Your Brain on CBD: Neurogenesis and Brain Growth!

Neurogenesis in hippocampus

© Sebastian Kaulitzki – Fotolia.com

We rightfully mourn the loss of brain cells, neurons, as we age. As they die we lose memories and capabilities – even our personalities. We are only as robust as our brains, composed mainly of neurons. Formerly, it was thought the as adults we already have all the brain cells we will ever have, and the path was only downward as we lose neurons to stress, alcohol and aging. Happily, this bleak picture was changed when neuroscientists discovered that, under certain conditions, even adult brains can grow new neurons, neurogenesis. New neurons refresh and rejuvenate, and lift mood.

The principal area where neurogenesis can take place is in the hippocampus, a dual area deep within the brain. Although small, hippocampal health appears important to memory and brain organization. It can be damaged. Excess alcohol and many drugs can cause it to lose neurons and shrink, resulting in fading memories and depression.

On the other hand, several conditions seem to spur brain growth. Physical exercise is one: rigorous physical activity spurs the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, most probably providing a rejuvenating effect and boosting memory. Physical activity is crucial in keeping old brains young. Your hippocampal health is one of dozens of great reasons to exercise every day of your life.

Certain anti-depressant drugs are also associated with neurogenesis.  Indeed, it is now thought that the depression relieving effects of SRIs- serotonin reuptake inhibitors – might have more to do with neurogenesis than increasing serotonin levels. Some now believe that the depression lifting effects of these drugs are due to new, young brain cells refreshing the hippocampus.

In 1995 it was reported that cannabinoids, too, can spur neurogenesis. Cannabinoids are molecules from three different sources: 1) Our body produces endocannabinoids that activate our endocannabinoid regulatory systems, pricipally anandamide and 2-AG. 2) Phytocannabinoids come from the plant Cannabis Sativa, AKA marijuana. THC is the best known and produces the psychoactive and some of the medicinal effects of cannabis.  3) Cannabinoids can also be synthesized in the lab.

A Canadian research group reported that Cannabinoids promote embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis and produce anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects. This research used a synthetic cannabinoid to activate the same CB1 receptors activated by the plant cannabinoid THC. They attributed the anxiety-relieving and depression-lifting effects of long-term treatment were “likely via promotion of hippocampal neurogenesis.”

Another new study has shown that the cannabinoid CBD from cannabis also promotes neurogenesis. Researchers from the Complutense University in Madrid, along with Brazilian researchers found that CBD relieved stress in mice and it did so by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus. They concluded, the “anxiolytic effect of cannabidiol on chronically stressed mice depends on hippocampal neurogenesis: involvement of the endocannabinoid system.”

CBD, Cannabidiol is an exceedingly interesting molecule, brimming with beneficial health effects. It is one of over 60 cannabinoids produced by the hemp plant Cannabis Sativa. Unlike the better known THC, CBD is not psychoactive, although it may modulate the effects of THC. Both cannabinoid molecules interact, in different ways, with our cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. The medical potential of CBD has been inadequately studied because of the idiotic illegality of Cannabis Sativa. Even so, the known health effects are impressive: Like THC, CBD is an antioxidant with neuroprotective properties. Like THC, CBD is anti-inflammatory. It relieves pain.  CBD appears to have anti-tumor properties.

So on top of all these medical benefits, CBD may well contribute to neurogenesis, brain rejuvenation and growth! What’s not to like? Well, the DEA does not like these medical benefits and does not allow research on them because it likes the draconian Schedule I – no medical benefits – of cannabis to extend the lucrative war on drugs. This bureaucratic turf battle keeps the DEA in the dough but denies Americans the health-giving, even life-saving benefits of medical cannabis, even non-psychoactive CBD-dominant strains.

Americans should demand access to natural plant molecules such as CBD, along with THC, THCV and dozens of other medical cannabinoids. CBD and these other cannabinoids can help prevent many maladies, can treat dozens of diseases and can provide palliative comfort to the rest.  Along with refreshing and growing our very brains with neurogenesis. If Americans gain their medical freedom with a down-grading of cannabis from ridiculous Schedule I tyranny, the planet’s other six billion people would also gain greater access. Study of this remarkable  plant cannabinoid would blossom world-wide as anti-cannabis doctrine crumbles in the face of huge medical and health benefits.

Copyright © 2013 Don Fitch

Bliss out (and pump up) your brain with exercise.

Just as doing push-ups pumps up the size of your triceps, so does aerobic exercise appear to increase the volume of your brain! American researchers reporting in the British Journal of Sports Medicine show that physical exercise, especially aerobic activity, improves the functioning and structure of the brains of older people.

Improvements in brain size, with increased volumes of grey and white matter, and better brain function were found in both those with and without dementia. The so called functions of “executive control,” that help us carry on our lives planning, remembering and changing tasks are those first attacked by dementia. But study co-author Art Kramer of the University of Illinois notes that these functions are those most helped with exercise. Dementia is not only forestalled, but in some ways actually reversed with 6 months of aerobic activity. Brains benefiting from the exercise exertions of their owners maintained plasticity, essentially the capabilities to continue growing, developing and learning.

Although huge rewards accrue to both brain and body from simply walking, these researchers point out the increased benefit from more rigorous aerobic activities, such as jogging, that cause increases in heart rate and rate of breathing. So by all means walk your 10,000 steps a day, at least 5 miles, but also pick up the pace for some of those steps.  Jogging one of those five miles and moving your heart rate up into your age-appropriate training zone will yield great benefits, toning your body and growing your brain. Professor Kramer summarized, “We can safely argue that an active lifestyle with moderate amounts of aerobic activity will likely improve cognitive and brain function, and reverse the neural decay frequently observed in older adults.”

If you bliss out your brain with exercise, there is now good evidence your brain will return the favor. “Runner’s high,” is a flowing, blissful, pain-free experience associated with aerobic exercise. Formerly, the enjoyable mental and physical state was associated solely with endorphins, the body’s natural opiates. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system and endogenous cannabinoids produced by our own bodies, such as anandamide and 2-AG, this explanation is taking a new turn. After you begin exercising, your level of natural bliss cannabinoid anandamide elevates, and more of these bliss molecules float in your bloodstream, ready to jump the blood-brain barrier and activate CB1receptors on your nerve cells. The result is pain reduction and mood elevation.  So, in addition to endorphins, endocannabinoids such as anandamide reward you for your exercise efforts.

Better adaptive functioning and increased brain volumes are, at least in part, due to neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells. Both exercise and cannabinoids promote neurogenesis. So, to gain huge health rewards, second-by-second, year-by-year, for your entire life, bliss out your brain with exercise. Walk every day, run some too, lift some weights, and every cell in your brain and body benefits.