Is cannabis medicine? While the broad consensus these days is a resounding yes, chances are that 50 years ago this question would have been met with some mixture of outrage, indignation, and dismissal. Since the advent of cannabis prohibition in North America, almost any suggestion of, or allusion to, cannabis’ tremendous medicinal value was quickly suppressed. So, it came to pass that in the middle of a renaissance in medical academia, we were left with a complete void in our understanding of what has served as a staple medicine for so many generations past.
During this time, the onus of cannabinoid research fell to academics outside of the Western Hemisphere, with most of our current understanding of the plant emanating from Israel. Here, in 1964, Raphael Mechoulam (a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) elucidated the structure of THC, providing for the first time evidence of a unique class of bioactive compounds, dubbed “cannabinoids.” In 1992, Dr. Mechoulam identified the first naturally produced cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) —Anandamide— launching us into our current understanding of the Endocannabinoid System, or ECS.
Since then, patient activists and dedicated researchers like Dr. Mechoulam have seen medicinal cannabis through a not-so-small revolution. More than ever in recent times, cannabis and cannabinoid medicines are being recognized as an effective, well-tolerated, and safe treatment for a wide range of symptoms and conditions. We can now identify that these balancing and restorative effects almost entirely stem from the action of cannabinoids on our Endocannabinoid System. But how does this system work, and what does it do?
The matter is quite complex, and still not fully understood. To be incredibly general, the ECS is responsible for maintaining chemical balance or homeostasis in the body. This is what is known:
As with any other system in the body, the ECS can struggle to meet its demands, especially in the case of chronic malnutrition, stress, or illness. It’s thought that many common debilitating conditions—including chronic headaches and migraines, IBS, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and insomnia—may be caused by an endocannabinoid deficiency. In these cases, supplementing with phytocannabinoids often alleviates symptoms. Because of this, when we think about medicinal cannabis, we typically only consider A) phytocannabinoids and B) their effects on cannabinoid receptors. After all, this is where the fireworks happen; they’re the stars of the show!
However, the Endocannabinoid System has a third group of really important background players—think of them as the stage-hands and lighting technicians—that keep everything working behind the scenes. These are the enzymes.
As mentioned previously, once a cannabinoid exerts its activity, it is quickly processed by an enzyme— specifically, FAAH. And to get to FAAH in the first place, it has to be carried by another enzyme known as FABP. Once the party at the receptor site is over, FABP and FAAH come in to deal with the leftovers.
Recently, it’s been identified that two non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids inhibit FAAH and FABP—namely CBD and CBC. Because CBC only occurs in trace amounts, this article will focus on treatment with CBD.
Research has thus far been focussed on the addition of extra cannabinoid compounds into the endocannabinoid system. But the identification of cannabinoid reuptake mechanisms that could be naturally manipulated raises the question—is there an alternative path for cannabinoid treatment? Could we, instead, naturally raise endocannabinoid levels with plant cannabinoids without any adverse psychoactive effects?
The answer seems to be yes.
Much like standard antidepressant medications—Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which inhibit the reuptake of serotonin—CBD inhibits the uptake of anandamide and THC. Multiple studies have confirmed that the consumption of CBD alongside THC will increase circulating blood levels of THC, as well as extend THC’s duration of effects. These effects are equally effective at increasing the body’s natural levels of endocannabinoids like AEA and 2-AG. Even CBD itself is processed by FAAH, so (somewhat ironically) consuming CBD will increase your circulating levels of… CBD!
Where this might be most beneficial is in otherwise healthy patients with symptoms that can be treated with cannabis, but who would prefer to avoid any psychoactivity. The inhibitory effect CBD has on FABP and FAAH can also be a huge blessing for patients that consume THC-dominant cannabis on a budget, reducing the amount necessary to produce similar effects and increasing the duration of those effects. CBD can also reduce or eliminate negative side effects of THC consumption like dry eyes, dry mouth, anxiety, paranoia, and rapid heart rate.
One last thing—you don’t have to feel unhealthy to benefit from CBD! Everyone can benefit from a more efficient endocannabinoid system. And CBD has benefits that extend far beyond the scope of the endocannabinoid system! It can help to manage daytime aches and pains, and powerfully combats systemic inflammation—it’s a more potent antioxidant than Vitamin C and Vitamin E combined! CBD can also improve mood, promote a sense of wellbeing, and reduce anxiety in performance or acute situations, like flying, taking tests, and public speaking.
Whether you’re a regular consumer, an experienced patient, or entirely new to the world of cannabis, there’s a dose out there for you!Posted: Tuesday, September 18th, 10:00am 2 months ago
Lana Tong is an aspiring Biochemist and Squirrel Behavioral Psychologist based in Victoria, British Columbia. She's passionate about cannabis as a medicine, entheogen, food, fiber crop, and so much more. Lana hopes to one day swim in a pool filled with organic CBD oil. We all have dreams - right?!