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Why we all need to learn about the endocannabinoid system

There’s a reason that marijuana is coming across as a fix-all alternative medicine right now – it interacts with the largest regulatory system found in the human body. The endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for pain sensation, appetite, immune system function and much, much more can be influenced by compounds in cannabis known as cannabinoids. These include CBD, THC, CBDV and CBG.

Dr Ethan Russo, a neurologist specializing in cannabis, recently gave an interview to Project CBD, explaining the endocannabinoid system in more detail and how cannabinoids work within it. He also spoke about endocannabinoid dysfunction, which looks increasingly likely to be the cause of migraines and fibromyalgia.

Effects of CBD

CBD is an intriguing compound with a plethora of therapeutic uses, which unlike old-school cannabis, can be administered without inducing hallucinogenic side effects. However, cannabidiol is also a complex cannabinoid, more so than psychoactive THC.

While THC makes a simple bond with cannabinoid receptors, CBD takes a different route. Cannabinoid receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, the body’s biggest regulatory system. CBD controls metabolism speed, pain perception, the immune system, mood appetite and several other functions.

Dr Russo explained that THC binds to the orthosteric site on the cannabinoid receptor, while CBD binds to the allosteric site – a backdoor, if you will. Therefore, CBD tweaks the interactions that occur between cannabinoid receptors and THC, and cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids such as anandamide.

The alterations that CBD makes changes the overall reactions of these cannabinoids. For example, some of THC’s psychoactivity is cancelled out when CBD is also joined to a CB1-THC bond. This goes some way to explaining why CBD is a prominent anti-psychotic compound.

Why does the specific reaction matter?

Many seem to think that THC and CBD just interact with different cannabinoid receptors, but this is an oversimplification which jeopardizes the truth. In reality, CBD and THC work with the endocannabinoid system in entirely different ways. The way CBD operates is quite unique from other cannabinoids and non-cannabis compounds that scientists have studied.

Russo referred to CBD as a “negative allosteric modulator.” In layman’s terms, this means that CBD interferes with THC when it is found in the endocannabinoid system. This has benefits. For instance, if you have gotten a little too high, you can take some CBD to calm yourself down, and prevent anxiety and paranoia from taking hold. CBD is also a good way of slowing down a rapid heart rate caused by too much THC.

The bond between THC and cannabinoid receptors is direct, whereas CBD instructs those already-formed bonds how to react.

However, according to Russo, CBD does make some direct interactions with other cell receptors in the body, including serotonin receptors which may have a part to play in treating depression.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) explained

The medicinal properties of CBD and THC are pretty well-known nowadays in the cannabis community. THC reacts as a replacement for endocannabinoids such as anandamide. Contrastingly, CBD controls the production and function of these endocannabinoids. But how could these features be harnessed to develop revolutionary cannabinoid medicine?

Dr Russo came up with the Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency theory in the early 2000s. Given that researchers were already aware that a lack of neurotransmitters or dysfunction among them could lead to disease. Conscious movement is affected in Parkinson’s patients due to a deficiency of neurons which make dopamine.

From this, Russo speculated about how endocannabinoid deficiency could manifest itself, and came up with some eye-opening considerations.

Russo started by saying that endocannabinoid deficiency was inevitably going to cause unnecessary pain. The body would be more exposed to illnesses, and therefore nausea. Seizure threshold would fall, mood swings could occur, appetite levels could fluctuate, and so on and so forth.

Diseases that may be caused by Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Russo’s research has zoned in on a triumvirate of ailments: fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines. However, other cannabis scientists have proposed that mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder could also be caused – to an extent – by CECD.

As yet, much of Russo’s theories have not been scientifically tested. However, a recent Italian study on migraines yielded some encouraging data.

The study found that the participants who experience migraines often have lower endocannabinoid levels than those who do not. While not confirmation beyond all doubt, it certainly confirms what Russo and migraine patients have been saying. Other studies have also produced similar findings.

Why do people not know about the endocannabinoid system?

The lack of research on the endocannabinoid system is preventing the public from becoming knowledgeable about this important network. It is not taught at medical school, and with few approved drugs utilizing cannabinoids, there is little reason for mainstream medication to be aware of cannabis products and understanding of the regulatory system that cannabinoids operate in.

It is, however, somewhat astonishing that scientists haven’t chosen to study this system more extensively, since cannabinoid receptors are located all over the body in varying concentrations. There is an especially high number of receptors in the brain – more so than the rest of the neurotransmitters in the body combined. To not learn about and teach this system makes no sense.

For the public to live healthier lives, it’s paramount that they know about the regulatory body that influences how they feel and act. Then, if necessary, people could choose to supplement the system with cannabinoids, in the same way people take vitamins, minerals and omega-3 capsules.

Russo has recognized the need to ramp up research into the endocannabinoid system, and his team are now working in tandem with Phytecs to develop natural remedies, supplements and drugs that can benefit the endocannabinoid system.

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