You've probably heard the term "antioxidant" before since many natural compounds possess this beneficial property. Numerous studies have observed that CBD has antioxidant properties, and most terpenes are believed to as well . But what exactly is an antioxidant and why are they considered to be good things?
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CBD Antioxidant Definitions
In order to understand what antioxidants are and why they can be beneficial, you first need a crash course in some scientific terminology that you may not be familiar with.
Antioxidant: Antioxidants are natural or synthetic compounds that may delay or prevents cell damage . Fruits, vegetables, vitamins C and E, selenium, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are some examples of antioxidants. Antioxidants are not an effective treatment for diseases and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and cataracts. In some cases, taking very large doses of antioxidants can worsen these conditions. The best way to get the right amount of antioxidants is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Antioxidants can also have drug interactions.
Cells: Cells are the smallest structural unit of an organism. Mammal cells are enclosed in a cell membrane that is permeable while plant cells have rigid cell walls. Both membranes and walls keep the working parts of a cell contained and provide a barrier to external molecules.
Free Radicals: Free radicals are chemical molecules that (without getting too deep into chemistry) are electrically unbalanced . Because of this, they are unstable and highly reactive. A common example of a substance that contains a lot of free radicals is hydrogen peroxide.
Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress is a biological response to the build-up of reactive oxygen species (ROS) . When humans suffer oxidative stress they can experience fatigue, memory loss, muscle and joint pain, headaches, poor eyesight, and more.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS): Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are free radicals that contain oxygen . When ROS builds up in the body it can cause damage to cells and DNA.
Antioxidant Activity in the Body
Free radicals in the body can lead to oxidative stress. NIH explains, "Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration ." Reactive oxygen species can be produced naturally by the body or can come from outside sources like exposure to X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoking, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals .
Antioxidants are able to counteract free radicals like reactive oxygen species and prevent oxidative stress . Because of this, many people are interested in supplements and natural remedies that are antioxidants. However, consuming too much of an antioxidant supplement can be harmful to your health. It is important to remember that even natural products are not always safe, especially when they are not taken in the appropriate dosage.
Antioxidant Properties of CBD
CBD has demonstrated antioxidant properties that have sparked interest in the use of CBD for pain and inflammation relief, neuroprotection, cardiovascular protection, stroke prevention, cancer cell inhibition, and for antimicrobial action . To be clear, there is no proof that CBD is safe or effective as a treatment or cure for these conditions. Research is ongoing and CBD has not been approved by the FDA for any of these uses. However, the reason many suggest that CBD may be helpful for such conditions is largely that it has antioxidant abilities.
At first glance, at the chemical structure, it is easy to recognize CBD antioxidant properties due to the presence of two hydroxilic groups.Iuvone, T., Esposito, G., De Filippis, D., Scuderi, C., & Steardo, L. (2009). Cannabidiol: a promising drug for neurodegenerative disorders? CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 15(1), 65-75.
CBD as an Antioxidant in Research
There are numerous studies that have observed CBD exerting antioxidant effects. These studies are mainly animal (mouse) studies that are designed to model diseases and disorders. The antioxidant properties of CBD are just one aspect of how CBD may work to promote health and balance in the body.
Researchers conducting an animal study of Parkinson's Disease notes that CBD exhibited neuroprotective properties . They attributed this to CBD's antioxidant abilities. Another research team also evaluated the neuroprotective abilities of CBD and also suggest that it could be good for preventing neurodegenerative disorders and defending against neuroinflammation . This research group notes that CBD's antioxidant properties are certainly notable, but also acknowledge that there are additional processes and interactions taking place. They propose that in conjunction with anti-inflammatory effects, the antioxidant effects of CBD help preserve cell health and encourage cell regeneration in conditions like ischemic stroke, Alzheimer's Disease, ALS, Parkinson's Disease, and MS.
CBD was found to possess antioxidant properties, since it attenuated ROS‐induced neurotoxicity, being more protective than either ascorbate or α‐tocopherol.Iuvone, T., Esposito, G., De Filippis, D., Scuderi, C., & Steardo, L. (2009). Cannabidiol: a promising drug for neurodegenerative disorders? CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 15(1), 65-75.
To be clear, these researchers are not saying CBD will cure, treat, or prevent these diseases. They are suggesting that CBD could be just one helpful component of a medically approved treatment plan and should be researched further for that purpose.
Keratinocytes are a type of skin cell that was the focus of a 2020 CBD study . The research team took an interest when they noticed that CBD-regulated pathways were involved in producing these skin cells. Their animal studies demonstrated that using topical CBD encouraged these cells to repair wounds. They believe the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of CBD to be key in counteracting ROS and detoxifying wound sites so healthy cells can grow. They note that molecular targets identified in their study (BACH1 and HMOX1) could also lend to the idea that CBD may also be helpful in combating some types of cancers.
The team suggests that skin diseases like atopic dermatitis and keratin disorders could benefit from topical CBD products that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties . Again, this is not to say CBD is approved for these uses, this is just an encouraging study that needs further evaluation and approval before those conclusions are made.
To counteract the harmful accumulation of ROS, healthy skin presents a battery of defence mechanisms including antioxidant and detoxification systems.Casares, L., García, V., Garrido-Rodríguez, M., Millán, E., Collado, J. A., García-Martín, A., … & Muñoz, E. (2020). Cannabidiol induces antioxidant pathways in keratinocytes by targeting BACH1. Redox biology, 28, 101321.
One more study demonstrating how the antioxidant properties of CBD make it of interest for the medical community looked at epileptic seizures . They note that increased antioxidant activity in brain cells could help protect the brain during seizures and reduce the severity of seizures. CBD has demonstrated the ability to diminish epileptic seizures, and the drug Epidiolex is even approved for this use. This research team also suggests that CBD could also be helpful after seizures to help recovery due to its antioxidant properties.
In short, our results suggest that post-treatment of Cannabidiol could enhance the induction of autophagy pathway and antioxidant defense in the chronic phase of epilepsy, which could be considered as the protective mechanisms of cannabidiol in a temporal lobe epilepsy model.Hosseinzadeh, M., Nikseresht, S., Khodagholi, F., Naderi, N., & Maghsoudi, N. (2016). Cannabidiol post-treatment alleviates rat epileptic-related behaviors and activates hippocampal cell autophagy pathway along with antioxidant defense in chronic phase of pilocarpine-induced seizure. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, 58(4), 432-440.
Final Thoughts on Antioxidant CBD Benefits
I'll caution readers once more to remember that CBD is not an approved treatment, cure, or preventative treatment. Epidiolex is the only CBD product that the FDA has deemed to be safe and effective for medical purposes and no retail CBD product should be used for any medical purpose. However, there is good evidence showing that one of the main reasons why CBD seems to have a wide array of benefits for health is because of its antioxidant activity. By better understanding what an antioxidant is you can better understand the basis for these ideas. Antioxidants are all around us in food like blueberries, kale, goji berries, and even in dark chocolate. The terpene limonene is also a very good antioxidant. It is good for your health to consume antioxidant foods as part of your regular diet. Just remember that there is such thing as "too much of a good thing" and aim for balance!
- Borges, R. S., & da Silva, A. B. F. (2017). Cannabidiol as an Antioxidant. Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies, e122–e130.
- Casares, L., García, V., Garrido-Rodríguez, M., Millán, E., Collado, J. A., García-Martín, A., … & Muñoz, E. (2020). Cannabidiol induces antioxidant pathways in keratinocytes by targeting BACH1. Redox biology, 28, 101321.
- García-Arencibia, M., González, S., de Lago, E., Ramos, J. A., Mechoulam, R., & Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2007). Evaluation of the neuroprotective effect of cannabinoids in a rat model of Parkinson's disease: importance of antioxidant and cannabinoid receptor-independent properties. Brain research, 1134, 162-170.
- Hosseinzadeh, M., Nikseresht, S., Khodagholi, F., Naderi, N., & Maghsoudi, N. (2016). Cannabidiol post-treatment alleviates rat epileptic-related behaviors and activates hippocampal cell autophagy pathway along with antioxidant defense in chronic phase of pilocarpine-induced seizure. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, 58(4), 432-440.
- Iuvone, T., Esposito, G., De Filippis, D., Scuderi, C., & Steardo, L. (2009). Cannabidiol: a promising drug for neurodegenerative disorders? CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 15(1), 65-75.
- Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews, 4(8), 118–126.
- NIH. Antioxidants: In Depth. (2011).
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- Ray, P. D., Huang, B. W., & Tsuji, Y. (2012). Reactive oxygen species (ROS) homeostasis and redox regulation in cellular signaling. Cellular signalling, 24(5), 981–990.