Only in the last 20 years have we really learned about CBD’s benefits, and I want to highlight some of these because, as luck would have it, many of us frequently suffer from these three things in the fire and emergency services. Inflammation, sleep issues and anxiety affect all of us in some way. Research on these three things accounts for a very large portion of the studies done on CBD.
Some of these studies are on humans, many more are on animals, and all of them are peer-reviewed and published. Even though we still need more research on these subjects, we can look at how all of the current research is pointing in the same direction in regards to the benefits of CBD.
What is Inflammation
Put simply, inflammation comes in two flavors. The first is like vanilla: It’s plain and simple. When you sprain your ankle, your body dilates some blood vessels and sends some more blood flow to that area causing swelling and redness. This is called acute inflammation.
The second flavor is much more complex. It’s got a ton of ingredients and you really can’t say it’s one single flavor, but more like a combination of things. And this type of immune reaction is known as chronic inflammation
Like the first example, chronic inflammation is controlled by your immune system, but it’s got all these add-ons including oxidants and antioxidants. When oxidants outnumber antioxidants, that imbalance is called oxidative stress and it’s responsible for a myriad of health conditions, organ damage and dysfunction. Some of the causes of chronic stress are the expected stuff: poor diet and lack of exercise, but stress and lack of sleep are also significant contributing factors to chronic inflammation. In the fire service, we’re usually combining some or all of these risk factors.
How CBD helps inflammation
To put it plainly, it’s not completely understood why CBD reduces oxidative stress (chronic inflammation). Studies have shown that it works right at the site of a cell’s nucleus or mitochondria to oppose oxidative stress. CBD is also an antioxidant, and alongside its ability to work inside the cell, it also helps to balance that oxidant vs antioxidant scale, which is what determines whether or not you’re in a state of chronic inflammation. This is why CBD has been researched for its effects on arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, because the mechanism of action seems to be promising.
Did you know your body produces its own cannabinoids that are like CBD and THC? These naturally-occurring cannabinoids are at their peak concentrations when we’re sleeping. And the opposite is true too: if you’re sleep deprived, your levels of endocannabinoids are very low. How these cannabinoids interact with your body, (the endocannabinoid system), plays a role in setting what’s known as “the master clock” of the sleep/wake cycle in your brain. Your master clock is what gets knocked out of sync when you’re woken up frequently for 911 calls on shift.
A 2016 study showed endocannabinoids cause deeper bouts of certain phases of REM sleep. This research over the years is pointing in a general direction that cannabinoids like CBD are directly related to quality of sleep, and if you’re lacking in sleep, you’re also lacking in endocannabinoids. The two are proven to be linked.
Anxiety isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. When trying to understand how to resolve symptoms of anxiety, we have to understand what causes it, and that’s tough to do. But, the following facts about CBD have proven helpful when studying its effects on anxiety: First, CBD addresses parts of the prefrontal cortex of your brain that deal with the expression of fear conditioning and your endocannabinoid system acts as a “stress-buffer” in regards to controlling your emotions.
Serotonin and CBD
Second, CBD directly affects the serotonin receptor with study after study confirming this action. Since analyzing brain tissue is the only way to see how the serotonin receptor is involved, studies have only been done on animals. However, it’s shows changes in the mood of the animals involved. Studies on anxiety in humans have shown that it works. But we are unable to see the exact mechanism that CBD uses to reduce symptoms of anxiety. CBD affects serotonin receptors directly and can make your antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication stronger. Consult your doctor if you’re prescribed any medication when taking CBD.
Rescue 1 believes that CBD makes a strong case for itself. It’s safe, there’s little to no chance of overdose or dependency according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There is also a potential for it to promote your overall wellness as written above when used appropriately. Drug testing is always the concern and we go very in-depth on this at Rescue 1, but in general, your product needs to be 0.000% THC for it to be “drug-test friendly”. Given its good safety profile and all the potential benefits it can provide, I believe firefighters should seriously consider giving CBD a shot.
Endocannabinoid Signaling Regulates Sleep Stability (Pava et al., 2016)
 CBD and other medications: Proceed with caution – Harvard Health (Harvard U, 2021)
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