CBD and the Brain: The Impact of Cannabidiol on Brain Health
Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Scientists are just beginning to unveil the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD). As new discoveries come to the forefront, we are learning that CBD could give your brain health a major boost, due to its ability to protect brain cells from the harms of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), stroke and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Learn about how CBD affects the brain, the neurological conditions the cannabinoid may help treat, and how to use it for maximum effect.
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How CBD Affects the Brain
Before we can understand CBD’s effects on the brain, we need to understand how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works. Your ECS plays a fundamental role in homeostasis or balance. The ECS is involved in fertility, appetite regulation, pregnancy, pre- and postnatal development, pain sensation, mood, the pleasurable effects of voluntary exercise and the formation of memory.
The ECS plays an important part in the development and plasticity of the human brain throughout a person’s lifetime, with endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) playing a very important role in protecting the brains of newborns and the maturation of the adolescent brain.
When the ECS is disrupted, or if a person’s genetics do not encode cannabinoid receptors or endocannabinoids properly, health problems occur. The ECS can be disrupted by injuries or illnesses, which can form a part of an inflammatory event (e.g. a long-term viral or bacterial infection) that can cause both short- and long- term changes to the functioning of the ECS.
Age also plays a factor in how the ECS functions, just as the brain changes over the course of one’s lifetime. Keeping the ECS “in balance” could therefore help overcome or theoretically even prevent conditions that affect the human brain as it ages.
There are several neurological and mood disorders which are linked to disruption to the ECS, and there is some good evidence suggesting that the ECS is a key modulator of sociability, emotions and cognition. Some of these conditions are genetic and can occur at any age, while others are more likely to occur as we age (although there may still be a genetic component). Some are also autoimmune conditions.
There are several studies and reports suggesting that CBD and other cannabinoids (including THC in some instances) may be useful for the treatment of neurological and mood disorders such as:
- Epilepsy, particularly childhood forms of epilepsy such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) / Stroke
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Migraine / Headache
- Chronic Pain
- Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN)
- Autoimmune Encephalitis
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CBD vs. Other Cannabinoids
CBD is not the only cannabinoid that may help people with neurological conditions. Its psychoactive counterpart, THC, has been shown to affect the brain in different ways as well, although not all of these are positive.
As a general rule, CBD works best in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). This chemical “team effort” is known as the entourage effect.
Potential Health Benefits
CBD and other cannabinoids including THC may present the following neurological health benefits:
- Help reduce neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain)
- Facilitate neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells)
- Help with excitotoxicity (damage to nerve cells caused by prolonged activation of an excitatory neurotransmitter, commonly glutamate)
- Decrease hypothermia – CBD and THC may reduce body temperature
- Calcium channel blocker, potentially lowering blood pressure
- Sodium channel blocker, potentially easing certain cardiac conditions like arrhythmia
- Fewer motor and autonomic deficits in those with spinal cord injuries
- Enhancing anandamide signaling – disruption of which is implicated in autism
Research into these possible health benefits of CBD is ongoing, and more clinical trials are necessary.
Is CBD a Nootropic?
Nootropics are drugs that improve cognitive performance, including attention span, memory and even creativity. Some researchers consider CBD to be a nootropic, but there is currently no consensus in the scientific community.
CBD could be considered a nootropic because of its potential to improve blood flow in the brain, easing anxiety and depression and potentially treating conditions that affect the memory, like Alzheimer’s and PTSD. When people feel less anxious and less depressed, they are more likely to pay attention, remember things and be creative.
Using CBD for Brain Health
Effectively using CBD for brain health means pinpointing the best product, dosage and treatment duration for you.
Many CBD products may offer brain benefits, but we cannot say this for sure as there is little research to evaluate their efficacy. You can choose from CBD topicals, CBD edibles, sublingual CBD tinctures and smokable CBD products. Some CBD products may be better for treating insomnia (especially products containing higher amounts of myrcene and linalool), while others are designed to help people with anxiety and depression (where terpenes like limonene may be more helpful).
Dosing CBD is very much a customized process and depends on your personal needs and treatment goals. Beginner CBD consumers may start with as low as 5 milligrams (mg) of CBD per day, while more experienced consumers may take up to 100 mg per day, or potentially even more. Tweaking CBD dosages is common and the amount of CBD that feels good today may change in the near future.
It is also worth remembering that CBD has different effects at different dosages (i.e. it has biphasic effects). Lower doses (under 15 mg) of CBD may have more stimulating effects, whereas higher doses may have more sedative effects. Again, the effect CBD has and at what dose is very much individual, so take this as a rough guide. Check out our guide to dosing for more information.
One study found extended CBD use (twice daily for 10 weeks) to be beneficial. The researchers determined that, “Prolonged CBD treatment appears to have promising effects for improving psychological symptoms and cognition in regular cannabis users.”
Speak with your doctor about CBD dosing guidelines of how often and for what duration would be best for you personally.
The Bottom Line: CBD’s Impact on Brain Health
CBD appears to have numerous potential benefits for brain health. Improving focus, relieving anxiety, and reducing inflammation are just a few ways that the cannabinoid could strengthen your brain.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does CBD oil relieve brain fog?
Some people report feeling more clear-headed when using CBD, while others may feel mellow or even fatigued. Your reaction to CBD depends on many factors, including your experience level with the cannabinoid, your body weight and body chemistry.
Can CBD heal the brain?
Research has shown that CBD may have neuroprotective properties, which means that the cannabinoid could indeed heal the brain. Notably, CBD may encourage the growth of new brain cells and reduce brain inflammation in some people.
What does CBD oil do to the brain?
For many people, CBD oil leads to a feeling of relaxation, while for others the cannabinoid lends an energy burst. CBD oil and other CBD products may also enhance the brain health of people with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.