By Emma Chasen
Humans have a longstanding relationship with hemp. Though the postulated domestication of hemp didn’t happen until around 12,000 BC, mammals and plants have been exposed to cannabinoids and related compounds that notably modulate their growth and physiology for millions of years.
The human species in the Old World grew up around the >70 million-year-old cannabis plant, giving us a natural affinity to cannabinoids (Clarke & Merlin, 2012). This plant has been documented as a provider of food, clothing, textiles and medicine for millennia. For thousands of years, the plant has been associated with relieving symptoms of disease and has demonstrated numerous therapeutic properties (Russo, 2007, 2011).
However, it wasn’t until relatively recently that researchers began to dive into the scientific world of cannabis compounds & how they relate to human physiology. Discovering the ECS
Research began to emerge on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – two phytocannabinoids – and cannabinoid receptors in the body starting in the mid-sixties. The human body’s Endocannabinoid Receptor System (ECS) was not discovered until the 1990’s (Petrocellis, 2009).
The ECS is comprised of cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid signaling molecules and enzymes that control signaling. It is a large receptor system that has the ability to influence many of our major body systems and when engaged, helps to keep them running smoothly.
While our current understanding of the ECS is limited, scientists agree that the ECS exists and believe that it plays a major role in the regulation of other body systems.
Connecting with Cannabinoid Receptors
Scientists believe that there are many cannabinoid receptors in the ECS. However, we still don’t know much about all of the cannabinoid receptors and their functions. There are only two cannabinoid receptors that have been sufficiently researched: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are G-protein coupled receptors. G-protein coupled receptors make up the largest and oldest class of receptors and are primarily responsible for sending signals inside of cells.
The CB1 receptors exist primarily in the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord, whereas CB2 receptors exist primarily in the peripheral nervous system – in nerves throughout the body – and on immune cells.
Creating Cannabinoids in the Body
Our bodies make their own endogenous cannabinoids – called endocannabinoids – that activate the ECS receptors in similar ways to the phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. There are two endocannabinoids that are of particular interest to cannabis researchers: 2AG and Anandamide.
2AG is an endocannabinoid that has the ability to engage both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Anandamide is derived from the sanskrit word “ananda” meaning bliss. Anandamide has the ability to engage the CB1 receptor.
These endogenous cannabinoids are part of the intricate ECS, and they engage with receptors that are part of the ECS. The phytocannabinoids found in cannabis can also engage with the receptors of the ECS. However, they engage with these receptors in such a way that they induce slightly different signals than their endogenous counterparts. Even though they engage receptors in different ways, both phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids do have similar medicinal properties, such as the ability to relieve pain and inflammation.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids also engage with many other receptor families and neurotransmitters in our body to help regulate pain, inflammation and other issues relating to health. Examples of these receptors include dopamine, serotonin, opioid, and vanilloid receptors (receptors throughout the body that are responsible for the way we feel pain).
ECS Dysfunction, Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency & Stress
When the ECS is functioning properly, the benefits are numerous. If it is not, problems can occur. Scientists believe that certain diseases may actually arise due to an endocannabinoid deficiency.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a prominent cannabis researcher, has popularized the concept of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD), a disorder that occurs when endogenous cannabinoids levels are too low to maintain optimal functioning of the ECS. Dr. Russo explains,
“If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems. It occurred to me that a number of very common diseases seem to fit a pattern that would be consistent with an endocannabinoid deficiency, specifically these are migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.”
Improving Health with CBD Supplements
Think of CECD like other deficiencies. For example, in the winter, seasonal affective disorder can arise from a deficiency in vitamin D. Because we do not have access to as much vitamin D through the sun’s limited rays, our body becomes deficient in vitamin D and we can become anxious and depressed. What do we do in that case? Supplement with vitamin D pills. Apply that same idea to CECD. If our body is deficient in endocannabinoids and our endocannabinoid system is not functioning properly as a result, then we must supplement with phytocannabinoids, like THC and CBD. (Russo, 2008).
CBD-based products, such as the formulations available in the Bōdee Organics product line, can help mitigate the symptoms of CECD by not only alleviating pain, inflammation and muscle tension, but also by supporting the body’s ability to produce its own endocannabinoids.
To fully understand the way in which CBD does this, we must first understand the way endocannabinoids are made. Endocannabinoids are made by a mechanism of action called on-demand synthesis. Most neurotransmitters in our body are made and then stored in vesicles inside our cells for later use. Endocannabinoid synthesis on the other hand happens on demand. Something has to trigger the production of endocannabinoids. There are enzymes that control endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation. For example, DGL and MGL are enzymes that control 2-AG synthesis and degradation. There are numerous enzymes that can make and degrade Anandamide, including FAAH.
Endocannabinoids are lipids, so they can move through the cell membrane on their own without the help of a carrier. When anandamide bypasses the cell membrane and enters the cell, FAAH can degrade anandamide before it has even had a chance to induce any meaningful physiological changes. In order to maximize the potential of anandamide, we must decrease the concentration of FAAH in the body.
FAAH levels increase as a result of stress. When stressed, the body makes FAAH and stores it inside the cell in vesicles. Therefore, when anandamide is made and enters the cell, FAAH is ready to immediately degrade it. This is frustrating because humans are almost always in a constant state of stress, whether it is because of work, relationships, society, the state of the world – we all have a hearty concentration of FAAH floating inside of us. And our endocannabinoids, like anandamide, have the ability to help us reduce stress. However, anandamide can’t help induce physiological changes that will reduce stress if it’s immediately degraded by a compound produced as a direct result of too much stress. It’s a catch 22.
However, not all hope is lost. There are compounds that can degrade or inhibit FAAH, and one of those compounds just happens to be CBD. CBD has the ability to degrade FAAH (Lee, 2011). Therefore, CBD indirectly supports our endocannabinoid system by allowing more anandamide to remain inside the cell for longer. If CBD degrades some of the FAAH, anandamide has a greater chance of causing physiological reactions. If more anandamide accumulates in the body, then there will be less endocannabinoid deficiency.
This is just one way that CBD can help reverse CECD. Phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, have such medical efficacy due to their ability to support our ECS while alleviating symptoms through many other physiological actions.
The next time you feel stressed or in pain, consume some CBD because it may provide relief while also helping to prevent stress and pain from occurring in the future. View all Bōdee Organics CBD products here.
Clarke, R. C., & Merlin, M. D. (2012). Cannabis: Evolution and ethnobotany. Berkeley: University of California Press
Lee, M. (2011). CBD: How it Works? O’Shaughnessy’s, p. 14
Petrocellis, Luciano De, et al. “The Endocannabinoid System: a General View and Latest Additions.” British Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 141, no. 5, Jan. 2009, pp. 765–774., doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0705666.
“Dr. Ethan Russo on CBD & Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency.” Project CBD: Medical Marijuana & Cannabinoid Science, 21 June 2016, www.projectcbd.org/science/cannabis-pharmacology/dr-ethan-russo-cbd-clinical-endocannabinoid-deficiency
Russo, E. B. (2007). History of cannabis and its preparations in saga, science, and sobriquet. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8), 1614–1648
Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: Potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. http:// doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x.
Russo, E.B. (2008) Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD): Can this Concept Explain Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other Treatment-Resistant Conditions? Neuroendocrinology Letters, 29(2), 192-200