Introducing the endocannabinoid system
In a nutshell, the endocannabinoid system explains why cannabis works as a medicine, and as a tool to enhance overall health. This mighty network in the human body has significant control over our mental and physical wellbeing, regulating a number of variables. It works primarily with lipid-based neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids but can also be influenced by phytocannabinoids – these are the unusual but powerful group of therapeutic compounds found in cannabis, sometimes known just as cannabinoids.
The endocannabinoid system is ancient and isn’t just present in humans, but other animals, too. According to experts, its first appearance in life forms was about 600 million years ago. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that humans have a long history with cannabis. Usage of the plant dates several thousand years back into recorded history and was likely used prior to that.
With the endocannabinoid system having such a major impact on our health, it’s important that this nexus is kept in balance, as an out-of-balance endocannabinoid system could lead to more serious health issues. For example, immune system response, appetite, sensitivity to pain and sleep patterns are modulated by the endocannabinoid system – if the necessary endocannabinoids aren’t being produced to ensure good functioning, then problems in these areas could emerge.
The endocannabinoid system is present all over the body because of the widespread distribution of cannabinoid receptors, which are found in the brain, gut, skin and central and peripheral nervous systems. Previously, cannabis advocates were often dismissed for arguing that the plant was an all-encompassing treatment for a plethora of conditions – the discovery of the endocannabinoid system proves that they are right.
When the endocannabinoid system starts to falter, it can be corrected by supplementing the network with phytocannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD). While there are a multitude of cannabinoids that interact with this system, CBD’s effects are perhaps the most interesting of all. Mostly, it appears that CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors in the explicit manner that THC does.
However, CBD does ensure that endocannabinoids are able to bind with these receptors, by increasing production and improving signalling. This is why CBD has a calming and relaxing effect on the body, compared to THC, which is more volatile – CBD isn’t the compound doing the binding, it just promotes proper functioning in the endocannabinoid system by promoting compounds that do.
But CBD does make some slight changes to the bonds that form between receptors and endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. For instance, as a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor, CBD can suppress certain effects when CB1 binds with THC – the psychoactive effects of THC are negated by the anti-psychotic traits of CBD.
Peculiar conditions and Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD)
Isn’t it weird how despite the huge leaps and bounds that medical science has made in ascertaining the causes and possible cures for so many conditions, that there are some illnesses which remain a puzzling mystery for researchers. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) could be what is responsible for several of them.
CECD is a proposed condition, which argues that fibromyalgia, migraines and certain other conditions for which there is no known cure come from having a deficiency in endocannabinoids. The idea is that if the body cannot make enough endocannabinoids, then it is unable to fuel and balance all the functions of the endocannabinoid system.
The concept – that was first raised by Dr Ethan Russo, a neurologist – has been fleshed out since it was first introduced in the early 2000s, and scientific studies and self-reporting surveys support many of the claims made. There remains a lack of quality clinical evidence into conditions like fibromyalgia, but many patients are self-medicating with CBD e-liquid and other CBD remedies, and are experiencing unprecedented positive results.
For fibromyalgia, this is hardly a shock. The condition causes pain in specific parts of the body, and the physical effects can be debilitating – for example, it can be painful to walk, reducing mobility and therefore the patient’s quality of life. When quality of life takes a knock, this can manifest itself in the form of depression and other mental health disorders. Interestingly, these are all factors that the endocannabinoid system has a hand in.
Of course, the best way to help a struggling endocannabinoid system is to give it a leg-up with phytocannabinoids, and CBD is the perfect candidate. Why have scientists not worked this out before if it’s that simple? Because the endocannabinoid system is a fairly late discovery in medical science, only being identified in the 1990s.
It took so long because of the stifled research into the cannabis plant – Raphael Mechoulam, the scientist who found THC and anandamide, would not have discovered the latter if not for the former. THC was isolated for the first time in 1964, and it took almost 30 years from there for Mechoulam to find anandamide, which he did when searching for an endogenously-produced compound that bore resemblance to THC.
The endocannabinoid system in rugby
Rugby is one of the most physical sports in existence, and the bruising encounters that occur every time a player steps onto the pitch can have a big effect on health. Therefore, it’s important to take as much physical and mental stress off as possible when not on the field, so that full recuperation and rejuvenation can take place. This may come from relaxing the muscles or treating an injury that is causing throbbing pain or worse.
CBD gummy bears and other edibles can offer prolonged pain relief and soothe the body for hours, without causing a high in the user. By reducing pain perception, CBD can help an athlete to unwind mentally and take the focus away from discomfort.
Beyond that, there is evidence that CBD has potent neuroprotective properties, which could help to protect against neurodegenerative diseases that can develop over time. Blows to the head in rugby can lead to head trauma and increase the chances of neurological health problems – with that in mind, regular doses of safe, non-intoxicating CBD oil could be extremely beneficial.