CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of over a hundred compounds called cannabinoids. They were given the name ‘cannabinoid’ because researchers identified the first cannabinoid compounds while trying to understand the properties of cannabis (marijuana and hemp). Research in the 1940s by American organic chemist Roger Adams and in the 1960s by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in Israel led to the discovery of THC (delta 9- tetrahydrocannabinol), the most well-known and best studied cannabinoid; followed by the identification of CBD (cannabidiol).
Fast forward through a few more decades of research and we now know that the body creates its own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids (endo stands for endogenous, which means originating within the body) which are created from Omega fatty acids in our diet.1 Cannabinoids are also found in plants and are called phytocannabinoids (phyto meaning ‘plant’). In addition to cannabis, phytocannabinoids are found in truffles2, echinacea, turmeric, black pepper, cacao3, flax4, liverwort, hops, and rosemary1.
In 1992 scientists identified the first of many cannabinoids made by the body and called it anandamide5. This name comes from the Sanskrit word ananda meaning ‘bliss’ plus amide which describes the chemical type. Anandamide is affectionately called the “bliss molecule.” Anandamide interacts with receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems6 and influences how we experience pain and pleasure, as well as impacting our mood and appetite.
Anandamide is synthesized when your body signals a need, however, its presence in your body is short lived. After being released, anandamide does its job and is then quickly broken down by the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase). The fleeting nature of anandamide explains why it doesn’t produce a perpetual state of bliss.7
High levels of anandamide in the body are linked to feelings of happiness and wellbeing; and its presence helps to reduce sensitivity to pain.8 You can increase your personal levels of anandamide by engaging in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Scientists speculate that the euphoric feeling of “runner’s high” is created by the release of anandamide.
Another approach to boosting your body’s anandamide level is to halt its breakdown by FAAH. The phytocannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) inhibits FAAH’s activity, thus extending anandamide’s blissful effects.9 By thwarting the effects of FAAH on anandamide, CBD can work indirectly all throughout the body to ensure anandamide does its job to manage pain, mood, appetite, stress, and sleep.10
Doctors who take the time to familiarize themselves with cannabinoids have observed that topical CBD preparations can be effective for localized painful joints and muscles. This is likely because receptors that respond to anandamide are found throughout the body and specifically in the skin, in the tissues immediately under the skin, and around joints of the hands, feet, elbows, knees, and shoulders.11
This article is a simplified discussion of how the endocannabinoid anandamide and phytocannabinoid cannabidiol interact. Further study is required, but researchers are currently looking at ways to increase the efficacy of natural anandamide produced in the body to modulate pain sensations. FAAH seems to be the only enzyme responsible for breaking down anandamide molecules12 and CBD is theorized to block FAAH’s activity and therefore nullify pain by extending anandamide’s presence in the body.
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- Smith, MD, MPH, Gregory L., CBD: What You Need to Know. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.