How Does CBD Oil Work

Just a quick disclaimer; we don’t make health claims about CBD, we just share the research. You'll always find references to scientific literature to substantiate what we share. This is for informational use only. Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your healthcare regimen. 

Although a lot of people swear by CBD, its not a miracle drug or cure. Its different for everyone. CBD’s use and applications, although widespread can be very nuanced and highly dependent on your genetic and biochemical make-up.

The reason you may have heard that your colleagues, your friends, or even your mum is using CBD is because it works in a plethora of potentially useful ways.

CBD is whats known as a pleiotropic molecule - it can have many different effects in the body all at once. One way it does this is by tapping into a system that is at the very core of how the human body functions.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Your body already runs on its own cannabinoids, like CBD. It produces them naturally, and they are used as messengers across the entire body. These messengers are what co-ordinate the many different systems of the body, so that they are all in sync.

Think of how a conductor leads all the individual instruments of an orchestra to play in synchronous harmony. Thats basically what your ECS does, and it uses its own cannabinoids (messengers) to do it.

These messengers are called Endocannabinoids, and they deliver their messages by activating specific (cannabinoid) receptors in the body. Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) are found far and wide throughout the body, across almost all of its systems. This is how the messages are translated into changes in biological function in the body.

The ECS co-ordinates the:

  • Nervous system
  • Immune System
  • Metabolic system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Reproductive system
  • Hormonal system

If one instrument (system) starts to play out of tune, the ECS syncs it back up with the rest to restore the beautiful harmony that is optimal health.

The Endocannabinoid System

Image source: Battista, Di Tommaso, Bari and Maccarrone. 2012. 

CBD Oil Effects

The (endo)cannabinoids that each and every one of us naturally make are crazily similar to the (phyto)cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. That means they can mimic the effects of our natural (endo)cannabinoids when it comes to passing on messages to receptors.

Our two main endocannabinoids are called Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), and as you can see below, (phyto)cannabinoids from cannabis can act in similar ways to (endo)cannabinoids.

CBD and Endocannabinoids

Images source: Henrike Horn, Beatrice Böhme, Laura Dietrich and Marco Koch. 2018. 

CBD is one of many (phyto)cannabinoids. Its job is to support the ECS by revving its activity up, or by dampening its activity down. It can do this differently for each person, depending on whether their ECS needs to be tuned up or down. CBD adapts to what you need specifically, and is whats known as an Adaptogen.

  1. CBD revs the ECS up by increasing the levels of the bodies main endocannabinoid, Anandamide.
  2. CBD dampens the ECS by making it harder for endocannabinoids to activate CB1 and CB2 receptors (1).

CBD can be really useful when someones ECS is either working sluggishly, or when its working on overdrive. It can help bring it back into a sweet spot - the goldilocks zone of biological function.

When our ECS is working in the goldilocks zone, we are happy, fit, healthy, vibrant and energetic. However, recent research has discovered that an ECS thats either sluggish or hyperactive is associated with disease.   

A Review recently pooled studies that have examined Endocannabinoid Systems in people with numerous chronic diseases (2), and found their systems were hyperactive in:

  • Arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinsons
  • Stroke
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Anorexia
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hypertension
  • Myocardial Infarction
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

Conversely, Endocannabinoid Systems may be sluggish in:

Researchers aren’t yet sure whether the ECS is driving the progression of these diseases, or whether its trying to protect against them by revving up or dampening down. Nonetheless, what does seem to be obvious is that CBD is helping people with many different conditions, so there’s good reason to believe that it may be bringing their ECS back into equilibrium.

This ties in nicely to our next point.

CBD & Biochemical Individuality

Everyones genetic and biochemical makeup is unique, in the same way fingerprints are. This includes the way your own ECS works, which is unique to you. 

This is part of the reason that some drugs, herbs and CBD can have variable effects between you, me and the next person.

CBD works in a way which is specific to you. If your ECS is overactive, it may calm it down a little. If its under-active, it may perk it up a little. Your ECS activity will vary both genetically, and in response to your lifestyle and the environment. Its activity is always changing in response to these influences, in an effort to keep you healthy.

Because we all have a different ECS, we all require different strengths, types and mixtures of CBD. At this stage the easiest way to find out whats best for you is to have a play around and see what works best for you. Start with getting your dose right

CBD Effects (Outside the ECS)

CBD doesn’t just work on the ECS, but on many other pathways and receptors outside of it. This is also the reason why its able to do so many things to support our health at the same time.

CBD Pharmacology

Image source: Gerhard Nahler, Trevor M Jones and Ethan B Russo. 2019


  • GABA receptors - regulates pain, anxiety, sleep and muscle relaxation (4)
  • Glycine receptors - regulates pain (5)
  • Opioid receptors - regulates pain, reward and addiction (6)
  • Adenosine receptors - regulates anxiety, inflammation and cardiovascular function (7)
  • Serotonin receptors - regulates mood and anxiety (8)
  • PPAR receptors - regulate metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation (8)
  • TRP receptors - regulate pain, blood pressure and mood (8)
  • GPR receptors - regulate cell growth and destruction, pain and inflammation (9)
  • Dampens pro-inflammatory enzymes (10)
  • Controls the activity of (CYP) enzymes in the liver - regulates detoxification and drug metabolism (11)
  • Increases antioxidant enzymes in the body (12)