Does Endocannabinoid Deficiency Play a Role in These Common Illnesses?

Posted by Christine G on

Does Endocannabinoid Deficiency Play a Role in These Common Illnesses?

 For many suffering from chronic illness, cannabis is a godsend. From those dealing with the wrath of inflamed digestive systems, to the ones combating global musculoskeletal pain, and the millions who report that the agony in their heads is just the beginning of their symptoms—cannabis can help these fighters with their load of physical woes.

The ECS is present in every major bodily system, which is how its dysfunction can theoretically cause such a variety of conditions—and how cannabis manages to treat them.

But why? To explain, we need to back up a bit. You probably know that cannabinoids (like the popular CBD and THC) interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), and that our bodies produce natural endocannabinoids that work with the ECS receptors to maintain health in all the other bodily systems. But do you know what happens when we don’t produce enough  of these endocannabinoids?

Neither does science; not really, anyways. But Ethan Russo M.D., Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute has theorized that clinical endocannabinoid deficiency could be the cause behind irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, and other treatment-resistant syndromes. The ECS is present in every major bodily system, which is how its dysfunction can theoretically cause such a variety of conditions—and how cannabis manages to treat them.

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These conditions, along with others that fall into this realm, are generally thought to be incurable and chronic, usually lasting for the rest of the sufferer’s life. I spoke with Dr. Russo about this matter, and he offered hope for chronic illness fighters, saying that since these conditions are generally acquired (rather than congenital, from birth), it seems to suggest an ECS disturbance is behind the illness. So hopefully it can be reversed in some fashion.

What Is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

The theory of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) explains that these health conditions are due to a deficiency in endocannabinoid levels, akin to the way neurotransmitter deficiencies are behind other illnesses—like serotonin deficiency in depression. In other words, the theory posits that the cause of these syndromes is an insufficient amount of endocannabinoids functioning in the ECS.

The theory was first posed by Dr. Russo in 2001. Since then, he’s published several more well-cited papers on the topic.

“The vast majority of physicians just have no background in the ECS. It's just not being taught.”
Dr. Ethan Russo

Dr. Russo’s 2016 paper, Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered, revisited this issue after substantial evidence for the theory was recorded. Firstly, statistically significant differences of the endocannabinoid anandamide were recorded in the cerebrospinal fluid of migraine sufferers. (Similar results have also been found in fibromyalgia fighters.) Decreased ECS function was found in another condition thought to fall into the CED rubric, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And clinical data has shown that cannabinoid treatment and lifestyle changes aimed to promote the health of the ECS produced evidence for decreased pain, improved sleep, and other benefits in fighters—yet more evidence linking ECS dysfunction to these conditions.

From the paper: “If endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep among the almost universal physiological systems subserved by the endocannabinoid system (ECS).”

The CED theory also posits that such deficiencies could be present due to genetic reasons or be the result of a disease or injury.


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