* The photo used for this blog entry was taken pre Covid19. Please make sure you wear a mask responsible. This article has been medically reviewed by Carlos Levy D.O. owner of High Level Health Florida
Human use of cannabis dates back nearly 10,000 years. From food, to textile, to medicine, cannabis and humans have co-evolved together over the years in numerous forms. Medically speaking, the cannabis plants grown today have evolved to suit many different purposes and our bodies have evolved to receive these many different benefits.
Whether smoked, cooked into pastries, or processed down into pills and concentrates, the effects of cannabis on the human body are vast and well-known, but sometimes hard to explain. So how can one plant help with stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, lack of appetite, and so much more?
WHAT IS CANNABIS AND IS IT DIFFERENT FROM MARIJUANA?
From an academic standpoint, cannabis refers to a flowering plant that may be recognized by two common species Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.
U.S law defines different parts of the same cannabis plant as either hemp or marijuana. Hemp is defined as the stalks, stems and sterilized seeds of the cannabis plant whereas marijuana as the leaves, flower, and viable seeds of the cannabis plant.
On a quick aside, the term “marijuana” is most commonly used when referencing cannabis. It was popularized in the 1930s for political use in a federal war on drugs and generally has a negative connotation. Some even consider it racist due to its derogatory use in association with Hispanic and African communities. For this and medical reasons, we prefer to use the term cannabis.
HOW DOES CANNABIS HELP ME?
Some people have labeled cannabis as a miracle drug due to the broad nature of its therapeutic benefits and it is only natural to be skeptical of a cure-all medicine. However, the common thread remains; cannabis has a profound influence on both mind and body.
In the 1990’s, an Israeli scientist named Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his team, discovered naturally produced molecules that were similar to the compounds of cannabis plants known as cannabinoids (the two most well-known being CBD and THC). These compounds were called endocannabinoids (endo– Latin for within) and are part of a complex intracellular network called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
In its simplest form, the ECS is made up of three parts: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes responsible for helping carry out their functions.
The ECS was originally believed to be present only in the brain, but was later found to prevalent throughout the entire body including in our immune system, fatty tissue, liver, pancreas, skeletal muscles, heart, blood vessels, reproductive systems, and our GI tract. Further research has discovered the ECS in all vertebrates including mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.
The brain stem, which is responsible for controlling respiratory functions, heart rate, and blood pressure, is one place that completely lacks any cannabinoid receptors. On the other hand, it is filled with opiate and benzodiazepine receptors. This is why it is impossible to overdose using cannabis and why roughly 70,000 Americans overdose every year using opiates and benzos.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM – A DEEPER DIVE
The ECS is considered to be one of the largest and most important systems in the body, yet only recently has begun to be studied and understood. Research from the National Center for Biotechnology Center has found the ECS to be important in numerous functions such as:
- Pain, inflammation, and other immune responses.
- Mood and sleep.
- Appetite, digestion, and metabolism.
- Learning and memory.
- Cardiovascular system function.
- Liver function.
- Skin and nerve function.
- Reproductive system function.
- Muscle formation, bone growth, and motor control.
Many researchers believe the ECS plays a pivotal role in maintaining our bodies homeostasis, or more simply, biological balance. All living systems, on a cellular level, have a state of optimal function. Some variables that can effect that state include body temperature or blood sugar levels and the ECS helps keep us optimally balanced.
Researchers from Colorado State University and Nova Southeastern University present two reasons to support this train of thought:
- The ECS and is vastly abundant throughout the body.
- The ECS is a retrograde system function. Some processes in our body are one way streets. The ECS however, sends signals to and from the original source. This alternating flow allows the ECS to be a “master regulator” of physiological functions.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
So our bodies make these compounds called endocannabinoids which work with specific cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located all throughout the body. Together this system is known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). When these compounds interact with their corresponding receptors, physiological functions take place. These endocannabinoids are similar to components in cannabis such as CBD and THC.
As a result, when cannabis is used, our bodies receive a massive intake of cannabinoids which in turn stimulates our ECS, helping to bring balance to our bodies.
To date, there are over 100 different cannabinoids that have been identified. This doesn’t even begin to include the different terpenes, flavonoids, and omega fatty acids that are also prevalent in cannabis and contribute their own therapeutic effects.
As we begin to understand all these different cannabinoids and how they interact with our ECS, we are able to grow strains of cannabis with medical intention. Sativa strains tend to be uplifting and have a cerebral effect providing more of a mind high. Indicas put you “in-da-couch” as Dr. Levy likes to say and are great for pain and insomnia as they provide more of a body high.
Charlotte’s Web is a strain grown with even more specific medical intention. Charlotte’s Web is a low THC, high CBD strain made famous by reducing the number of grand mal seizures in a six year old girl named Charlotte Figi. Her story is renowned in the cannabis community and is often used to help support U.S legislation on medical marijuana.
As we dig deeper into understanding cannabis we begin to ask the question beyond does cannabis treat disease, but can cannabis help us prevent disease and promote good health?
We believe, unequivocally, that the answer is yes.
Backes, Michael. Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana. Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2017.
Astern, Laurie and Sallaberry, Chad. “The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator.” Journal of Young Investigators, Journal of Young Investigators, 1 June 2018, www.jyi.org/2018-june/2018/6/1/the-endocannabinoid-system-our-universal-regulator.
Sulak, Dustin. “Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System.” NORML, 29 June 2020, norml.org/marijuana/library/recent-medical-marijuana-research/introduction-to-the-endocannabinoid-system/.
Zou, Shenglong, and Ujendra Kumar. “Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, MDPI, 13 Mar. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/.