cbd and gaba

How Does CBD Affect Neurotransmitters?

    3 minute read

Cannabis and CBD: What’s the Difference?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are both compounds found in Cannabis plants that bind to cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid CB1 G-protein coupled [TT1] receptors are among the most common Gai-protein receptors found in the brain. Cannabis is well known for a variety of medicinal and recreational uses. The THC compound is most associated with psychoactive effects and is the primary compound driving recreational use. CBD oil, on the other hand, has not been shown to incur any psychoactive changes. CBD oil shows promise in treating anxiety, depression, pain, and childhood epilepsy.

CBD, Tryptophan and Serotonin

CBD has a suppressive effect on cytokine-induced tryptophan degradation. This allows CBD to increase tryptophan levels in unstimulated brain areas, creating a passive baseline increase. 1 As tryptophan is a key compound in the serotonin synthesis pathway, increasing the bioavailability of tryptophan can lead to increased levels of serotonin. 1

CBD Binds to GABA Receptors

When CBD binds GABAA receptor subtypes, it can support neurological anticonvulsant and anxiolytic action. It does not bind competitively with the benzodiazepine receptor 2 , and because it doesn’t have the same receptor location, it could potentially be effective in individuals who are resistant to benzodiazepines. This mechanism also gives the potential to tailor CBD to specific GABA receptors. 2

Pain Perception Mediated by CBD

CBD is the compound that binds CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are the G-protein coupled receptors that affect cyclic-AMP. 3 CB1 is more pervasive than CB2 throughout the body overall. 3 CB1 receptors have a high concentration in areas of the central nervous system, spinal cord 4 and the peripheral nervous system 5 that have nociceptive functions, indicating a likely involvement in pathways important to pain mediation.

An Approved Treatment for Epilepsy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel unanimously voted to approve a CBD medication used to treat epilepsy in children. 6 This is due to definitive results showcasing the anti-epileptic properties of CBD oil when binding to GABA receptors.

Anxiety Reduction with CBD

In addition to binding GABA-A receptor subtypes, CBD also showed anti-anxiety effects occurring when CBD bound 5-HT1 receptors as an agonist. These effects were not induced by binding to cannabinoid receptors CB1 or CB2. This means that CBD oil can have an influence beyond functions mediated by cannabinoid receptors, creating new mechanisms for anxiety control. 6

A Potential Therapy for IBS?

CBD oil has also shown the potential to treat hypermotility symptoms of IBS (excessive bowel movements) that are caused by inflammatory mechanisms. CB1 receptors were shown to have inhibitory effects on the digestive system through anti-inflammatory processes. 9


The compound CBD has promising potential in the use of pain, seizure, IBS, and anxiety treatment, without the negative and hallucinogenic effects associated with THC. It has the ability to bind a variety of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain and nervous system and has a varied array of effects. This allows for potentially new treatment methods that could be able to complement current therapies and supplements or provide novel treatment options when current options are not proving effective. Hopefully, as more research is conducted on CBD, new options for supplements and medications will arrive to further enable practitioners to guide their patients to optimal health.

To continue keeping up with the latest news in integrative medicine, be sure to check out Sanesco’s health blog regularly.

If you are interested in monitoring your patient’s neurotransmitters, you can become a provider today.


  1. Jenny, Marcel, et al. “The potential role of cannabinoids in modulating serotonergic signaling by their influence on tryptophan metabolism.” Pharmaceuticals 3.8 (2010): 2647-2660.
  2. Bakas, T., et al. “The direct actions of cannabidiol and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol at GABAA receptors.” Pharmacological research 119 (2017): 358-370.
  3. Russo, Ethan B. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain.” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management 4.1 (2008): 245.
  4. Herkenham, Miles, et al. “Cannabinoid receptor localization in brain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 87.5 (1990): 1932-1936.
  5. Fox, Alyson, et al. “The role of central and peripheral Cannabinoid1 receptors in the antihyperalgesic activity of cannabinoids in a model of neuropathic pain.” Pain 92.1-2 (2001): 91-100.
  6. Kaplan, Sheila. “F.D.A. Panel Recommends Approval of Cannabis-Based Drug for Epilepsy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Apr. 2018,
  7. R de Mello Schier, Alexandre, et al. “Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa.” CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders) 13.6 (2014): 953-960.
  8. Carrier, Erica J., John A. Auchampach, and Cecilia J. Hillard. “Inhibition of an equilibrative nucleoside transporter by cannabidiol: a mechanism of cannabinoid immunosuppression.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103.20 (2006): 7895-7900.
  9. Capasso, R., et al. “Cannabidiol, extracted from Cannabis sativa, selectively inhibits inflammatory hypermotility in mice.” British journal of pharmacology 154.5 (2008): 1001-1008.
  10. Manseau, Marc W., and Donald C. Goff. “Cannabinoids and schizophrenia: risks and therapeutic potential.” Neurotherapeutics 12.4 (2015): 816-824.

Clinical Contributor

Tory Todd

Clinical Support Intern

Torey Todd is a recent graduate of UNC-Asheville with a major in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a minor in Neuroscience. Torey desires to enter the medical field and have a positive impact on it in a meaningful way, with the goal of empowering patients to live to their healthiest lives. Torey spends his free time working with the local Boy Scout troop as an assistant scoutmaster, hiking with his dogs, reading an engaging book or contra dancing the night away.

CBD has promising potential in the use of pain, seizure, IBS, and anxiety treatment, without the negative and hallucinogenic effects associated with THC.