinoids, naturally produced by our brains and bodies.

The CB1 receptor is located in the brain, central nervous system and many parts of the body. Various studies suggest CB1 can influence pleasure, concentration, appetite, memory and pain tolerance.

The CB2 receptor, on the other hand, is primarily involved in controlling the prominent features of the immune system like apoptosis (the normal and necessary death of cells process) or immunosuppression (reducing activation in the immune system). It has been established that CB2 fulfills an indispensable function in modulating the pain sensation, and is known to play a crucial role in a spectrum of diseases, from liver and kidney problems to neurodegenerative disorders.

You are probably wondering, “What does CBD have to do with all of this?”

Interestingly, CBD is not involved in the direct stimulation of either of the aforementioned receptors. The primary impact of CBD is caused on other receptors including Serotonin, Adenosine and Vanilloid.

Here, we explain the impact these other receptors have in enhancing CBD’s therapeutic effects.

Adenosine Receptor

When CBD activates the adenosine receptor, it can produce an anti-anxiety effects. The adenosine receptor provides a number of health benefits for us including improving cardiovascular function and reducing inflammation. It is also said to enhance brain health and function by regulating the production of dopamine (the happy hormone) and glutamate (the makes-us-think-clearly chemical).

Serotonin Receptor

High concentrations of CBD will activate (5-HT1A) serotonin receptors, which are found in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Once serotonin is activated, it has a positive effect on many biological and neurological conditions including anxiety, depression, pain addiction, nausea, appetite and sleep.

Vanilloid Receptor

CBD is also a stimulant of the vanilloid receptor, found in both neural and non-neural cells. Studies indicate this receptor, also called “the molecular gateway to the pain pathway,” can mediate inflammation, pain and body temperature. So, the next time your muscles are aching from a hard workout or you experience joint pain from typing away at the keyboard, you may have your vanilloid receptor to thank for lessening that pain and inflammation.

GPR55 Receptor

While CBD works its magic by activating the serotonin, adenosine and vanilloid receptors, the compound also delivers powerfully positive effects by blocking a certain receptor involved with cancer cells. CBD is said to be an antagonist of the GPR55 receptor (according to research by the University of Aberdeen), which is found in the brain. It promotes bone resorption and cancer cell proliferation (blocking cancer cells from entering healthy cells). In short, CBD can help control osteoporosis and the spread of cancer by deactivating GPR55.


  • CBD works by switching on the regulatory, balancing system in our bodies known as the Endocannabinoid System
  • CBD plays a role in mediating body temperature, pain perception and inflammation
  • High concentrations of CBD have been shown to exert antidepressant and antianxiety effects
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