CBD products are becoming more popular, and most people use them without any apparent side effects. However, the long-term impact of CBD is still relatively unknown. For example, research into how CBD affects hormone production and activity is scarce.
Proponents of CBD claim the compound could have positive effects on certain hormonal disorders, such as diabetes. But early studies suggest that CBD could negatively affect other hormones, such as those responsible for fertility.
So, how do CBD products affect hormone production and activity, and are they doing more harm than good? Read on to find out.
What Are Hormones?
Before diving into how CBD affects specific hormones’ production and activity, let’s look at what hormones are and how they function in the body.
Hormones are a crucial part of a more extensive system known as the endocrine system. The system also includes numerous glands, including the following:
- Pituitary gland
- Pineal gland
- Thymus gland
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid glands
- Adrenal glands
- Testes in men
- Ovaries in women
These glands secrete hormones, which act as chemical messengers, traveling through the bloodstream to act on target tissues or organs. Some hormones exert their effects by entering cells directly, while others bind with specialized receptors on cells’ surfaces.
There are many different hormones, and each has a unique effect on the body. They play a role in growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, and mood. However, the endocrine system’s primary function is to maintain a state of balance, known as homeostasis.
This process relies heavily on a brain region known as the hypothalamus. It acts as a bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system, triggering hormone release in response to internal and external stimuli.
Now, let’s take a brief look at some key hormones and their functions.
Key Hormones and What They Do
Below is a summary of some important hormones and their functions. Please note, it is not an exhaustive list, and there are many more hormones that play an essential role in the body. However, there are so many different hormones, with such varied functions, that it is not possible to discuss them all here.
Growth Hormone: As its name suggests, this hormone plays a crucial role in body growth.
Estrogen: Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. Other critical female hormones include progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Testosterone: Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone.
Prolactin: Plays a role in breast development and milk production.
Insulin: Insulin helps cells to utilize glucose (sugar) from food and regulates metabolism.
Glucagon: Glucagon works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar and metabolism.
Thyroid Hormones: The thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) play a role in metabolism, energy production, body weight, internal temperature, and more.
Parathyroid Hormone: Parathyroid hormone regulates calcium levels within the body.
Adrenaline (a.k.a. Epinephrine): Adrenaline is one of the primary stress hormones. It raises the heart rate and helps to release extra energy in extreme conditions.
Cortisol: Another stress hormone, cortisol, impacts energy levels and alertness. It also plays a crucial role in our natural sleep-wake cycles.
Melatonin: Melatonin induces feelings of sleepiness in response to darkness in the evening.
Hormonal Imbalances and How CBD Fits in
Hormones have a powerful influence over the body, with just small amounts triggering massive changes. Therefore, having too much or too little of a particular hormone can cause serious problems.
Some of the most common hormonal disorders include diabetes, thyroid disorders, and reproductive disorders. Another widespread issue is chronic stress, which can significantly impact the endocrine system as a whole.
There is evidence to suggest that CBD could help with some of these hormonal imbalances. However, it could potentially impact other hormones less beneficially.
So, how does CBD influence the endocrine system? First, we need to discuss another vital physiological system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Hormones and the Endocannabinoid System
Like the endocrine system, the ECS plays an essential role in maintaining homeostasis. It is composed of chemicals called endocannabinoids, which act as chemical messengers. Like hormones, endocannabinoids bind with cell receptors throughout the body to induce various responses.
These receptors are called cannabinoid receptors, and the best-known examples are CB1 and CB2. There is a high concentration of CB1 receptors in the brain, including the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
It appears the ECS is especially active in the hypothalamus, leading experts to hypothesize it could be involved in hormone release. This could include regulating processes such as appetite, energy balance, reproduction, and the stress response.
Scientists are just beginning to understand the link between the endocrine and endocannabinoid systems. However, it seems highly likely that they are connected. Therefore, compounds like CBD, which interact with the ECS, could well affect hormonal balance.
How Does CBD Affect Hormones?
According to the World Health Organization, evidence on how CBD affects hormones is mixed. Some studies suggest that it has an impact, while others have found it does not. The results seem to depend upon which hormone the studies were testing and their methodology.
What we do know is that CBD influences the ECS. It primarily exerts its effects by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down our natural endocannabinoids. This leads to increased activity at cannabinoid receptors, including those in the brain.
Therefore, it makes sense that taking CBD could have some influence over hormone production and activity. What is unclear is whether it affects them for better or worse.
Stress, Hormone Production, and CBD
One of the most common reasons for taking CBD is to help individuals manage day-to-day stress. This is also one area where CBD’s effects on the endocrine system become evident.
A 1993 study investigated CBD’s effects on 11 healthy volunteers. The subjects took either 300mg or 600mg of CBD or a placebo. The research team tested their blood for several hormones, both before and after dosing.
While the participants’ growth hormone and prolactin levels remained stable, CBD did appear to impact the stress hormone cortisol.
Blood tests were performed in the morning, the time of day when cortisol levels are naturally declining after peaking at around 8 am. Those who took the placebo had a typical reduction in cortisol levels. However, those who took CBD experienced a less significant decline. They also reported sensations of sedation after using CBD.
The authors of the study concluded: “CBD interferes with cortisol secretion.”
A more recent study examined CBD’s effects on 24 healthy subjects and 32 people at risk of psychosis. The researchers administered 600mg of CBD daily to half of the participants, while the other half received a placebo.
They continued dosing for one week. The participants then took part in a stress test. The results showed that those at risk from psychosis displayed smaller increases in cortisol following the test. Those who took CBD also had less reduced cortisol levels, although the difference was not significant.
These studies suggest that CBD could have some impact on cortisol levels and the stress response. However, their doses were high and do not accurately reflect the amounts that most average consumers take. Therefore, more research is necessary to ascertain CBD’s precise effects on cortisol and stress.
Insulin, Diabetes, and CBD
One common endocrine disorder that CBD may benefit is diabetes. This condition arises from an inability to produce insulin or cells that are resistant to its effects.
Research has found that CB1 receptors are present in the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas. Furthermore, it seems that people with diabetes may have raised endocannabinoid levels, suggesting the ECS could play a role in disease development.
Taking CBD appears to reduce the incidence of diabetes in non-obese mice. Although its precise mechanisms are unclear, experts have suggested this could be a result of CBD’s anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effects.
It also seems that CBD could help with issues such as high cholesterol and triglycerides that often accompany diabetes. It may also help to slow the progression of diabetic complications, such as retinopathy
Sex Hormones, Fertility, and CBD
A 2018 study looked at the effects of CBD on the reproductive hormones in mice. Twenty-one animals received 15mg or 30mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight for 34 days, while the control group received a placebo.
The researchers found that the CBD did not induce changes in progesterone or body weight. However, the mice that took 15mg/kg of CBD showed delays in initiating intercourse. Furthermore, those that took 30mg/kg of CBD had a 30% reduction in fertility and a 23% decrease in litter size.
The authors concluded: “Our results indicate that chronic CBD exposure promotes functional impairment of the reproductive system of male Swiss mice.”
It is unclear how these findings translate to humans. It is also essential to note that the doses of CBD in this study were very high. That said, those attempting to conceive may wish to avoid taking CBD until more evidence becomes available.
Do CBD Products Affect Hormone Production or Activity? Final Thoughts
There isn’t currently enough evidence to say exactly how CBD affects hormone production and activity. However, early research suggests it does have some effect, especially when taken long-term in high doses.
Anyone worried about CBD’s effects on their hormones should discuss their concerns with a knowledgeable physician or endocrinologist.