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 about it and tried to increase our 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 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

Several lab studies support CBD as an antioxidant and neuroprotective chemical. The effect is supposed to take place through the triggering of the cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Back in 1998, a study by the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, USA, started showing that CBD and THC have neuroprotective and antioxidant effects.

Cortical neuron cultures of rats were exposed to toxic levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Previous studies had shown 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. These data started showing that cannabidiol may be a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of oxidative neurological disorders, such as cerebral ischaemia.

In 2000, the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a follow-up study named “Neuroprotective antioxidants from marijuana”. The research demonstrated that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids act 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 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 those previous in vitro results with a living model, pointing at CBD as a promising pharmacological tool capable of attenuating neural inflammatory responses.

The US Federal Government didn’t wait for these and other recent studies before registering its own patent on the antioxidant and neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids, while strictly deeming the cannabis plant illegal. In 2003, the US Government published a patent entitled “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”, stating that cannabinoids are useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation-associated diseases, such as ischaemic, age-related, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases. The patent also claimed that cannabinoids were found to limit neurological damage following ischaemic episodes. What the US government will eventually do with this patent is not too clear. You can leave your opinion in the comments below...

IS CBD THE NEXT ANTIOXIDANT AND NEUROPROTECTIVE?

Research is very promising, but it’s still stuck in the preclinical stages. Lab studies suggest the antioxidant agents in cannabis, such as CBD and THC, might be effective against major diseases in humans, such as stroke and trauma, or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. Unfortunately, no clinical evidence based on scientific criteria is available today, and we are far from a pharmacological treatment with CBD or other cannabinoids for these severe conditions.

Nevertheless, it is widely proven that CBD, together with all the hemp and cannabis derivatives, represents an effective broad-spectrum nutritional supplement. Many claim CBD is a more powerful antioxidant than the vitamins C and E. Based on what science has taught us so far, we can assume it actually has the potential to fight free radicals throughout our whole lifetime, and that most methods of taking cannabis derivatives might provide some antioxidant and protective effect. We can vaporise, take capsules, or apply sublingual drops of CBD oil to benefit from the antioxidant properties of cannabinoids on a systemic level, while cannabis-infused creams and balms deliver antioxidant compounds topically, deep into the skin’s layers.

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