The Role of the ECS in your Health
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
What is the ECS?
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) plays a highly important role in regulating our bodies physiological functions responses. Manipulating the ECS can have effects on inflammation, pain, sleep, anxiety, hunger, mood, and more. Maintaining a balanced level of all these bodily functions is called homeostasis. When something is out of whack, your body’s ECS works to return itself to a homeostatic state through a wide variety of mechanisms. Let’s break down the word “endocannabinoid” . . .
So what is the cannabinoid in ‘endocannabinoid’? A cannabinoid is a molecule containing the active molecules of the cannabis plant. This includes, but is not limited to, CBD and THC. In fact, there are over 100 different cannabinoids identified thus far. The prefix endo, means “from within”. So the ‘endocannabinoid’ system is a system of cannabinoids occurring from within your body! It’s no wonder cannabis seems to fit so well into the functional mechanisms our bodies have. Two endocannabinoids identified in the body, 2-AG and Anandamide, can have similar effects to that of THC and CBD when interacting with the ECS.
The 3 Parts of the ECS
There are three (3) parts of the ECS. We have already discussed the first part – cannabinoids. Cannabinoids interact with the second part of the system – cannabinoid receptors. There are two main cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB1 is mostly found in the central nervous system (brain and spine) and the CB2 receptor can be found elsewhere in the pipherary nervous system and the immune system.
The ECS is activated when a cannabinoid or endocannabinoid interacts with a cannabinoid receptor. The bodily response or function activated by the cannabinoid is stopped when a metabolic enzyme breaks down the cannabinoid. This is the third and final part of the ECS. Here is a quick summary:
- Cannabinoids – contains the active molecules found in cannabis, endocannabinoids are cannabinoids found within the body (CBD, THC, 2-AG, AEA, etc.)
- Cannabinoid Receptors – cannabinoid receptors interact with cannabinoids to activate the ECS. There are two types, CB1 and CB2.
3. Metabolic Enzymes – these enzymes break down the cannabinoids and end the bodily response or function being performed by the ECS
Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED)
What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
When your body does not produce or have enough endocannabinoids or cannabinoid receptors for the ECS to function properly, this is known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED). Without the proper amount of cannabinoids or receptors, the physiological functions and responses that keep the body in a state of homeostasis, cannot function at a high enough level. It is hypothesized that a deficient ECS may be the underlying cause of several disorders, diseases, and conditions including:
- Other treatment-resistive conditions
Because of the common symptoms between many of these conditions, and the overlapping population of those with these conditions, it was hypothesized a lack of cannabinoids may be the origin of the problem, or at least part of it (Russo). Such overlap in common symptoms and having multiple conditions is hard to ignore. In fact:
“Primary headaches co-occurred in 97% of 201 fibromyalgia patients, 35.6% of 101 chronic daily headache (transformed migraine) subjects also fit clinical criteria of fibromyalgia, and 31.6% of IBS subjects were also diagnosable with fibromyalgia, while 32% of fibromyalgia patients also fit for IBS” (Russo)
A deficiency in the ECS can either be present from birth or caused by lifestyle choices. Lifestyle choices can include excessive alcohol, lack of exercise, sleep, and diet (Fava, et al). It seems to make sense that because cannabis can help mitigate symptoms of the conditions listed above, that an initial lack of cannabinoids could be one of the causes (Russo). One study discovered levels of anandamide (AEA, an endocannabinoid) found in cerebral fluid was significantly different in those that had migraines and those that did not (Russo). Brain imaging showed that the ECS had less activity in those with PTSD (Russo).
How Can I Treat CED?
Upregulating your ECS can happen in many ways. For example, long-term exercise has been shown to increase levels of endocannabinoids in the body (McPartland, et al). Different types of drugs can also have effects on endocannabinoid levels of activity including, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, acetaminophen, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (McPartland, et al). Even caffeine and nicotine can modulate the ECS.
Cannabis consumption is a popular method to activate the body’s ECS. McPartland and colleagues say that “THC mimics AEA and 2-AG” but does not replace them in the ECS. It rather helps to “kickstart” the system. CBD can inhibit the production of a metabolic enzyme (3rd part of the ECS, see above), FAAH. The enzyme FAAH breaks down endocannabinoid AEA so by inhibiting production of FAAH, CBD can help to increase levels of AEA (McPartland, et al) (Alger).
Other studies have shown how FAAH inhibition can have “excellent analgesic (pain relieving) efficacy” (Pacher, et al). In PTSD patients, recurring thoughts of a traumatic experience elicits a conditioned response to the stimulus. FAAH inhibition can increase fear extinction learning in PTSD patients (this is a decline in the fear response to stimuli).
The use of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids to help treat symptoms of pain and anxiety is widely accepted. The mechanisms on how cannabinoids do their jobs in alleviating pain and anxiety are still being discovered, but there has been a lot of great studies documenting what we know so far. Migraines and fibromyalgia are associated with secondary hyperalgesia (lower pain threshold and increased sensitivity to pain). Hyperalgesia has been observed in relation to a deficient ECS making “CED a rational explanation” (Russo). Additionally, levels of serotonin receptors, 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A, have a role in migraine pain and it just so happens that upregulation of AEA “potentiates 5-HT1A and inhibits 5-HT2A” creating therapeutic effects for migraine sufferers (Russo).
Other conditions, like IBS, may also benefit from CBD use and therefore FAAH inhibition. The tissue of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) was found to have levels of TRPV-1 (nerve fibers) 3.5x that of the control. The inhibition of FAAH and therefore the upregulation of AEA is associated with a desensitization of TRPV-1 (Russo).
Using CBD for Endocannabinoid Deficiency
We wish we could just tell you exactly how much of which CBD product to take to alleviate your aches and pains, but we everyone has a different ideal dose that depends on a variety of factors. Age, weight, metabolism, type of product use, when you last ate, severity of your affliction and more all determine what CBD dose works best for you. There are a few things you can consider and keep in mind when determining your CBD dose. We at Thrive Flower always say:
“Start Low and Build up Slow”
This refers to starting with a low dosage and then taking a little bit more after that initial dosage has worn off (a usual dose lasts about 4-8 hours). Starting with 5-10mg is a good place to be. Many CBD users take 25-50mg at a time and some take their dose 2x per day. Take your time building up and finding your ideal dose because, although you cannot take too much CBD and cause any sort of overdose, you can over stimulate your ECS with too high a dose right off the bat.
This will not hurt you, but you are missing out on the maximum benefits that can be provided. No need to worry about developing a tolerance from consistent usage either as CBD has been found to be non-tolerance forming (Peres, et al) and non-addictive. The type of product being used is also important and different delivery systems have different absorption rates in your body (Fig. 1). See the chart below for a suggested guide on dosing CBD based on weight and severity of affliction. Remember, everyone is different and it takes time to find the perfect dose for you.
Self Testing for Endocannabinoid Deficiency
There is no sure fire way to determine if you have a deficient ECS, but here are some common signs that you may have CED:
- Does not handle stress well
- Fits of anger
- Addiction to drugs/alcohol/nicotine/caffeine
- Afflicted with inflammatory diseases (fibromyalgia, arthritis, asthma, etc.)
- Family history of cancer
- Family history of dementia
- Memory loss
- Hormone imbalances
If you have more than several of these, there is a chance you could be suffering from Endocannabinoid Deficiency. Speaking with your primary care physician is always a good idea before starting a new wellness routine or changing your current regime.