THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
How can triggering your body’s innate endocannabinoid system (ECS) help with your overall well-being? We know about the ECS and its regulatory effect on foundational processes like sleep, emotion and pain processing, stress, and cognition. Its presence in vertebrates is the reason that plants like cannabis produce a variety of effects when consumed, from relieving pain to reducing inflammation or inducing sleep. The stability and proper functioning of the ECS is vital to achieving homeostasis within the body.
In humans, the receptors of the ECS are seen in high concentrations in the brain, liver, GI tract, skeletal muscles, cardiovascular system, and reproductive system, implicating their relevance in the major functions associated with those areas: learning and memory, cardiac function, fertility regulation, sleep, energy, muscle formation, and more. It is this “umbrella-like” regulatory nature the ECS has on so many fundamental processes that indicates its role in our daily experience and overall well-being. We must sleep well, eat well, and problem-solve to truly live in balance, and because all of these processes are linked under the umbrella of the ECS, its proper functioning is crucial.
Integral to the discovery of the regulator that is the ECS was the observation that humans also produce endocannabinoids (the prefix endo- indicates origins within a body, as opposed to the phyto- affix for plant-based cannabinoids). Your body is an ecosystem, and the regulation of the ECS can be helped or hindered by how you maintain your body and live your life.
Another contributor to (im)balance: the intake of essential fatty acids Linoleic Acid and Alpha Linoleic Acid, both of which bind to endocannabinoid receptors and are associated with a host of neurological processes and development. These can be found in different types of oils, but particularly hemp oil and MCT (Coconut oil blend) oil. However, due to overall shifts in the American diet in recent decades, it is now commonplace for people to have an imbalance in these fatty acids, which can affect long-term brain function, often making their consumption crucial to combat this deficiency. Further botanical compounds that exert effects on the ECS, and are therefore functionally considered to be cannabinoids, are terpenes. As we’ve covered, terpenes are an abundant compound found throughout the plant kingdom, and for generations have been distinguished for their medicinal properties.
With emerging science, more focus is being paid to the ECS and its role in wellness routines for targeting issues like energy, stamina, pain relief, and sleep. Lifestyle, diet, and your level of mindfulness are locked into a reciprocal relationship with the functioning of your ECS, and identifying and targeting sources of imbalance will help you achieve your wellness goals.
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CLINICAL ENDOCANNABINOID DEFICIENCY?
In light of modern research, a nearly 20-year-old theory about the endocannabinoid system is getting new traction. The theory suggests a common underlying component to many common, treatment-resistant pain syndromes such as migraine, IBS, and fibromyalgia. That observation is now being called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED), and is characterized by an imbalance in the amount and state of cannabinoid receptors in a given body. The initial early 2000s studies, spearheaded by Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, Dr. Ethan Russo, are supported by subsequent decades’ research into cannabinoid treatment for these and other pain syndromes, painting a supportive view of what was formerly anecdotal evidence. Further, researchers are now examining other possible pain-related conditions that may call for a CED classification.
Conditions like migraine, IBS, and fibromyalgia are treatment-resistant because they are highly subjective: there are limited conclusive lab tests to diagnose them, no associated tissue evidence to examine in the body, and a lack of language for patient-doctor dialogue. This all commonly leads to ineffective treatment for those suffering with issues of chronic pain. What is known, however, is that human biology has an endocannabinoid system and an associated endocannabinoid called anandamide, known colloquially as “the bliss molecule,” which is considered to be the body’s natural antidepressant.
But what happens when a person does not product enough endocannabinoids, or their ECS is not being adequately signaled? When not kept in balance, or in a state of homeostasis, any or all of the patterns overseen by the ECS like sleep, mood, and pain processing, can become out of alignment. When it comes to the symptoms of IBS, fibromyalgia, and migraine, successful treatment with cannabis-derived cannabinoids (as opposed to the naturally occurring) has shown enough improvement that researchers are now aligning CED with other disorders with misfiring neurotransmitters: Dopamine in Parkinson’s, Serotonin and norepinephrine in depression, acetylcholine in Alzheimer’s, and Anandamide in CED.
The findings of the early research indicates that supplementing the endocannabinoid system with hemp-derived cannabinoids can be an effective treatment for migraine, IBS, fibromyalgia, and potentially many other clinical conditions. While study of the three syndromes named here provide the strongest evidence for the link between therapeutic endocannabinoid signaling and cannabis, other conditions being examined for the CED classification include post-traumatic stress syndrome, cystic fibrosis, menstrual pain, and multiple sclerosis. Even though these all are considered treatment-resistant, taking an informed, strategic approach to triggering and balancing your ECS can improve related symptoms. With the caveat that you should always speak with your physician before making drastic changes in your wellness routines, you may notice a ripple effect of improvements once you begin to directly address your diet and exercise patterns, prioritizing getting better rest and gut health, and taking efforts to keep a balanced mood.
See our References.