Cannabidiol is one of the cannabinoids, the class of chemical compounds synthesized by the Cannabis plant. According to the NIH, cannabinoids interact with the brain and the body during Cannabis usage. Cannabinoids exert varying effects on the brain and the body through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS consists of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids engage cannabinoid receptor sites on neurons in a way that influences the activity of those cells and regulates many normal cellular functions. In this way, the ECS is naturally regulated in the body by endocannabinoids. However, externally introduced cannabinoids derived from Cannabis can interfere with the function of endocannabinoids and the physiological regulation of this system.
Cannabinoids affect the brain and body differently; some cannabinoids are psychoactive, allowing them can alter the brain and the body, and some are nonpsychoactive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), CBD is not psychoactive and does not induce euphoria, due to its lack of binding affinity for the Cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1) on neurons. Activation of the CB1 receptor induces euphoric effects. Psychoactive cannabinoids, such as THC, have a high binding affinity for the CB1 receptor site and activate CB1; nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD, have a low binding affinity for CB1 and do not active CB1.
NIDA further explains that although CBD cannot produce psychoactive effects by activating CB1 cannabinoid receptor sites, CBD can produce other therapeutic effects by interacting with other cannabinoid receptors and proteins. Through activation of various cannabinoid receptors and ion channels, CBD has been found to have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, anti-tumor, anti-psychotic, and anti-anxiety effects.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. Approximately 1.2% of individuals in the United States had active epilepsy in 2015. During a seizure, neurons miscommunicate and send the wrong signals, causing involuntary movements, sensations, and emotions. Often, the underlying cause of epileptic neuron miscommunication is unknown, but various potential causes include genetic disorders, stroke, brain tumors, traumatic brain injury, infections, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Different types of epilepsy are categorized based on the extent of neuron miscommunication during the seizure. Individuals with generalized epilepsy have seizures that affect neurons on both sides of the brain whereas those with focal epilepsy have seizures that affect neurons in one side of the brain. Individuals could also have both forms of epilepsy, or an unclassified form in the absence of a diagnosis.
Due to differences in types of epilepsy and co-occurring medical conditions, those with epilepsy can experience seizures of different types and severities. Seizure effects may include involuntary body movements, impaired consciousness, and intense changes in physical or emotional feelings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that all seizures may reduce the quality of life in those with epilepsy. Physically, the involuntary body movements occurring during seizures can result in injury or death. Psychologically, the toll of recurring seizures can cause feelings of depression and anxiety.
While no cure exists for epilepsy, antiepileptic medications exist to reduce the frequency and severity of epilepsy-induced seizures. Around 70% of patients with epilepsy will gain more control over their seizures with medication, but 30% will not adequately respond to traditional medication. In response, researchers have considered administering CBD to treat seizures. Various studies of children and young adults with specific epileptic syndromes suggest that CBD can deliver a statistically significant reduction in seizure frequency. Other research suggests similar outcomes for adults, but researchers point out that more clinical studies are needed to best evaluate CBD’s therapeutic use for seizures.