CBD, the endocannabinoid system and memory

Collectively termed “cannabinoids,” the constituents of the cannabis plant have been known to exert mind-altering effects on humans. Crude extracts of this plant used in managing different disease conditions in humans based on anecdotal evidence were not definitely characterized until the advent of modern research into the plant. Research inquiries focused on the cannabis plant have identified two major cannabinoids 9-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Further research studies revealed that THC is chiefly responsible for the mind-altering effect of cannabis, with CBD considered to have beneficial health effects in humans.

Both compounds exert their effects on humans by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system—an intricate network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors traversing the whole of the human biological system with primary functions in nerve transmissions, memory formation, homeostasis, cellular communication, appetite regulation, and metabolism. The endocannabinoid system is chiefly responsible for the production and deactivation of endocannabinoids—lipid mediators that activate the cannabinoid receptors. Interest in the cognitive functions of endocannabinoids was triggered by the observation that cannabinoid receptors are distributed widely in the different areas of the central nervous system, including the frontal cortex, basal ganglia, cerebellum, hippocampus, ventral striatum, and glial elements.

In 2010, the Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry published a report of one of the early modern studies focused on examining the relationship between cannabinoids and brain memory function in adolescent boys. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging study with a cross-sectional design, the researchers confirmed that regions of the brain are vulnerable to cannabinoid biochemical effects. Currently, funded research inquiries are aimed at investigating the influence of cannabinoids in the human brain on response time, executive functioning, word viewing time, residual verbal memory, and oculomotor functioning. 


Effects of CBD on brain and memory function

  • Neuroprotective effects

The early trials focused on discovering the potential benefits of CBD in humans was centered on its use in the management of the chronic neurodegenerative disease. Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and lipid peroxidation. Basically, these toxic metabolites adversely affected the cellular component of the brain and created neuronal cell damage. 

In 2004, the Journal of Neurochemistry published the report of research investigating the neuroprotective effect of cannabidiol on beta-amyloid-induced toxicity in rats. Results indicate that prior treatment of PC12 cells in rats with CBD prior to beta-amyloid peptide exposure significantly improves cell survival by decreasing ROS production and lipid peroxidation. This further strengthens the observation that CBD exerts a combination of neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic effects on the brain cells. Although the mechanism by which this cannabinoid exerts these effects are complicated. Research experts are proposing that CBD is involved in a complex signaling pathway responsible for neuroprotection. 



  • CBD is thought to improve cognition

Inquiry into the possible cognitive-enhancing effects of cannabinoids was originally fueled by the presentation of anecdotal evidence suggesting that consumption of cannabis in a small quantity results in short term improvement in cognitive skills. However, in the long run, continued consumption of cannabis was observed to cause severe impairment of the cognitive functions. Observations suggest a dose-dependent effect. With the eventual characterization and isolation of the major components of cannabis, the research investigating the cognitive effects of cannabis was centered on THC and CBD.

Although the mind-altering effect of THC has long been known, studies have proved that it is also responsible for the previously reported cognitive. In 2017, the result of a research study published in the Frontiers of Pharmacology provided evidence suggesting that CBD promotes neurogenesis—the growth and development of neurons. In this experimental model, CBD reverses cognitive deficit in mice injected with medications that induce acute cognitive impairment. In essence, CBD has shown potential benefits in the prevention of social recognition memory deficits in patients with conditions that cause impaired cognitive functions.


  • CBD aids in addiction recovery

Drug addicts are known to associate the persistent uncontrolled urge for a drug with previous experience. Memories of this experience include the details of the experience and the specific drug. The need for drug use is immediately triggered once an addict experiences a similar situation involving the environmental cues stored in this memory. Experts have found evidence that CBD is involved in the intricate signaling processes responsible for memory formation in the brains. Therefore, it makes logical sense to explore the effects of centrally acting drugs on this drug/memory relationship in addicts. Researchers decided to explore the potential benefits of CBD in dealing with memories related to a drug experience in addicts. 

The most detailed report on research conducted to investigate the effects of CBD on the contextual drug-associated memories in Wistar rats was published in 2016 by the Journal of Addict Biol. As contained in the report, this research was centered on reactivating mnemonic traces as an opportunity to disrupt memories contributing to the pathological cycle of addiction. The research model developed used drug-induced conditioned place preference to investigate if CBD administered immediately after reactivation sessions affect the re-consolidation of drug reward memory. The research details were complicated; however, preliminary results proved that CBD disrupts the re-consolidation of contextual drug-associated memories in Wistar rats and, as such, reduces the risk of relapse in drug addicts. Advanced research inquiries are needed before CBD can be used for reducing drug cravings in addicts. 

Different publications on the biochemical properties of natural compounds derived from plants and animals suggest that these compounds contain a reservoir of untapped benefits that can significantly improve human medicine. 



Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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