EndoCannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System and why so few people know about it

If you’d asked me a year ago about the endocannabinoid system, I would have stared at you blankly while uttering a confused ‘endo-what?’

That’s not to say I’m someone who has no clue about health. As an ex-bodyworker, my training involved learning about all the major systems in the body, or so I thought. But before entering the world of medical cannabis, the endocannabinoid system just wasn’t on my radar.

And I’m not alone. Most people I know have no knowledge of this integral biological system. And like me, with even the briefest of explanations, their eyes light up in wonder and curiosity. It’s as if suddenly everything makes sense, with the proverbial ‘aha’ moment – “Oh right, that’s why cannabis helps so many conditions’.

So, a year into my cannabis immersion, I wanted to get to the bottom of the question: why do so few people know about the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?

Scientists discover endocannabinoid system through studying Cannabis

A first clue lies in the manner in which the endocannabinoid system1 was discovered. Since the 1960s, scientists had been studying the active compounds in cannabis; and it was through their quest to understand how THC worked in the body that they found the first cannabinoid receptor in 1988.

This was followed by the identification of the body’s own cannabis-like chemicals that, like THC, fitted into the cannabinoid receptors causing physiological changes in the body. The resulting communication network located primarily in the brain, central nervous and immune system became known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its role – to act as a biological regulator, ensuring that balance is achieved in the body.

The ECS is implicated in everything from chronic pain, tumor growth, metabolic diseases, anxiety, and epilepsy. Scientists have seen that compounds within the cannabis plant interact with the ECS, and in the process ease symptoms such as nausea during chemotherapy, chronic pain and can even reduce epileptic seizures.

Schedule 1 status restricts research

And yet, these very compounds are classified as having no accepted medical use2, a decision made prior to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.

According to Greg Gerdeman, Assistant Professor in Biology at Eckerd College in Florida, “The thing is that the schedule 1 status is so extreme that it creates all of these barriers to research. The DEA has stonewalled researchers to be able to look at herbal cannabis and study its outcomes. For this reason, just the whole intensity of the scheduling has made it difficult to make progress.”3

By progress we can talk in terms of understanding the full extent of the workings of the ECS, researching therapeutic properties of cannabis that are not related to its abuse, and getting herbal cannabis-based medication through all the appropriate protocols; such as double-blind, randomized, three-stage clinical trials.

Doctors lack knowledge

This lack of herbal cannabis medication on the market is a major contributing factor to why so little is known about the ECS in medical circles. According to Gerdeman, an average doctor in the US gets much of their information about advances in medicine from drug reps who have a product under development.

Right now, due in part to the schedule 1 status, selling herbal cannabis products is not on the pharmaceutical companies’ agenda, and so the only information that reaches doctors about cannabis is regarding its potential harm.

However, in states and countries where medical cannabis has been legalized and commercial cannabis-based products are on the market; doctors are clamoring for more information about the ECS and the medicinal uses of cannabis. In Israel, for instance, the Ministry of Health’s Medical Cannabis Unit trains doctors so that they can prescribe medical cannabis for patients with qualifying conditions.

Medical students sitting and talking at the university

Is the endocannabinoid system taught at medical school?

But what about the doctors of the future? Will the endocannabinoid system feature on their med school curriculum?

Back in 2013, David B. Allen MD commissioned a survey in which all the medical schools in the US were asked whether they included the ECS within their syllabus.4 Only 13% were found to teach it in any way, with Dr. Allen declaring that “research and education of medical students involving the ECS is being intentionally restricted by politics.”

This finding sent shock waves through the medical cannabis community, with many wondering what hope there was for an integration of medical cannabis into the healthcare system if most health professionals were unaware of the physiological system underpinning its effectiveness.

Moving in right direction

Thankfully, four years on, there are signs of progress. According to Gerdeman: “Awareness is growing. The neuroscience textbook that I teach my undergraduate neuroscience course with, and is the most popular undergraduate neuroscience textbook … has three pages on endocannabinoids. It cites my work and others calling it, ‘The most exciting discovery in cell signaling in the past several years.’”

In other countries such as the UK and Spain, the endocannabinoid system is taught in many if not all medical schools, although surprisingly in Israel, it is not.

Could more knowledge of the ECS change cannabis scheduling?

So, whatever way you look at it, the therapeutic future of both the endocannabinoid system and the cannabis plant are defined by what is essentially outdated drug scheduling. But could a greater knowledge of the ECS allow cannabis to come out of its 50-year hinterland?

Gerdeman thinks this could be the case. “Discovering the ECS is liberating cannabis from the schedule 1 paradigm where it hasn’t really ever belonged,” he says. “And naturally it feeds into the narrative that cannabis in some shape or form could be beneficial to so many different people.”

It would follow then that as more knowledge of the endocannabinoid system seeps out of the research labs into the knowledge bank of doctors and the public at large, a change in scheduling of cannabis might just follow.

So, it’s time to go forth and publicize our neglected, biological best friend, the endocannabinoid system. Get informed, spread the word, and let’s help give the ECS the recognition it deserves.

About the Author:

Mary Biles is a British freelance writer-blogger and wandering spirit, mostly based in the Andalusian capital of Seville, Southern Spain. She is passionate about the healing potential of cannabis and is currently a guest blogger for CBD oil innovators Endoca.

 


References:

1.
Nicke D. Marijuana Your Body Makes – Endocannabinoids | The Cannapedia. The Cannapedia. http://thecannapedia.org/marijuana-your-body-makes-endocannabinoids/. Published November 5, 2016. Accessed June 18, 2017.
2.
Controlled Substances Act – Wikipedia. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_Substances_Act. Accessed June 18, 2017.
3.
Gregory Gerdeman. Biology | Eckerd College. https://www.eckerd.edu/biology/faculty/gerdeman/. Accessed June 18, 2017.
4.
B. Allen, M.D. D. Survey Shows Low Acceptance of the Science of the ECS (Endocannabinoid System). Outword Magazine. http://www.outwordmagazine.com/inside-outword/glbt-news/1266-survey-shows-low-acceptance-of-the-science-of-the-ecs-endocannabinoid-system. Accessed June 18, 2017.

The Benefits of Terpenes in Cannabis Essential Oil

Most of us are familiar with essential oils. You have likely enjoyed the smell of lavender, sage or eucalyptus essential oil.

Essential oils are basically the juices extracted from plants either through steam distillation, CO2 Extraction or through a press.

The main therapeutic agent in essential oils are the terpenes.

Terpenes are the life force, the quintessential 5th element or the spirit of the plant. – Ethan Russo

They are delicate, organic compounds, known as phytochemicals or metabolites.

Physiologically, Terpenes are involved in Three Crucial Processes.

  • Communication between symbiotic organisms 
  • The Attraction of Pollinating Insects
  • Plant Interactions such as creating defense mechanisms for predators. 1

Terpenes are well known for giving the plant, its unique aroma signature. These essences activate the olfactory system, which when inhaled can send messages to the limbic system of your brain, resulting in a cascading effect of positive benefits.

These fragrances may release stored memories, change your mood, calm you down in stressful times, among other physiological and physical benefits.

Dr. Ethan Russo, Neurologist and Medical Scientist, suggests that “terpenes are potent agents for animal and human behavior transformation when inhaled at ambient air level serums.”

Russo mentions that terpenes are a crucial aspect of the entourage effect that is a significant component to the therapeutic qualities of the cannabis plant.

He believes that the crucial connection between cannabinoids and terpenes is what gives cannabis its healing power, for things like: cancer, epilepsy, viral infections, depression, anxiety, and addiction.2

Terpenes are foundational components to a thriving eco-system and optimal human health.

For example, Artemisia was a sesquiterpene used to fight Malaria. Another terpene known as Yew,  has been recognized for warding off ovarian and breast cancers. Terpenes extracted from Foxglove were used in over 1 million heart disease cases. 1

Depending on which terpenes are present in each cultivar the essential oil will have a unique essence and signature.  I’ve often heard in the industry that there are over 700 cultivars of cannabis! That is some serious medicine available to the human species. That’s why you can smell sweet, earthy, skunky, pine-like, and fruity cannabis among many other essences.

Here are just a few of the main terpenes present in the blossoms of cannabis essential oil and their respective health promoting benefits.

Cannabis Essential Oil Terpene Benefits | Infographic

Cannabis Essential Oil Terpenes Infographic

In order to distinguish which terpenes are in any given essential oil, a lab analysis should be done as there are over 200 known terpenes in the cannabis plant. There are well over 19,000 terpenes in the plant kingdom.

Lastly, terpenes are volatile and vaporize at even moderate temperatures. In the middle of a hot summer day, for example, you won’t smell the aroma as much. However, in the ambrosial hours when things are cool and a dew sets over the plants the pungent terpene aromas can be better experienced making it the best time to harvest medicinal plants – such as cannabis – rich with terpenes.

Autism - boy covers ears

What’s The Answer to Autism?

In order to understand what is happening in an Autistic individual we must touch upon the critical role of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

A low-grade chronic infection is a primary challenge in autistic individuals – resulting in systemic inflammation. A pro-inflammatory state in both the brain and the gut are symptoms of Autism which points to a malfunctioning ECS. 

Our ECS is made up of lipids and receptors and is located in the brain, immune and nervous systems. The ECS regulates physiological systems, including appetite, pain, inflammatory response, thermoregulation, intra-ocular pressure, physical sensation, muscle control, energy balance, metabolism, sleep health, stress responses, motivation/reward, mood, and memory. 1

Autism and its relation to an imbalanced or inefficient ECS is one of the main research findings by the late great Doctor Bradstreet out of Melbourne, Florida. Stanford University research also shows us the powerful link to the ECS and Autism as well as studies put out by The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics.  2  3

Further research suggests that a gene mutation is present in autistic individuals blocking the body’s natural production of endocannabinoids. 4  This then results in behavioral challenges, issues with psychological development and imbalances in cognition.

Another key finding is that this gene mutation is what causes spastic communication instead of calm communication between pathways, this directly links to an inefficient ECS5

Take for example an Autistic person that displays an addiction to certain foods. The ECS regulates this type of impulse. An imbalanced ECS can cause irregular cravings as well as leaky gut. The ECS controls all of these physiological systems and without sufficient endocannabinoid production, it is challenging for the body to communicate properly.

Autistic individuals are also highly sensitive to environmental toxins because their system does not properly control toxins from passing through the gut lining as well as the blood-brain barrier.

This shows us a direct connection to a weak ECS. Their brain is susceptible to toxins because the ECS in the brain is malfunctioning, allowing toxins to pass the blood brain barrier causing irritation. Cannabinoids – like cannabidiol – help to seal the matrix of the brain and protect the neurovascular environment.    Because our ECS is also a part of the digestive system this same challenge happens with the gut wall; causing irritation and imbalances. It too must be sealed and cannabinoids help to accomplish this. 

With a restored and nourished ECS, a proper foundation is created leading to the healthy signaling of transmitters in the brain and gut.

The Solution:

Cannabinoids are a foundational part of a healthy and optimal functioning body.

Using extracted cannabinoids from the cannabis plant could be a therapeutic approach offered by nature. These fatty acid compounds help to:

  • Nourish the brain – ease inflammation
  • Seal the blood brain barrier from toxins, as well as
  • Heal the protein-tight-junctions in the gut so that pathogens do not get through.

With this improved state of one’s immune system, the signaling can be restored to optimal function and communication can operate in a healthy manner.

Research and real life examples show supplemental usage of cannabis oil helps to calm down these individuals and restore the ECS.

Here is an infographic sharing the importance of a well-nourished endocannabinoid system and its connection to Autism.   

*This article is dedicated to the late Dr. Jeff Bradstreet for his impeccable service to share his findings with the Autistic community.

1.
2.
Endocannabinoid Signaling in Autism. Neurotherapeutics. http://petaleconsultancy.com/Endocannabinoid-Signaling-in-Autism.pdf.
3.
Dr. Jeff B. Understanding the Endocannabinoid System and Autism and therapeutics. Youtube Presentation. https://youtu.be/s8CbIvd8p4Q.
4.
Cannabis shows great promise treating autism. Natural Society. http://naturalsociety.com/cannabis-shows-great-promise-treating-autism-symptoms/.
5.
Mutations found in individuals with autism interfere with endocannabinoid signaling in the brain. Eurekalert. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-04/cp-mfi040513.php.

Treating PTSD With Cannabis

According to recent reports, Cannabis can reduce the symptoms of PTSD by 75%. (01)

In fact, some researchers believe that PTSD may actually be caused by an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system.
Patients suffering from PTSD were found to have low or depleted natural levels of Endocannabinoids. (02) Read more