The medical cannabis industry is going through an unprecedented era of growth, much of that thanks to non-intoxicating, hemp-based products made primarily with CBD. The absence, or minimal concentrations of THC in these products means that they cannot be abused or taken for recreational purposes, as they produce no psychoactive effects – for many CBD users, this is a big benefit.
CBD affects a network vital for the body’s health known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The cannabinoid receptors in the ECS are found all over the body and in various organs and influence mental and physical health by regulating variables such as appetite, pain sensitivity and the sleep-wake cycle.
All of the body’s systems need to be well-regulated for homeostasis, not least the ECS. Homeostasis is a desired state of equilibrium that the body always seeks to be in.
The body has plenty of tricks to ensure this state of homeostasis is maintained. For example, we tend to shiver in cold conditions and sweat in hotter weather in an effort to regulate body temperature and promote homeostasis – hence external and internal factors both affect this equilibrium. When internal changes happen, mechanisms in the ECS work to ensure these adjustments are not problematic.
The door to illness is opened when homeostasis is lost – sometimes these issues may be as simple as a small infection, but some conditions can have more serious ramifications. If the body is unable to correct imbalances autonomously, medication is often required to return the body to homeostasis. Since the ECS has so much physiological and emotional power over the body, it is perfectly logical that its regulation holds the key to homeostasis. Furthermore, one imbalance in the ECS can potentially lead to several.
The neurotransmitters (or endocannabinoids) in the ECS latch onto cannabinoid receptors to tweak the variables modulated by the system. Anandamide is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter that has been scientifically linked to the “runner’s high” – the compound has a strong binding affinity with CB1 receptors and passes through the blood-brain barrier to link up with these and enhance mood.
The body produces endocannabinoids when necessary (i.e. when homeostasis is lost). For example, if a mood disorder is being caused by a lack of anandamide-CB1 connections, the ECS calls for more anandamide to address it. However, new research indicates that not everybody has the ability to produce endocannabinoids on demand, and that such people are suffering from a potential ECS-related spectrum disorder called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
CECD has been linked to fibromyalgia, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other conditions that have proven complex, with no obvious cause. Indeed, it makes sense that we are still at a loss with many illnesses, given that experts have been studying the ECS for less than 30 years and still have lots to learn about it. The prohibition of cannabis stifled research on cannabinoids, which would have advanced ECS knowledge much more quickly.
Research has found that CBD has medicinal value as a fibromyalgia treatment, which gives the CECD argument extra credence. After all, if somebody is suffering due to a lack of endocannabinoids, supplementing their body with plant-derived cannabinoids helps to promote natural ECS functioning.
CECD and Dr Ethan Russo
Raphael Mechoulam, a world-renowned cannabis scientist, was essential for our early understanding of cannabinoids and the ECS, but neurologist Dr Ethan Russo is taking cannabinoid research to new heights with his proposed CECD.
Russo built on the research he already had when developing his argument that CECD was a genuine illness, and he demonstrated that there were multiple conditions where patients had low endocannabinoid levels. Hence, Russo suggested that cannabis medicine was propping up these endocannabinoid concentrations and helping to create fresh connections with cannabinoid receptors.
Studies have shown that CBD produces some fascinating interactions with the ECS, and that it doesn’t function in the same way that THC does with the system – mimicking endocannabinoids and hijacking receptor landing points. The effects of CBD are very helpful for recapturing homeostasis.
As of 2018, CECD is yet to be proven as an official condition, and more comprehensive research carried out in clinical conditions will be necessary before we can determine firstly whether CECD is real, and secondly whether cannabinoid treatments are most suitable for illnesses defined by endocannabinoid deficiency. But the signs may be promising, since researchers have already learnt how to influence the ECS for certain purposes and how CBD can help. In the case of depression, anandamide concentrations are boosted by CBD’s inhibition of the FAAH enzyme.
CBD can also increase or decrease the binding affinity of receptors to instigate various reactions, but crucially, the side effects from using this non-psychoactive cannabinoid appear to be minimal, hence the massive rise in interest for CBD products. Many people are finding that their current pharmaceutical medication is not helping them sufficiently, either by having limited effectiveness or by causing other side effects. Vaporizing CBD vape oil and e-liquid is also a speedier process than orally-taking a drug, which is useful for conditions that demand quick relief, such as neuropathic pain.
For some, the threat of overdosing is what is steering away from their prescription medication – this is especially apparent with opioid-based painkillers, where gradually increasing tolerance calls for stronger doses, putting health at risk. Interestingly, research shows that CBD operates outside of the ECS, and may exhibit anti-addiction properties in the opioid system.
We know that THC is effective at reducing pain via distraction, but CBD may also help to alleviate chronic pain by stimulating anandamide, which binds with the vanilloid receptor to regulate pain sensitivity.
However, it’s important to stress that much of this research is in its early days, and it may take years before we have a solid understanding of the effects that this remarkable cannabinoid has on the body.
Many people are enjoying stunning results by self-medicating with CBD gummy bears, CBD oil, CBD creams and other CBD-infused products. But remember, this article is meant to be educational, and not as a replacement for official medical advice.