How does CBD work? A short introduction

how does cbd work

How does CBD work? A short introduction

  • CBD works by influencing the body’s endocannabinoid system, a cell-signalling network found throughout the body.
  • Unlike certain other cannabinoids, CBD doesn’t bind fully to receptors and is thought to affect the body indirectly.
  • By preventing the break down of endocannabinoids, CBD helps the endocannabinoid system to maintain a balanced internal state.

As CBD continues to grow in popularity around the world, science is still making new discoveries about how this cannabinoid works in the human body. While research is still limited, clinical evidence indicates that CBD offers numerous potential health benefits and may have a positive effect on a range of conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep issues. But how does CBD work to deliver these potential benefits? Read on to find out.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of around 140 cannabinoids found in the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa).

It is the main active ingredient in hemp-derived products, such as CBD oils, CBD gummies, and CBD balms.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the controlled cannabinoid that causes a cerebral high, CBD does not intoxicate the user or cause addiction, making it safe and legal for consumption.

How does CBD work?

So, how does CBD work? CBD works by influencing the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell-signalling network of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors and enzymes found throughout the body.

The ECS regulates many important bodily processes, including sleep, mood, pain and appetite, and helps to keep the body in a healthy and balanced state (homeostasis).

To understand how CBD supports the ECS, we first need to understand the endocannabinoid system’s three main components:

1. Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids (“endogenous cannabinoids”) are molecules produced by the body. They act as chemical messengers, binding to cannabinoid receptors in order to inform the ECS when the body is out of balance (for example, when there is pain or inflammation).

The two main endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA), which affects the brain’s reward system, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which helps to regulate the circulatory system.

2. Cannabinoid (CB) Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors facilitate communication between endocannabinoids and the ECS. The two main cannabinoid receptor types are CB1 and CB2: CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system and peripheral organs.

3. Enzymes

Enzymes break down endocannabinoids once they have carried out their function. The two main enzymes involved in this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down anandamide, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down 2-AG.

How does CBD work in the ECS?

While some phytocannabinoids (“plant cannabinoids”), like CBN and THC, imitate the activity of endocannabinoids by binding directly to cannabinoid receptors in order to affect the body, scientists believe that CBD only binds weakly to cannabinoid receptors and instead affects the body indirectly.

One of the ways it does this is by occupying the site of enzymatic activity and preventing the enzyme FAAH from breaking down endocannabinoids like anandamide. By doing this, CBD indirectly increases endocannabinoid levels within the body, enabling them to continue supporting the function of the ECS, and contributing to the maintenance of a balanced and healthy internal state.

Moreover, if CBD is consumed along with traceable THC (e.g. in medical cannabis), the extended presence of anandamide and other endocannabinoids can in turn prevent THC from binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and producing a ‘high’. In this way, CBD may also indirectly counteract the intoxicating effects of THC.

What are the effects of CBD?

As mentioned above, CBD has been shown to offer many potential health benefits. For a detailed exploration of these benefits, check out our dedicated blog article: What are the effects of CBD oil?


So, in answer to the question on the lips of many scientists, “How does CBD work?”, the evidence we have garnered so far suggests that CBD works indirectly by supporting the function of the endocannabinoid system. However, this evidence is still limited, and more research is needed to fully understand how CBD affects the body.


Disclaimer: There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of CBD in the condition(s) mentioned above and this text by no means reflects recommended uses. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication or are thinking of using CBD for your condition.

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