Four Signs Your Endocannabinoid System Is Out Of Whack

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a human being. Maybe you’re suffering from some kind of health concern. It may not be life threatening, but it’s certainly got you worried enough to consult Dr. Google. But what if I told you us humans were designed to enjoy optimal, balanced health? That sounds like some kind of far-fetched fairytale, right? In reality, we’ve just forgotten how to live in alignment with ourselves, our environment, and our endocannabinoid system.

Our Endocannabinoid… What?

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), you’re not alone. That’s because, despite being one of the most important communication systems in the body, the ECS is barely taught in medical school.

The way the ECS was discovered is undoubtedly a contributing factor – scientists just happened to be researching how compounds in the cannabis plant worked in humans. They discovered a complex network of receptors throughout the brain, central nervous system and immune system that were activated by two natural cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) called anandamide and 2-AG. These receptors (CB1 and CB2)  are literally everywhere in our bodies. Indeed, endocannabinoid activity is involved in many physiological functions including sleep, appetite, sexual reproduction, pain, our immune system, mood, memory, and cell growth.

What Does The ECS Do?

Scientists believe the ECS works as a master biological regulator, a bit like a conductor in an orchestra, making sure that all the individual sections work in harmony with no one out-playing the other.

However, thanks to our 21st century tendency to live fast, eat junk food, self-medicate with alcohol, and sleep too little, our endocannabinoid system is struggling under all of this strain. Imagine what would happen if an orchestra conductor got a migraine mid-concert and decided to lay down his baton. Utter chaos, right?

Well, something similar may be happening with our endocannabinoid systems. The result of which is a litany of health conditions ranging from fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, MS, and depression.

So, what are the signs your endocannabinoid system may be out of whack?

1. You Have An Oversensitivity To Pain

Endocannabinoid research is a relatively new field, but scientists have discovered that a number of conditions relating to oversensitivity to pain such as fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines, and MS share what is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. This refers to lower levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG as well as fewer endocannabinoid receptors.

One way to give a lacklustre ECS a boost is by supplementing it with compounds found in the cannabis plant known as cannabinoids. If you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where cannabis is legal for medical use, then speak directly to your doctor. Otherwise, CBD oil derived from hemp is a decent alternative. In fact, not only does CBD increase anandamide levels in the body, but it is also a natural alternative to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.

2. You Feel Anxious or Depressed

Approximately 15% of the population will be affected by depression at some point in their life, and while there’s no one cause that’s true for every person, a deregulated endocannabinoid system is thought to be a biomarker. And when you consider that one of the key endocannabinoids, anandamide, is named after the sanskrit word for bliss, this should come as no surprise.

Studies have also shown low levels of the other key endocannabinoid, 2-AG, to be present in depressed states and PTSD. Not only that, but normal CB1 endocannabinoid receptor expression in the brain appears to play a pivotal role in maintaining mental health as well. A study trialling a new obesity drug found that blocking the CB1 receptor had the unwanted side effect of causing anxiety.

Thankfully, something as simple as going for a run could be a good way to give our ECS a mood boost. We now know that the euphoria experienced through intense exercise is as much to do with anandamide as endorphin production.

3. You Have An Autoimmune Condition

Over the last fifty years there has been a dramatic rise in autoimmune conditions. Elevated stress levels certainly play a role, but could an off-kilter endocannabinoid system also be a factor?

A fully functioning  ECS is vital to keeping our immune system in balance. It acts rather like a dimmer switch, giving our immune system a boost when it needs a helping hand, and dampening it down when over-activated. Immune over-activation occurs in autoimmune disease. Instead of fighting off outside invaders, our immune system literally turns in on itself, reaping havoc in the body.

We know that elevated endocannabinoid levels and CB2 receptors are found in patients with autoimmune diseases and conditions associated with chronic inflammation. It is thought that this increased activity is the ECS trying to bring our systems back into balance again.

Again, compounds in cannabis and hemp like CBD have been found to reduce inflammation in the body and, thanks to their antioxidant properties, may even protect autoimmune sufferers from further cell damage.

4. You Find It Hard To Lose Weight

So far, we’ve spoken about a deficient ECS, but it’s also possible for our endocannabinoid system to become over-activated, causing weight gain and even diabetes. That’s why an obesity drug trialled was found to block endocannabinoid CB1 receptors.

However, scientists are unsure if overeating causes increased CB1 signalling, or whether obesity itself is a consequence of an overactive endocannabinoid system.

Either way, the good news is that diet and exercise as well as a quality Omega 3 supplement will soon bring your endocannabinoid levels back into balance again.

Most of us live in blissful unawareness of the tireless work performed by our endocannabinoid system. Whether you believe yours is out of whack or not, it’s time we all started giving our ECS some much needed TLC. It’s not rocket science. Simple steps like minimizing stress, getting enough sleep, eating well, staying off the booze, and regular exercise are all that is required to keep our ECS making its own sweet, orchestral music.

From Anti To Advocate – 5 People Who Changed Their Minds About Cannabis

Most medical cannabis advocates can name one key moment in their life when they knew they had to come out of the closet and campaign for regulated, legal access to the cannabis plant.

But there is also a clutch of extraordinary individuals who, when confronted with real evidence about the cannabis plant’s therapeutic potential, have done a 180 degree turn, transforming themselves from herb hater to cannabis campaigner.

1. The Doctor

Dr Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, is perhaps the most high profile cannabis critic to come out in favour of the plant.

After years opposing cannabis legalization, he made a startling apology in an article titled “Why I changed my mind about weed” where he admits that we “have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

So what had happened in the meantime?

Well, Dr Gupta had embarked on a now infamous documentary called Weed in which he met the likes of Charlotte Figi, the little girl with the rare epileptic condition Dravet Syndrome who suffered up to 300 seizures a day. After taking a high strength CBD oil, Charlotte’s seizures reduced to almost zero, calling into question Dr Gupta’s previously held belief that cannabis had no therapeutic use.

Now Dr Gupta is perhaps one of the most well known cannabis advocates in the medical profession, and there is even a strain of marijuana named in his honour.

2. The DEA Spokesperson

Belita Nelson, DEA spokesperson from 1994-2008, is now a medical cannabis advocate focusing on the treatment of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional football players.

She describes how right from the start she knew that the DEA position was a lie.

“Marijuana is safe, we know it is safe. It’s our cash cow and we will never give up,” she claims she was told on entering the agency by education coordinator Paul Villaescusa back in 1998.

Nelson continued towing the official DEA line until 2004, when she began investigating a heroin epidemic in Plano Texas. She discovered that addicts using cannabis experienced higher success rates of coming off opiates, and with that information she felt compelled to resign.

Unfortunately for the DEA, Nelson hadn’t signed a confidentiality agreement and has been free to share her experiences and knowledge ever since.

3. The Judge

Doug Bench, a retired judge in Florida, was responsible for sending 311 marijuana users to jail during his legal career. But then in a twist of fate, Bench himself contracted Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and on his wife’s insistence, began taking cannabis oil.

In a statement made to the Florida Department of Health Public Workshops on Medical Marijuana Implementation, he made the following impassioned testimony:

I’ve been haunted for thirty years wondering how many of those were using it for medicinal reasons, because our government suppressed that information for 70 years. I am now an advocate for medical marijuana because two years ago I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, that my blessed wife did four hours of research on the internet and discovered the benefits of cannabis oil for COPD. . . . It was a tough decision — I hated marijuana, I hated the use of marijuana, and the violation of law, but I had no choice if I wanted to live. 

4. The Millionaire Businessman

Barry Lambert, one of the most successful and richest businessmen in Australia, had never smoked a joint in his life. Rather than actively opposing cannabis, it just wasn’t on his radar. That is, until his desperately ill granddaughter Katelyn began to run out of treatment options.

Katelyn, aged 5, also has Dravet Syndrome, which saw her suffering up to 1,400 seizures a day. While researching on the internet, Katelyn’s father came across the numerous accounts of children whose seizures had been reduced after taking CBD.

After placing an order online, they were delighted to find that Katelyn also responded to the CBD extract.

Millionaire granddad Barry was so moved by Katelyn’s improvement that he decided to donate $33.7 million (Aus) to Sydney University to fund vital research into medical cannabis.

He says: “We only came across it because of our granddaughter. We never smoked the stuff. We wouldn’t be doing this if we hadn’t stumbled across it because it’s not mainstream.”

But now Barry is the cannabis plant’s biggest fan. “I think the cannabis plant will be proven to be the wonder plant of this century, I know it’s been around for previous centuries, but I think scientists will discover what a wonderful plant it is, and it will be a great benefit to mankind.”

5. The Political Lobbyist

Cindy Sovine-Miller, 37, from Colorado, is a political lobbyist, and for 15 years represented health companies and big business.

Cindy had always steered clear of the marijuana industry, until her father became seriously ill with cancer. Out of desperation Cindy’s mother decided to try medical cannabis.

But Cindy herself was against the decision. In an interview with Westword she describes how she remembers telling her mother: “There is no evidence. You should leave it to the doctors, to the people who know what they’re doing.”

But as the size of the tumour noticeably shrunk on her father’s face, Cindy’s position began to soften. Sadly her father died in 2015, but his death was peaceful, something she attributes to medical cannabis.

“I saw my dad go from being a vegetable in a hospital waiting to die to being at home again, thanks to a plant.” She goes on, “I had spent my career helping to build a system that was failing people. I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this. I worked for the wrong people.’ ”

After cutting ties with her clients, Cindy began lobbying for medical cannabis patients whose interests needed representing on Capitol Hill.

It takes guts for people to publicly admit they are wrong, particularly when it comes to cannabis. So, it’s only right and fair then that we salute these brave individuals, and the many more who champion the right to access the cannabis plant for our health, and the health of our children.


7 Fascinating Facts About The Endocannabinoid System You Probably Didn’t Know

Did you know you have an endocannabinoid system? A year ago, I didn’t either. That’s because unless you’re a research scientist or work in the field of medical cannabis, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have heard of it. And yet, the endocannabinoid system has been hailed as “the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”

Why do so few people know about the endocannabinoid system?

It might have something to do with how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered. Back in the 1990s, scientists were trying to understand how THC, the psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant, affects the body. What they uncovered was a complex network of receptors (CB1) in the brain and central nervous system that were a perfect fit for the THC molecule.

Soon after, another type of receptor (CB2) was discovered in the immune system, gut, and many of the body’s major organs. But that was only part of the puzzle. The hunt was on to find out whether the body produced its own cannabis-like chemicals, and with the identification of the first endocannabinoid, Anandamide, they had their answer.

What does the endocannabinoid system do?

What scientists have realized is that the endocannabinoid system fine-tunes most of our vital physiological functions, bringing balance to everything from sleep, appetite, and pain to inflammation, memory, mood, and even reproduction. So in basic terms, it’s like an orchestral conductor, ensuring that no one section drowns out the other.

So, it’s time to bring this fascinating biological system out of the laboratory, and get to grips with some endocannabinoid system basics.

1. Humans aren’t alone in having an ECS

As humans beings, we’re not special for having an ECS. Not only is the endocannabinoid system found in all vertebrates, but scientists also discovered cannabinoid receptors in non-vertebrate sea-squirts, suggesting an evolutionary process dating back 600 million years ago.

2. Endocannabinoid receptors are the most abundant neurotransmitter receptors in the brain

Most of us have heard — they’re the chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and body. Serotonin and dopamine are perhaps the most well known examples, but it’s the endocannabinoid Anandamide, also classed as a neurotransmitter, that has the most receptors in the brain.

3. Increased endocannabinoid system activity has been noted in many diseases

As the endocannabinoid system’s modus operandi is to bring balance to the body, it’s no surprise that scientists have observed elevated ECS activity in a number of illnesses. Everything from neurodegenerative diseases to rheumatoid arthritis and cancer have shown changes in endocannabinoid levels and greater receptor expression.

4. ‘Endocannabinoid System Deficiency’ might be a cause of some illnesses

But what happens if the ECS becomes depleted? Scientists have observed how, in certain conditions associated with oversensitivity to pain such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and IBS, the ECS appears to have become weakened. The theory is known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, and it is believed that supplementing the body with compounds from the cannabis plant can correct this deficiency and improve symptoms.

5. The ECS explains why medicinal cannabis has a therapeutic effect

Prior to 20th century prohibition, cannabis had been used for thousands of years to treat a whole host of ailments, like epilepsy, headaches, arthritis, pain, depression, and nausea. Back then, nobody knew why the plant showed such therapeutic versatility. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system soon shone new light onto the medicinal effects of cannabis.

According to Dustin Sulak, a leading medical cannabis expert: “Research has shown that small doses of cannabinoids from cannabis can signal the body to make more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors.” He goes on, “I believe that small, regular doses of cannabis might act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.”

6. You don’t have to break the law to give your endocannabinoid system a boost

Currently, medical cannabis-friendly countries are in the minority across the planet. So what can you do if can’t legally access the plant?

Well, you could consider trying CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that has a whole host of health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, calming feelings of anxiety, and even lowering the frequency of epileptic seizures. CBD is normally extracted from cannabis plants with less than 0.2% THC, commonly referred to as hemp or industrial hemp, allowing it to be bought legally in most countries worldwide.

Another option is to peel yourself off the sofa and get moving. Scientists have found that prolonged aerobic exercise increases levels of the feel-good endocannabinoid anandamide. Diet is also a useful target. Increasing your intake of Omega 3, found in oily fish or healthy seeds like flax or hemp, can help support endocannabinoid brain signalling.

7. Most doctors know very little about the endocannabinoid system

With the ECS playing such a central role in our health, you would think that any self-respecting member of the medical profession would have some knowledge of its existence. But in mainstream medicine, the endocannabinoid system remains rather a pariah.

In 2013, a survey was conducted asking medical schools in the United States whether the ECS formed part of their curriculum. The authors found that only “13% teach the endocannabinoid system to future doctors.”

So now you’re endocannabinoid savvy, there’s no turning back. Join me and start spreading the word to all who will listen. It’s time that the ECS is given the attention it deserves, both by our healthcare providers and the public at large.

Further Reading

The Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System by Martin A. Lee

Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System by Dustin Sulak

Interview on Project CBD with Dr Ethan Russo talking about Endocannabinoid System Deficiency


8 Fantastic Health Facts About Terpenes

Nature is a wonderful thing. Not only does she bless us with an endless array of floral beauty that is a feast for our eyes, but then she gives us the double whammy of divine aromas and fragrances as well.
All flowers, herbs, and plants get their unique scent from organic compounds called terpenes. So when you dowse your pillow with lavender essential oil to help you sleep, or inhale eucalyptus oil to clear your bronchial tubes, it’s the terpenes that are the aromatic, active ingredients.
So, let’s get better acquainted with the aromatic world of plants in this homage to their secret smelly agents, terpenes.  

1. Terpenes Have Therapeutic Effects

Aromatherapists have proclaimed the healing benefits of essential oils for years, but do they actually cause any physiological changes in the body? Turns out, yes they do. Any terpene with a concentration of over 0.5% is considered to be of pharmacological interest and can alter behaviour or indeed bring about physiological changes. One study in which depressed patients were exposed to citrus aromas not only saw depression reduced, but 9 out of the 12 patients actually discontinued taking antidepressants.  

2. Terpenes Don’t Exist to Make Humans Feel Better

We humans like to think that evolution has our species at its centre. In the case of terpenes, rather than existing to ease our troubled minds and heal our ailing bodies, they are in fact part of a plant’s defense mechanism, protecting against pest invasions and high temperatures. It’s just one of those mysteries of nature that terpenes also happen to make us feel better, too.

3. The Cannabis Plant Contains Approximately 200 Terpenes

Yes, you heard it right. The cannabis plant contains an astonishingly complex array of terpenes that determine each strain’s unique aroma and some would even say its effect. Many terpenes in cannabis can also be found in more common or garden flora such as Myrcene in hops, wild thyme and lemon grass, Pinene in pine resin and conifers, Limonene in citrus fruits, Linalool in lavender, and ?-caryophyllene in black pepper, leafy greens, and cloves.

4. Some Terpenes Have Been Found to Cause Cancer Cell Death

While most research into the effect of terpenes on cancer cells has been carried out in preclinical studies, this doesn’t take away from the promising nature of the results. Limonene has been shown to have “antiproliferative, apoptosis-inducing and chemopreventive effects,” meaning it stops cancer cells from spreading, can cause cancer cells to commit suicide, and even prevent cancer from forming. ?-caryophyllene has also been found to bring about cancer cell death, suppress tumour growth, and inhibit metastasis.

5. Linalool — A Terpene That Inhibits Seizures

We all know how relaxing a quick whiff of lavender oil can be, but did you know Linalool, the dominant terpene in lavender, has been found to have anticonvulsant properties? Scientists found that glutamate — the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain that initiates seizure activity — is modulated by its application. However, so far no research has been carried out on humans.

6. ?-caryophyllene — A Terpene That Acts Like a Cannabinoid

In cannabis, terpenes and cannabinoids make up the majority of the 400 compounds found in the plant. Most people these days have heard of THC and CBD, the two most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis. THC in particular creates a physiological effect by activating the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. But it is not alone. The terpene ?-caryophyllene is considered cannabinomimetic, meaning it acts like a cannabinoid by activating CB2 endocannabinoid receptors. This explains why ?-caryophyllene has an anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effect on the body.

7. Terpenes Work In Synergy With Other Compounds in the Cannabis Plant

Nature is a mystery unto itself, especially when it comes to the cannabis plant. For a few years now, scientists have been researching the mechanisms of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, but it’s only now that they’re starting to examine all the other hundreds of molecules, including terpenes. Neurologist and research scientist Dr. Ethan Russo suggests in the paper “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects that many of the other compounds in cannabis, such as terpenes, act as inhibitors to THC’s intoxicating effect, as well as having pharmacological effects in their own right.
He goes on to say that terpenes “may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.” By the “entourage effect,” he is  referring to the synergy between the various compounds in the plant, so that, as Aristole put it, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

8. Pharmaceutical Companies Aren’t Interested in Developing Cannabis-Based Drugs That Include Terpenes

It’s common practice for pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs containing one or two molecules. They’re easier to study, to patent, and consequently to turn in a tidy profit. Sadly, the cannabis plant doesn’t fit within that model. It’s a sprawling labyrinth of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and who knows what else.
So far, any cannabis based medication that has made it to market has either been single molecule or synthetic versions, apart from Sativex (Nabiximols), which combines CBD and THC. However, studies show that medical cannabis containing the full spectrum of active components is more effective than isolated or synthetic versions, and terpenes almost certainly perform an important role in that therapeutic plant synergy.
So it’s up to us to fight for the cannabis plant to be studied in all its messy, synergistic glory, not just shoehorned into a model that fits a reduced understanding and fills pharmaceutical companies’ coffers.