Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 19, 2023

CBD is the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid in the marijuana plant that’s becoming very well-known for its beneficial effects on the body. As the marijuana industry is expanding and more states start to legalize and decriminalize cannabis, CBD products, such as CBD oil, garner a great deal of attention.

This is one of the reasons why people are getting increasingly interested in the effects of CBD and how it works within the human body. Scientists now know a lot more about CBD compared to a few years ago, and this knowledge has contributed to the recognition of CBD as a compound that can aid wellness and even treat some conditions like anxiety and epilepsy.

Below, we’ll talk about CBD and how it works in the body to deliver its health benefits.

All About the Endocannabinoid System

Before we talk all about CBD and its effects on the body, we need to talk about the body’s own endocannabinoid system first.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological network of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes responsible for creating and degrading the endocannabinoids. These components are located throughout the body and they communicate and work together to maintain the homeostasis of the body. (HC & Mackie, 2016)

In other words, they help to regulate the internal environment in the body and restore balance in response to outside stressors and changes. The ECS plays a part in many crucial processes in the body, including immune and anti-inflammatory response, mood regulation, memory, appetite, stress, and sleep.

The existence of the ECS has been in the shadows up until the early 1990s when scientists discovered it almost by accident, while they were studying THC. This discovery is significant because it revealed the importance of the ECS and propelled further research.

How Does the ECS Work?

Whenever there is a stressor perceived by the body, the ECS becomes active and specific enzymes start producing specific endocannabinoids that function as neurotransmitters. The two major and most studied endocannabinoids are called anandamide and 2-AG.

These endocannabinoids then start attaching to different types of cannabinoid receptors and start transmitting information to aid the body in restoring balance. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2, and they’re located in different areas of the body.

The CB1 receptors are primarily found in the central nervous system and have a part in regulating mood and memory, coordination, pain, appetite, etc. The CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system and the immune system, and they participate in the anti-inflammatory response of the body.

Once balance is restored, the enzymes start to break down the endocannabinoids to prevent them from sending more signals. That said, the enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) breaks down anandamide, while the enzyme monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) degrades the endocannabinoid 2-AG.

And with this, the process of restoring homeostasis in the body is completed.

Here’s How CBD Works

Now, let’s move on to how CBD works with the endocannabinoid system.

The cannabinoids in weed are known to bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the body. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound with the mind-altering effects, fully binds to the CB1 receptors and partially to the CB2 receptors, and stimulates their response. This is how it makes you high.

CBD (cannabidiol), on the other hand, doesn’t bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the same way that THC does, but it influences them indirectly. More precisely, CBD prevents the breakdown of the endocannabinoids that the body produces by inhibiting the enzymes that destroy them.

It also changes the shape of the CB1 receptors and prevents THC from attaching to them fully and causing side effects – this is why balanced strains cause less anxiety and paranoia.

Additionally, CBD binds to other non-cannabinoid receptors as well. It activates the 5hT serotonin receptor which is linked to its antipsychotic effects, and indirectly encourages the release of dopamine. It also modifies the TRPV1 receptor in the body that’s linked to pain and inflammation.

CBD Oil Could Help Treat Some Medical Conditions

CBD oil is currently the most used and well-known CBD product. It’s extracted out of the industrial hemp plant, a variety of the Cannabis sativa strain, because this type of cannabis plant is naturally very high in CBD and low in THC.

It has not been certified by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yet. However, so far there has been one FDA-approved medical-grade CBD that’s used to treat two severe forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

As a supplement, CBD oil can:

  • Relieve chronic pain;
  • Help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression;
  • Reduce the symptoms of eczema;
  • Increase appetite;
  • Help with sleep problems;
  • As per some animal studies, it has potential neuroprotective effects against Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Some studies have shown that it could reduce high blood pressure.

CBD oil is usually very well tolerated by most people and side effects can only happen at very large doses or if there is an increased sensitivity to CBD. Possible side effects are nausea, changes in appetite, and diarrhea. You should also know that CBD may react with some medication that you’re taking, therefore, you should always consult with a medical professional for safety reasons.

Bottom Line

The popularity of CBD has been steadily rising ever since its health effects have reached a wider audience. The information that we have now regarding how CBD works with the body’s own endocannabinoid system only illuminates its potential as a valuable supplement. There is still a lot left to discover, but for now, let’s stay curious.

Additional Sources

De Laurentiis A, Araujo HA, Rettori V. Role of the endocannabinoid system in the neuroendocrine responses to inflammation. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(29):4697-706. doi: 10.2174/1381612820666140130212957. PMID: 24588819.

Lu HC, Mackie K. An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. Biol Psychiatry. 2016;79(7):516-525. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.07.028

Mackie K. Cannabinoid receptors: where they are and what they do. J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May;20 Suppl 1:10-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01671.x. PMID: 18426493.

National Center for Biotechnology Information (2020). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 644019, Cannabidiol. Retrieved December 28, 2020 from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Cannabidiol.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.