What the Endocannabinoid System and CBD Mean for Medicine

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What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is perhaps the most important of all systems in the body which regulate our health. However, the long-time prohibition of cannabis has led us to neglect it without realizing it – that’s because the system itself wasn’t discovered by researchers until the 1990s.

The ECS is regulated by endocannabinoids, which the body produces itself, and phytocannabinoids, a group of compounds that appear to be very rare but are found in abundance in cannabis. Our newfound scientific understanding of the ECS and the body explains why many ancient cultures revered cannabis, and why it’s been a staple in many natural, plant-based medicines for thousands of years.

Out of the 400 or more compounds in cannabis than the minimum of 113 cannabinoids, the two most intriguing chemicals are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both boast extraordinary medicinal qualities and are helping to remedy conditions that conventional science rendered medication-resistant, such as rare forms of epilepsy. However, THC has struggled to earn political and societal acceptance so far because of its psychoactive properties. But CBD isn’t psychoactive, and the cannabinoid’s astonishing therapeutic effects are proving too tough to ignore.

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid confirmed to be present in cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, but it could possibly be found in other obscure plants. Just recently, a South African flower known as Helichrysum umbraculigerum was confirmed to contain cannabigerol (CBG), another non-psychaoctive cannabinoid with an array of medical benefits.

CBD helps to promote balance in the ECS, which is tasked with keeping the body in homeostasis. Therefore, CBD can be used to treat a specific condition, and also as a supplement to improve general health.

Many CBD products are made using an extract from the entire plant – these are known as full-spectrum CBD oils. Because they are made from industrial hemp which has low levels of THC, these products won’t get you high and have legal status in all 50 US states. Full-spectrum CBD vape oil and e-liquid will likely contain CBG and other non-psychotropic cannabinoids, and also terpenes.

What does the endocannabinoid system regulate?

Cannabinoid receptors can be found in the brain, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, the skin, the gut and elsewhere. Having such a presence throughout the body explains why CBD and cannabinoid treatments have shown potential in so many fields of medicine.

The ECS controls our mood, appetite, immune system response, skin cycle, sebum production, sleeping patterns and more, and can help to manage anxiety and other mental health disorders. It is thought that some conditions may result from deficiencies or dysregulation in the ECS, with neurologist Dr Ethan Russo presenting the theory of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).

Certain illnesses for which scientists have not identified a cause or cure, such as fibromyalgia, could perhaps be due to problems with endocannabinoid production or the expression of cannabinoid receptors. And indeed, while clinical research is scant for now, some fibromyalgia patients are experimenting with CBD and finding relief.

The case for CECD being real is a very compelling one, with the discovery of the ECS alone demonstrating that scientists only understand so much of what goes on in the body.

CBD’s interactions with the endocannabinoid system

CBD’s effect on the ECS is not obvious at first, as the cannabinoid does not make a direct bond with cannabinoid receptors as THC does – THC binds to the CB1 receptor, imitating anandamide, an endocannabinoid known to some as the ‘human THC’.

Instead, CBD works to restore the natural connections required in the ECS to ensure that it functions efficiently and can treat potential issues. CBD does this by preventing anandamide breakdown. Anandamide is degraded very quickly by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme. But by reducing activity among FAAH enzymes, CBD indirectly boosts anandamide concentrations in the ECS, allowing it to make the necessary bonds to keep homeostasis.

Initial ECS research suggested that CBD only interacts with this system, however recent studies have pointed toward the compound holding influence over other networks. For example, CBD and THC are both considered useful pain relievers. THC’s pain-relieving effects come from binding with CB1 receptors to reduce the perception of pain. However, CBD doesn’t connect with CB1 in this way. The most likely scenario is that CBD stimulates the bond between anandamide and TRPV-1, otherwise known as vanilloid receptor 1. TRPV-1 is a G-protein coupled receptor that influences pain sensitivity. CBD may increase anandamide levels to facilitate this interaction.

One study also found CBD to affect serotonin receptors, which could help us to understand why the cannabinoid can enhance mood in depression patients.

These remarkable findings are sure to influence the future of medicine. In several cases, CBD is now proving to be more effective than prescription drugs, and less likely to induce side effects. This is the case with treatment-resistant epilepsy conditions, anxiety and perhaps chronic pain, too. And with the ECS having a hand in immune system response, it’s possible that many inflammatory conditions could be managed more effectively with cannabinoids than with existing medication, such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Vaping CBD

The beauty of vaping CBD e-liquid is that there are so many products to pick from. With potency ranging from low to high, everybody can find a CBD vape oil that is quick to medicate with. For those who want to vape while on-the-go, a vaporizer that accepts disposable CBD cartridges could be simpler and cleaner to use. Furthermore, many cartridges release a set amount of CBD each draw, which is helpful if you’re looking to take an exact dose.

However, refillable vaporizers offer more customization for the user. It’s possible to take bigger draws and blow bigger clouds – there’s no need to disregard the enjoyment factor even though you’re medicating.

Vaping is also the fastest and healthiest way to restore balance to the endocannabinoid system. The CBD can penetrate the alveoli in the lungs, passing into the bloodstream almost immediately after inhalation, where interactions with cannabinoid receptors can then take place.

Is CBD safe?

The World Health Organization has recently changed its position on CBD, with the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) concluding that the cannabinoid poses no abuse potential in its “pure state.” Some countries have taken steps to officially deem CBD a medicinal compound, and many US states are going down the same route.

However, the information provided in this article is not meant to be taken as medical advice, but as informational and educational content. If you are suffering from any condition and thinking about CBD, but hold reservations, it’s better to consult a doctor than attempting to self-medicate.

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