Cannabis sativa. Rarely has a botanical had such a controversial reputation. Once the drug of choice for a generation, researchers are now looking into the medicinal potential of the herb’s other phytocompounds. But, while a growing number of states are legalizing the controlled use of marijuana, helping its dubious status go up in smoke, there’s still a lot of confusion over the herb’s use.
Clearing the Air
Marijuana has been a part of herbal medicine for centuries, used for both its mental and its physical effects. Today, scientists have identified more than 100 biologically active components in the plant known as cannabinoids. The two best known and most studied components are the chemicals delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD). But, while both THC and CBD come from the same plant, they have very different actions.
THC is the compound responsible for the mind-altering “high” users get when they smoke the leaves and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant or eat something made with a THC-infused oil or butter. Growers have spent years selectively breeding and enhancing various strains to contain high amounts of psychoactive THC.
CBD and other non-psychoactive phytocompounds on the other hand, come from the stalks and seeds of a type of cannabis often referred to as “hemp” rather than “marijuana.” These compounds will not alter your consciousness, but a growing body of research shows that they can improve your health. According to a study in The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, CBD is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-seizure, anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic compound. These are powerful actions that can have a healing impact on a number of conditions. And that’s just one of the full spectrum of phytonutrients from the plant that are just beginning to be recognized for their benefits.
The Endocannabinoid System
The reason these phytocannabinoids work is because our bodies contain a unique biological system called the endocannabinoid system that helps regulate homeostasis. In other words, it helps keep cells in balance.
Cannabinoid receptors sit on the surface of many cells throughout the body. They monitor information about what’s happening outside of the cell and transmit any changes to the inside of the cell so that it can mount a proper response. There are two major cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 are abundant in the brain and are the receptors that primarily interact with THC. CB2 are abundant throughout the body in places like the immune system and interact with CBD.
While THC, CBD, and other hemp cannabinoids act on these receptors, the body also produces specific fat-like molecules called endocannabinoids that bind to and activate CB1 and CB2 as well. When the need for these molecules is over, specific enzymes swoop in and destroy any remaining endocannabinoids. These enzymes make sure endocannabinoids are used when they are needed, but don’t linger beyond the scope of their job. As a result, cells regain their homeostasis.
This cellular regulation is important to all major body systems. For instance, while inflammation is critical to the healing process, it’s important that the inflammatory response is limited in scope, too. When inflammation persists, it can lead to chronic conditions and ongoing pain. A healthy endocannabinoid system limits the immune system’s inflammatory response. However, there are times when the body’s own endocannabinoid system needs additional support and an extra boost. That’s when plant-based cannabinoids from hemp oil can help.
The Many Uses of CBD and Hemp Compounds
Because CBD and other hemp phytonutrients work in so many different ways, they have a profound impact on the human body. Each new study reveals more exciting findings:
Powerful Pain Relief. Preliminary research in the Journal of Experimental Medicine offers credible evidence to back up what many people have already discovered—that this non-psychoactive component of hemp offers real pain relief when taken orally thanks to its strong ability to check inflammation. A study in the European Journal of Pain suggests that a topically-applied CBD gel eased osteoarthritis pain. After just four days, the researchers noted a distinct drop in inflammation and also in the signs of pain—without any side effects. Research also shows that oral use of CBD can manage rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Those with fibromyalgia may also find relief. A 2011 study that evaluated 56 patients found that those using CBD experienced far less pain and stiffness than those using traditional pharmaceuticals to manage the condition. They also reported a better quality of life than those using conventional methods.
Eases Anxiety. Unlike THC, which can actually trigger anxiety and paranoia in some people, CBD is well known for its ability to reduce anxiety. When Brazilian scientists tracked the results of a group of public speakers suffering from social phobia, those given CBD prior to speaking had less anxiety and discomfort than those who didn’t take the hemp phytocompound. But CBD isn’t just good for those random anxious moments we all experience. A review in Neurotherapeutics concluded that CBD may be an effective treatment for those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Soothes Sleeplessness. Hemp oil holds promise for those suffering from occasional insomnia. Early findings suggest that CBD modulates serotonin and may benefit people with obstructive sleep apnea. Other studies are investigating the compound’s promise for REM sleep behavior disorder. Japanese researchers have concluded that, thanks to its anxiety soothing action, CBD can help block the apprehension that can prevent restorative REM sleep.
Improves Epilepsy. While seizure disorders only affect about one in every 26 Americans, it’s one of the most studied uses for CBD. Research shows that hemp oil reduces inflammation in the brain and modulates calcium levels that play a role in cellular excitability. A recent review in the journal Neurotherapeutics noted that the compound provides a safe, well-tolerated therapeutic treatment for seizures and may be promising for those patients that don’t respond to conventional treatment. Since the current drugs used to treat epilepsy consist of anti-convulsants and barbiturates that can become habit forming, this could be welcome news.
Research into the humble hemp plant’s potential for treating a wide range of health problems has exploded in recent years. This is especially true for the “big three” . . . Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a frustrating and frightening condition with few treatment options. Emerging research suggests that CBD may reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress that contributes to the disease. CBD was also found to help people maintain the ability to recognize friends and family in the early stages of the disease.
Phytocannabinoids may also play a role in cancer prevention. Preliminary studies show that they may halt the growth of cancer cells, promoting the death of these damaged cells in a process called apoptosis. For those undergoing cancer treatment, CBD from hemp oil may also relieve the nausea that frequently accompanies chemotherapy.
Researchers are also investigating the compound’s potential to protect against some aspects of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reported that CBD protected arteries from the damage that high blood sugar can cause. And new evidence from Oxford University suggests that it might also reduce blood pressure, even during times of stress.
These findings just scratch the surface of hemp oil’s potential. Ongoing research is taking a look at how this herbal compound can have a positive impact on Type 1 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, and even acne. But you needn’t wait for all the evidence. Whether it’s for pain, the occasional sleepless night, or a more serious condition, hemp oil phytocannabinoids provide a safe and effective way to ease symptoms and promote good health from head to toe.
The Supercritical Difference
Manufacturers use different extraction methods to get CBD and the full spectrum of cannabinoids from hemp. And this can have a huge impact on quality, absorption, and efficacy. To get all that the plant has to offer, look for a hemp oil supplement that is chemical-free and was created using supercritical CO2 extraction. This form of extraction uses liquid carbon dioxide and no solvents. Beyond that, bioavailability can be an issue. Check the label to make sure your hemp oil comes from plants that have been specially cultivated to contain the full spectrum of phytonutrients. For even more benefit, opt for a hemp oil with curcumin. Not only will this dynamic duo work synergistically to provide even more bang for your buck, the addition of curcumin enhances the absorption of phytocannabinoids so you’ll get the full complement of health benefits from each dose.