It’s no secret that many who suffer from untreatable chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, or irritable bowel syndrome often turn to cannabis for relief. Despite the vast advancements made by modern medicine, these chronic conditions remain mysterious and difficult to treat.
But what if the reason cannabis helps assuage the symptoms of these conditions is that the conditions themselves stem from an imbalance in our endocannabinoid system? According to famed cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo, that may be the case.
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
Before we get too deep into endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome, let’s refresh ourselves on what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is.
If you’re reading this blog, then odds are you’re familiar with cannabinoids like THC or CBD. But did you know that our bodies naturally produce chemicals that are surprisingly similar to these cannabinoids. These compounds are powerful neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids, and they, alongside endocannabinoid receptors, make up the endocannabinoid system.
What Does The Endocannabinoid System Regulate?
The endocannabinoid system plays a major role in maintaining homoeostasis in our bodies by regulating several vital functions. These include:
- sleep patterns
- memory encoding
When Was The Endocannabinoid System Discovered
Research into the ECS is still in its infancy—the first endocannabinoid wasn’t even discovered until 1992 less than 30 years ago. However, as cannabis has become more accepted by governments and mainstream medicine, we’ve seen an uptick in studies seeking to better understand this critical bodily system.
How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?
One could think of the endocannabinoid system as a series of phone calls taking place in an office phone system. Imagine your body is a drab brutalist office building. The offices inside are endocannabinoid receptors and the messages they receive from inside the building are endocannabinoids. However, instead of Karen asking if you’ve got those TPS reports ready, it’s your body signaling that it’s time to feel hungry or sleepy. In this analogy, consuming a cannabinoid like THC would be the equivalent of the office receiving an external call.
Where Are Endocannabinoid Receptors Located?
There are two main types of endocannabinoid receptors in our body—CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system along our spine and inside our brain, while the CB2 receptors are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system throughout the rest of the body.
What Causes Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
According to Dr. Russo’s theory, the illnesses above may be the result of the ECS not producing enough endocannabinoid receptors. It’s not unheard of for neurotransmitter deficiencies to cause maladies. For example, depression can often be caused by the underproduction of the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
“If endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep,” Dr. Russo purports in his paper.
Later studies have found decreased levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide in sufferers of migraine and fibromyalgia, supporting Dr. Russo’s theory.
How To Stimulate The Endocannabinoid System
Unfortunately, reversing an endocannabinoid deficiency isn’t as simple as taking a pill. However, there are steps one can take to help stimulate the ECS and encourage the natural production of more endocannabinoids according to Dr. Russo.
Getting plenty of sleep and reducing stress can be difficult undertakings with our busy work and play schedules, but it’s vital for maintaining a healthy endocannabinoid system. Likewise, avoiding a diet high in pro-inflammatory trans-fats and getting plenty of exercise may help balance your ECS.
In the meantime, some sufferers of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome have found that taking external cannabinoids, such as CBD helps to reduce acute symptoms.