Every living creature hosts a lifetime war between the “good” antioxidants and the “bad” free radicals. Over the last 20 years, this war was often under the media spotlight. Consequently, the general public became concerned and tried to increase our collective fruit and veggie intake. Free radicals are bad for our health—that’s what we all understood—and unfortunately, they are going to win the war, sooner or later. In this article, we take a look at the battle between free radicals and antioxidants that constantly dwell inside our body, examining if, according to research, CBD and other cannabinoids might be our allies.

FREE RADICALS ARE PART OF OUR METABOLISM

Humans need to convert food into energy to survive. When our metabolic processes create energy, they also generate waste products. Some of them are molecules of some biochemical compound containing an unpaired electron, namely, free radicals. Free radicals in our body are also generated from external factors, such as stress and toxins, be they inhaled, ingested, injected, or absorbed by the skin.

The unpaired electron in the free radical corrupted molecule attracts another electron from a healthy molecule, triggering a chain reaction that leaves us with a bunch of deteriorated molecules. Since these molecules are part of our cellular tissue, in all its differentiations, the result of this process is having one or more organs or body parts slowly “ageing” or even quickly getting sick.

Too many free radicals in the body, for any reason, can trigger minor diseases and severe conditions as well, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. On the other hand, we all know through advertising that our natural and “harmless” skin ageing is mainly caused by free radicals. Brain cells use a significant amount of energy to do their job. That creates free radicals and oxidative damage at a neuronal level, leading to age-related decline.

Formation of Free Radicals

THE NEED FOR ANTIOXIDANTS

An antioxidant is a natural substance that inhibits oxidation, the chemical reaction that produces the free radicals damaging the cells. We are able to produce our own antioxidants up to a certain level, yet not enough to neutralise all of the harmful effects of external factors like pollution, junk food, smoke, and many more. That’s why it’s important to harness a lot of antioxidants from food, even if it is hard to tell how much we actually need during every stage of life. Antioxidants are an important part of any diet for maintaining good health and proper function since it’s proven that the damage to “oxidised” cells leads to illness and chronic disease.

Antioxidants give out electrons to lonely electrons in free radicals, thus creating a pair that stabilises the molecule and prevents the chain reaction effect made by stolen electrons from other molecules that degrade cellular functionality. Antioxidants are substances like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vitamin E, glutathione, lipoic acid, uric acid, carotenes, and coenzyme Q10.

Our diet should always be based on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables that help reduce inflammation and cellular damage. Whole plants and fruits are much more effective than extracts or synthesised molecules, in the same way whole-plant derivatives from cannabis seem to work better than isolated cannabinoids.

HOW CBD COMES INTO PLAY

The results of several lab studies support CBD as a potential antioxidant and neuroprotective compound[1]. This action is proposed to take place by triggering cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Back in 1998, a study by the National Institutes of Mental Health[2], and the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, USA, demonstrated the neuroprotective and antioxidant potential of CBD and THC.

Cortical neuron cultures of rats were exposed to toxic levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Previous studies[3] demonstrated that glutamate toxicity may be prevented by antioxidants. In this study, CBD and THC were shown to prevent hydroperoxide-induced oxidative damage just as well as, or better than, other antioxidants. The data suggested that cannabidiol may be a potential agent in the future treatment of oxidative neurological disorders, such as cerebral ischaemia.

In 2000, the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a follow-up study[4] named “Neuroprotective antioxidants from marijuana”. The research demonstrated that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids acted as antioxidants in neuronal cultures by reducing hydroperoxide toxicity in neurons. Cannabidiol was superior to both alpha-tocopherol and ascorbate in protective capacity.

Oxidative Stress

In 2007, a study[5] by the Department of Human Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Rome, and the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Pharmacology at the University of Naples, Italy, confirmed previous in-vitro results with a living model, pointing to CBD as a promising pharmacological tool capable of attenuating neural inflammatory responses.

IS CBD THE NEXT ANTIOXIDANT AND NEUROPROTECTIVE?

Research is very promising, but it’s still stuck in the preclinical stages. Despite what lab studies suggest, there is no clinical evidence to suggest CBD or other cannabinoids as a pharmacological treatment for severe conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

Based on the studies outlined above, cannabinoids may have the potential to fight free radicals, and it appears that most of them produce some sort of antioxidant or protective effect. While we wait for research to deliver conclusive results, the diversity of cannabinoids means they can be found in oils, capsules, edibles, and topicals, broadening their potential. We can only hope the encouraging results uncovered so far are supported by comprehensive human trials in the future.

External Resources:
  1. Cannabidiol as an Emergent Therapeutic Strategy for Lessening the Impact of Inflammation on Oxidative Stress https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. Cannabidiol and (−)Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  3. Glutamate neurotoxicity in cortical cell culture https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org
  4. Neuroprotective antioxidants from marijuana - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  5. Cannabidiol in vivo blunts beta-amyloid induced neuroinflammation by suppressing IL-1beta and iNOS expression - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
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This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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