CBD and THC are the two most well-known compounds found in the cannabis plant, of which there are over a hundred. We have an entire network of receptors in our bodies that interact with these compounds in various ways. In the case of CBD and THC, the resulting effects are dramatically different.

Kenneth Pettine, who has served as an Orthopedic Consultant to the FDA and authored more than 30 research publications, says that these receptors are found throughout the body and affect a wide range of physiological functions, including memory, pain reception, appetite, and inflammation. 

This large network of receptors is part of the sprawling endocannabinoid system (ECS), which wasn’t discovered until the 1990’s. It’s since been confirmed that all vertebrates and invertebrates have this system, which is why THC and CBD also appear to have similar effects on animals as they do on us. 

The Effects of THC and How it Works

In the case of THC, it binds to the CB1 receptors that are found throughout the body, but which are most heavily concentrated in the brain and central nervous system. THC is able to bind to these receptors due to its similarity to a cannabinoid compound and neurotransmitter that we naturally produce called anandamide.

The brain regions where these receptors flourish are the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and hippocampus. These regions are responsible for everything from our memory and problem-solving ability to our coordination. 

When THC hits these regions of the brain, it temporarily overwhelms the naturally occurring neurotransmitters that make use of those receptors, leading to a cascade of effects. One of those neurotransmitters is GABA, which regulates dopamine production and produces an anti-anxiety effect. THC inhibits the release of GABA from the striatum, which in turn leads to dopamine neurons release more dopamine. 

The result is a person that is happier from the abundance of dopamine flooding their brain, but that at the same time feels an increased level of anxiety because of the dearth of GABA, which are THC’s two most commonly cited effects.

How CBD Works to Promote Pain Relief

Of the two compounds, Kenneth Pettine is far more interested in the latter, which he says could be the key to unlocking the vast healing potential of the endocannabinoid system.

It isn’t yet fully understood how CBD interacts with the ECS. It doesn’t bind to the CB1 receptors like THC or the CB2 receptors like CBN does. Rather, CBD seems to have an indirect effect on the CB2 receptors, possibly by signaling for the body to use its own cannabinoids on them.

The CB2 receptors are most commonly located in the immune system and affect inflammation and pain, and unsurprisingly, CBD has been shown to reduce the occurrence of both. It also has the effect of counteracting some of the deleterious effects of THC when taken together with that compound, including reducing the amount of anxiety and cognitive impairment caused by THC.

Given its anti-inflammatory effects, CBD is being studied for a number of inflammatory conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and acne. Some of the early data shows promise, though more rigorous study needs to be conducted. CBD is also showing potential as an anti-anxiety treatment, as well as for being a panacea for various psychiatric disorders.

Kenneth Pettine notes that CBD is now being sold in various standalone forms where recreational marijuana is legal, such as tinctures, oils, patches, and edibles, making it easy to benefit from its many positive effects without the THC high.