CB1 receptor

CB1 receptors are one type of cannabinoid receptor found in the body. Cannabinoids like THC interact with these receptors to induce some of the subjective and therapeutic effects associated with cannabis. CB1 receptors, to which THC binds readily, are heavily abundant in the brain, which is why you experience a high when consuming cannabis with THC. Natural chemicals produced by the body, like anandamide and 2-AG, also activate CB1 receptors.

“Thanks to my CB1 receptors, this Banana Kush got me way too high.”

What are CB1 receptors?

CB1 receptors make up one piece of a biological system called the endocannabinoid system, the primary function of which is to keep our bodies operating in balance—or, more technically, to maintain homeostasis. These CB1 receptors, which are abundant in the brain, help regulate communication between cells in service of homeostasis. 

CB1 receptors and the compounds that bind to them can be visualized through the analogy of a lock and key: Receptors are like a lock into which only certain keys fit; THC is an example of a key that fits with this lock. Once a THC molecule meets a CB1 receptor, it activates the receptor, allowing the consumer to experience the effects of THC. Without cannabinoid receptors, cannabis could not evoke many of its hallmark effects in the body.

What do CB1 receptors do?

Cannabis compounds like THC bind to CB1 receptors and activate them, which allows us to experience some of the signature effects of cannabis such as euphoria. CB1 activation or inhibition as it relates to neuron signaling is associated with a variety of other effects as well, including sensory feelings, pain, memory and mood function, and sleep and appetite regulation.

Cannabinoids from cannabis are not the only compounds that interact with CB1 receptors—a naturally occurring chemical called anandamide also binds to CB1 receptors. If you’ve ever gone for a rigorous run, you will recognize the feeling of anandamide binding to CB1 receptors in a phenomenon known as a “runner’s high.” Another cannabinoid produced in the body called 2-AG also binds to CB1 receptors.

Repeated and frequent activation of CB1 receptors causes a decrease in their expression, better known as developing a tolerance. This is why we tend to feel the effects of cannabis less intensely over time with frequent use.

How do CBD and THC affect CB1 receptors?

THC, the most common cannabinoid in cannabis and primary courier of its euphoric effects, readily activates CB1 receptors. This pairing, which occurs in the brain and throughout the central nervous system, explains why high-THC cannabis changes our state of mind and sensory experience so profoundly. 

CBD interacts with CB1 receptors by blocking the receptor site, which changes the way THC interacts with it. This is why some recommend taking CBD with THC if you are sensitive to the latter’s effects.

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