Medical Research

How CBD Affects the Brain

Written by Rudy Hatfield

Cannabidiolexerts its effects through numerous chemical pathways. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD is not believed to actually bind with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the brain (although it does affect them), but acts through different receptors. CBD modulates the binding of protein-coupled neurons and affects numerous neuropathways in the brain. Some of the major effects of CBD include:

  • CBD has an affinity for the serotonin 1A receptor1. This affinity to serotonin accounts for many of its medicinal properties. By modulating serotonin release CBD also affects the release of hormones such as oxytocin (which affects prosocial behaviors) and cortisol (which is released during the perception of stress). This allows CBD to influence issues with mood, sociability, and even thinking. By affecting serotonin perception by neurons in the brain, CBD can be used to treat many issues including pain, depression, nausea from chemotherapy, and severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia2.
  • CBD appears to also affect the neurotransmitter anandamide (sometimes referred to as AEA [N-arachidonoylethanolamine]). This neurotransmitter has been recently shown to be important in people that have chronic issues with depression and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. CBD appears to inhibit the breakdown and reuptake of AEA and this has led to the belief that CBD can be useful in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia through this mechanism as well as through the modulation of serotonin3. CBD’s effects on AEA may also contribute to its ability to control seizures.
  • CBD reduces blood flow in areas of the brain associated with anxiety disorders4. Thus, CBD can be used to reduce issues with anxiety and even issues with severe anxiety such as panic attacks or the anxiety associated with individuals who are diagnosed with PTSD.
  • CBD lowers the degree of excessive neuronal stimulation (excitotoxicity), which reduces seizures in individuals with epilepsy5.
  • CBD appears to reduce the oxidation stress which may be at least partially responsible for the brain damage that occurs in individuals with Alzheimer’s and even Parkinson’s disease. CBD appears to minimize oxidative stress by working through both the CB1 and CB2 receptors6.While not fully demonstrated to be preventative or curative, CBD appears to at least be helpful in treating individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • CBD binds to the TRPV1 receptors that are located in both the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord)7. These receptors are also known as the vanilloid and capsaicin receptors. They play an important role in maintaining homeostasis, perception of pain, and inflammation in their tissues. By binding to these receptors, CBD appears to have the potential to treat inflammation, pain, and even anxiety and depression.

These are just a few of the potential therapeutic effects that CBD may have through its actions in the body. There are numerous other potential benefits to the use of CBD that affect numerous other neural pathways and specific receptor sites.


  1. Saleset al.(2018). Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol is dependent on brain serotonin levels. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.
  2. Crippa et al (2018). 17.4 Possible Mechanisms Involved In The Antipsychotic Effects Of Cannabidiol (cbd). Schizophrenia Bulletin44(Suppl 1), S28.
  3. Deutsch (2016). A personal retrospective: elevating anandamide (AEA) by targeting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and the fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs). Frontiers in pharmacology7, 370.
  4. Crippa et (2011). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. Journal of Psychopharmacology25(1), 121-130.
  5. Devinsky et al (2014). Cannabidiol: pharmacology and potential therapeutic role in epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Epilepsia55(6), 791-802.
  6. Campbell&Gowran(2007). Alzheimer’s disease; taking the edge off with cannabinoids?. British journal of pharmacology152(5), 655-662.
  7. Iannotti et al (2014). Nonpsychotropic plant cannabinoids, cannabidivarin (CBDV) and cannabidiol (CBD), activate and desensitize transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channels in vitro: potential for the treatment of neuronal hyperexcitability. ACS chemical neuroscience5(11), 1131-1141.

About the author

Rudy Hatfield