Does CBD Affect Your Hormones?
Last updated: March 3rd, 2020
Published: October 26th, 2017
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main compounds found in hemp and cannabis plants. It has received a lot of attention recently for its wide array of beneficial properties.
But how exactly does CBD work? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is very complex. CBD impacts receptors all over the body, producing a variety of outcomes, including those affecting hormone production.
In this article, we’ll explore how CBD affects the endocrine system and the production of hormones like cortisol, insulin, and melatonin.
Understanding hormones and the endocrine system
Before we look into the specific effects of CBD on hormones, it’s important to have a basic understanding of hormones themselves, the endocrine system, and the relationship between the two.
Hormones are essentially chemical messengers. They are involved in numerous bodily processes including growth and development, metabolism and appetite, sexual function, reproduction, and mood.
The endocrine system is made up of a variety of glands that produce hormones, such as the thyroid, pancreas, pineal gland, and others. The hormones produced by these glands are particularly powerful chemicals that can sustain major effects on the body, even in small amounts.
How CBD affects hormones
When we ingest cannabinoids like CBD, they interact with our body’s natural endocannabinoid system, or ECS. This is a complex system involved in managing physiological processes including appetite, mood, and much more.
Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system is also involved in managing endocrine processes. It does so by activating receptors in the brain and body that directly influence activity in the thyroid, pineal, and pituitary glands.
Hence, by stimulating the endocannabinoid system, CBD and other cannabinoids can directly affect hormone levels in the body. Below are examples of how CBD influences the levels of major hormones.
CBD AND CORTISOL
One of the primary roles of the endocrine system is to manage our response to stress. It does so via hormones like epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol.
Cortisol is one of the main hormones involved in managing stress response. It is also involved in managing metabolism, memory, and even the healing of wounds. The human body naturally produces cortisol in the adrenal gland.
Cortisol is vital to human survival and is responsible for mediating our natural “fight or flight” response. However, increased levels of cortisol are problematic, producing symptoms that can range from weight gain and mood swings to increased anxiety.
Luckily, CBD is believed to interfere with the secretion of cortisol, decreasing its prevalence in plasma samples as a result. One double-blind study administered 11 “normal” patients with CBD or a placebo to determine its effects on plasma prolactin, growth hormone, and cortisol. Although prolactin and growth hormone levels remained the same in the presence of CBD, cortisol levels dropped significantly.
CBD AND INSULIN
Another important role of the endocrine system is to manage metabolism. One of the many ways it does so is by producing vital hormones in the pancreas. These hormones include glucagon, somatostatin, and insulin, among others.
Insulin is an important hormone that helps the body absorb and store nutrients from food. Without insulin, sugar from food would not be able to pass from your bloodstream into individual cells.
Much like with cortisol (and most other hormones), insulin imbalances can have detrimental effects on one’s health. A lack of insulin leads to an increase in blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia), while too much insulin leads to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
One of the most common conditions arising from insulin problems is diabetes. People with diabetes suffer from constantly high blood sugar levels because their bodies struggle to produce or use insulin properly.
A wide variety of studies have explored the effects of cannabinoids on metabolism, as well as the relationship between cannabinoids, insulin, and diabetes. Although it’s yet unclear the exact relationship between insulin and CBD, one 2006 study noted a clear drop in incidences of diabetes in mice treated with CBD—from 86% to 30%. Other studies show that CBD can directly impact the functioning of the pancreas, ultimately affecting insulin production, blood sugar levels, and more.
CBD AND MELATONIN
It goes without saying that sleep is extremely important for good health. Our endocrine system is heavily involved in this process by producing hormones like melatonin to induce sleep or manage energy levels. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland of the brain.
Melatonin is one of the most important hormones involved in our sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Melatonin levels tend to spike at night, then even out by the morning. Environmental factors such as darkness and blue light exposure also impact melatonin levels.
The endocannabinoid system has been shown to be very involved in the management of sleep. In fact, a study published in the Public Library of Science’s journal PLoS One found that the ECS directly regulates sleep stability via activation of CB1 receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors have been found in many different glands of the endocrine system. By activating receptors in the pineal gland, CBD may help stimulate the secretion of sleep hormones like melatonin, ultimately affecting sleep and energy levels. Moreover, CBD could make a great complement to melatonin by impacting the sleep-wake cycle. Although CBD is not usually sedative in its own right, its anxiolytic and soothing qualities may support better rest.
CBD AND HOMEOSTASIS
Studies have shown that cannabinoids like CBD can have direct and indirect influences on the production and secretion of hormones like cortisol, insulin, melatonin, and others. Therefore, cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system must sustain some influence on homeostasis.
Homeostasis refers to the internal balance needed for organisms to function properly. In humans, homeostasis basically ensures we are in working order. Some examples of the variables that maintain this balance include:
• Body temperature
• Heart rate
• Blood pressure
• Sleep cycle
One of the key areas responsible for regulating these variables is the hypothalamus, a region of the brain composed of nerve cell clusters located just above the brainstem. The hypothalamus is one of the main parts of the endocrine system.
Just like other regions of the brain, the hypothalamus contains cannabinoid receptors. Research suggests that targeting these receptors and stimulating them with cannabinoids like CBD, for example, can help manage the many processes required for homeostasis.
S UPPLEMENTING WITH CBD
As we’ve seen, CBD and the endocannabinoid system are very intertwined with endocrine system functioning and hormone production in the body. For those looking to bring a feeling of homeostasis back to their body, it may be worth experimenting with sophisticated CBD formulations.
At Cibdol, we pride ourselves on producing some of the purest and strongest CBD products available on the market today. Using naturally grown European hemp, we produce high-quality CBD oils, creams, and supplements in our world-class Swiss laboratories.
CBD and the endocannabinoid system are capable of influencing the endocrine system, and thus the production of hormones. But what does this mean for you?
Does CBD Affect Hormones (and is it good or bad)?
This is the most frequently asked question I’ve been hit with lately, and I think its a really juicy one because it highlights the potency that CBD can act within the body.
Q. Does CBD affect hormones?
Hormones are special types of chemical messenger that enable one part of the body to ‘talk’ to another, so the body is constantly operating in synchronous harmony.
Collectively, the hormones and the glands they are released from are known as the endocrine system.
Glands are found throughout the body. Certain glands release specific hormones into the bloodstream so that they can travel to other organs and glands to control their function. This forms a communication network which is giving and receiving constant feedback to maintain optimal bodily function.
Some of the major roles of hormones are:
- Sex drive
Levels of hormones naturally fluctuate depending on whether it’s day or night, and what stage of life a person has reached, eg adolescence, pregnancy or menopause.
Hormones can also become imbalanced throughout any stage of life. These imbalances can be part of the driving force behind chronic illnesses. One of the major challenges we face today is the impact of environmental toxicity on our hormones – plastics, industrial chemicals and pesticides all mess with the endocrine system.
Aside from reducing our exposure to toxicity, we can look for ways to support healthy hormones through the foods, herbs and exercise we engage with.
- Thyroid Hormones
- Growth Hormone
How does CBD affect hormones?
There are three main ways that CBD can change how hormones work in the body.
Cannabinoid receptors are found on major glands throughout the body. When these receptors are activated by our bodies endocannabinoids, this can alter the secretion of hormones, and change their impact on target organs.
Since CBD can also (indirectly) interact with cannabinoid receptors, it has the power to alter the synthesis and secretion of hormones as well.
Most changes in hormone synthesis and secretion start in the hypothalamus, when cannabinoid receptor 1 is activated. This starts a series of hormonal messages that trickle down to other glands, which then secrete their own hormones in response.
Cannabinoid receptor 1 is also found on most other glands and organs, so can control hormonal balance directly as well.
Cannabinoids like CBD can influence the ‘volume’ of message received at a target organ from a hormone. The sensitivity of a cell receptor for a certain hormone can either be increased or decreased by cannabinoids – increasing or decreasing the volume / strength of the message.
Hormones need to be cleared and disposed of after they have done their jobs, so continual balance can be maintained in the body. Cannabinoids like CBD can alter the speed of enzymes that break hormones down.
Although there’s no studies looking directly at CBD on thyroid hormones, there have been some which have looked at the effect of endocannabinoids on them.
Since CBD affects endocannabinoids, we can only speculate as to the effects.
Thyroid hormones TSH, T4 and T3 are all designed to rev up cellular metabolism, helping us mobilise energy to use it.
Endocannabinoids on the other hand encourage the sparing and storage of energy, in part by reducing thyroid hormones (1) .
Blocking endocannabinoids increases TSH, T4 and T3, which may help raise thyroid function (2) .
The effect of CBD could theoretically go both ways, since it can both dampen and stimulate endocannabinoids. Whether CBD may increase or decrease thyroid hormones might depend on someone being hypothyroid, hyperthyroid or having a normal thyroid.
Anandamide was found to suppress TSH only in hypothyroid and normal thyroid conditions (high TSH), and not in hyperthyroid conditions (low TSH) (2) .
This is potential evidence of an adaptogenic effect of (endo)cannabinoids, helping to balance individuals to their own needs. CBD may help endocannabinoids support individual balance.
Testosterone is an important hormone involved mainly in reproduction and sex drive, but also has other roles in regulating mood and energy.
Its mainly synthesised in the testes and ovaries, and is made in repose to hormonal signals from the hypothalamus (LH and FSH).
CBD has been shown to effect LH and FSH levels in monkeys, albeit at doses much higher than we would realistically use. After 90 days, LH and FSH were increased, but no changes were seen in testosterone, except a decrease at the highest dose (3) .
In rats and mice, higher doses (higher than most of us would take) reduced testosterone after 10 – 34 days (4) .
CBD has been suggested to reduce testosterone production by inhibiting the enzyme 17α‐hydroxylase, which makes Testosterone in leydig cells of the testes (4) .
However, CBD also inhibits specific cytochrome p450 enzymes in the liver which break testosterone down (4) .
So theoretically, reducing the breakdown of testosterone may offset reductions in synthesis. But thats just speculation at this point. Also, these studies show a decrease in testosterone at high doses used mid term.
We need to see trials in humans before we can say anything concrete. But for men who want to take a cautious approach:
- Use moderate doses (5 – 100mg/day)
- Cyclical use: take a break every few months to washout accumulated CBD – sweating through sauna and exercise.
- Exercise regularly to promote natural testosterone production whilst using CBD.
Estradiol E 2 ( Estrogen)
Estrogen levels are important because they influence sexual development, fertility, and susceptibility to female diseases such as breast cancer.
Estrogen is made in the ovaries, in repose to hormones LH and FSH released from the pituitary gland. Its levels in the body are also controlled by enzymes that make it and break it down.
Studies using CBD in cells found that it suppresses estrogen production directly, by inhibiting an enzyme that makes it from testosterone, called aromatase (5) .
Aromatase inhibitors are used to reduce estrogen levels in cases of breast cancer and post menopause (6) .
CBD also encourages the breakdown of estrogen by speeding up cytochrome p450 enzymes that break it down (7) .
Theoretically, this points to an anti-estrogenic effect of CBD, lowering levels of estrogen. But this has not been shown in animal or human research so far.
Moderate to high doses of CBD were not associated with changes in LH, FSH and estrogen after 90 days in female monkeys (3) .
More research is needed before any conclusions can be made on how CBD affects estrogen.
Growth hormone (GH), as the name suggests, signals for the reproduction and regeneration of cells, stimulating growth and development in the body.
A few benefits of increased growth hormone output are:
- Strong bones
- Increased muscle mass
- More energy
- Enhanced ability to burn fat
- Improved exercise capacity
A single dose of CBD had no effect on Growth Hormone levels in 11 healthy volunteers (8) .
However other cannabinoids like THC, especially when used long term have been shown to reduce GH. THC reduced GH secretion from the pituitary gland via cannabinoid receptor 1 (9) , and reduced circulating GH levels in adults (10) .
Since CBD also interacts with CB1, long term use could affect GH levels. We need more studies to assess whether there’s a positive or negative effect of CBD on GH levels.
Insulin is a major hormone involved in the use and storage of energy. It has a great impact on body weight and energy levels, via regulating metabolism.
We need insulin to tell our cells when to take in sugar from the bloodstream. Healthy insulin levels mean we use sugar effectively in our muscles and liver, and don’t store too much in fat tissue.
Too much insulin is a driving force of weight gain and diabetes, and its often raised in repose to high sugar consumption.
In diabetic rats, CBD has been shown to reduce excessively high levels of insulin, whilst maintaining blood sugar levels (11) . This means CBD may help sensitise muscles and liver cells to take up sugar more efficiently, helping to maintain stable blood sugar.
CBD also reduces body weight gain in rats (12) . By reducing insulin, CBD may discourage fat cells from storing excessive sugar, which could reduce weight gain.
Unfortunately the only study in humans looking at insulin levels with CBD used a low dose, which did not affect insulin levels in the diabetic patients. However, CBD did increase the levels of another hormone gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP) which controls the release on insulin, hinting at a possible effect on insulin with higher doses (13) .
Cortisol’s major role is as a stress hormone, and tells the rest of body that a stressful event is happening. Its produced in the adrenals, in response to sensory inputs to the hypothalamus from our experience of the world around us.
Short term spikes in cortisol are beneficial, as they allow us to be aware of potentially dangerous things in our environment that threaten our survival.
Unfortunately staying on top of bills, work and relationships can also be perceived as a threat to survival, and lead to chronic cortisol output and unresolved stress.
CBD is quite incredible at resolving stress, though. It essentially acts as a breaking system on the stress response, by acting (indirectly) through cannabinoid receptors in the hypothalamus. Effectively, CBD tells the adrenals to chill out on cortisol production.
Human and studies have shown CBD can modulate cortisol output (7) , (14) , (15) , and its one of the major reasons why so many people may find it soothing.
Although there are (initial) changes in hormone levels with CBD, other studies suggest a tolerance can be developed to cannabinoids (16). Initial hormone changes may correct overtime, or are compensated for by other mechanisms (ie hormone receptor sensitivity). So basically, its too early to say with much certainty just how CBD affects hormones long term and what that translates to health wise.
Effects of CBD on hormones:
- Insulin – likely positive
- Cortisol – likely positive
- Thyroid – too soon to say although likely positive
- Testosterone – likely negative if used at high doses for a long time without exercise
- Growth Hormone – too soon to say
- Estrogen – too soon to say
Does CBD Affect Hormones (and is it good or bad)? This is the most frequently asked question I’ve been hit with lately, and I think its a really juicy one because it highlights the potency that