Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
One of the most fascinating findings related to cannabis was the discovery of the human body’s endocannabinoid system. This system of microscopic appendages on the exterior of mammalian cells helps different cells in the body communicate. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate sleep, hunger, pain response, and general homeostasis. What makes this little known system in the body so interesting is that it’s uniquely suited to interact with the unique chemicals in cannabis known as cannabinoids.
In fact, our bodies naturally produce chemicals very similar to the ones found in the plant; they’re called endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids can help the endocannabinoid system perform its essential functions. That’s why cannabis may be used effectively to treat symptoms as diverse as nausea and neuropathy.
Different cannabinoids have different pharmacological effects. To illustrate this we will examine the two most prevalent cannabinoids: THC and CBD. Though there are over 100 cannabinoids, each with their own unique properties, THC and CBD represent the most prevalent cannabinoids and are the best studied as well.
THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid found in high concentrations in cannabis plants that would be considered medicinal or recreational quality. THC is the cannabinoid that produces the psychoactive effect associated with cannabis. Patients who consume cannabis products with THC should not drive or operate heavy machinery.
When taken carefully on a standardized and consistent regimen, THC may potentially ease a variety of symptoms without significant intoxication. Starting with doses as low as 5mg, THC can begin to alleviate the symptoms of a number of conditions.
CBD or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid found in high concentrations in cannabis plants that would be considered medicinal or hemp quality. Since cannabis that is high in CBD does not produce an intoxicating effect, it’s not favored by recreational consumers. Because of its therapeutic qualities, CBD remains in high demand among medicinal users.
CBD may be effective in doses as low as 10mg and can ameliorate a wide range of neurological and inflammatory symptoms. Studies of CBD show benefits in treating the symptoms of a number of illnesses, including epilepsy, PTSD, and neuropathic pain.
THC or CBD can be taken alone to great effect (though natural cannabis extractions will always carry at least trace amounts of both THC and CBD). However, they show a powerful synergizing effect when used in concert with each other. Patients tend to report increased effects of symptom relief when these cannabinoids are taken together.
In addition, CBD appears to temper the intoxicating effects of THC, so patients can enjoy THC’s therapeutic qualities without the more pronounced psychoactive effects.
Cannabis, Chronic Pain, and Sleep
Cannabinoids can play a crucial role in pain management for several important reasons:
- Cannabinoids have the potential to ease the human body’s inflammatory response. One of the primary functions of the endocannabinoid system is to regulate the inflammatory response. The right combination of cannabinoids may help the body adjust its inflammatory response.
- Unlike other types of pain medication, there have been no reported deaths from cannabis overdose. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from overdoses of pain and sleep medication. Some medications can suppress the central nervous system, reducing heart and breathing rates to dangerous levels, while others pose toxicity risks. In all of recorded history, there has never been a single documented case of a cannabinoid overdose. This is because cannabinoids are non-toxic and do not appear to interfere with the body’s essential functions, such as breathing and heart rate.
- Cannabinoids carry a low risk of dependency. Prescription drug dependency is a large and growing problem. Sufferers of chronic pain are at risk of becoming dependent on prescription pain medications, and their tolerance for these drugs can become very strong, requiring them to take larger and larger doses. Cannabinoids carry a minimal risk of physical dependence and tolerance plateaus very quickly. In addition, patients, in conjunction with their practitioners and as part of a treatment plan, can often manage their pain with cannabinoid formulas that do not produce any psychotropic effects.