The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis has been at the center of one of the most exciting—and underreported—developments in modern science. Research on marijuana’s effects led directly to the discovery of a hitherto unknown biochemical communication system in the human body, the Endocannabinoid System, which plays a crucial role in regulating our physiology, mood, and everyday experience.
The discovery of receptors in the brain that respond pharmacologically to cannabis—and the subsequent identification of endogenous cannabinoid compounds in our own bodies that bind to these receptors—has significantly advanced our understanding of human biology, health, and disease.
It is an established scientific fact that cannabinoids and other components of cannabis can modulate many physiological systems in the human brain and body. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that trigger cannabinoid (and other) receptors. More than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in the marijuana plant. Of these marijuana molecules, tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ) and cannabidiol ( CBD ) have been studied most extensively. In addition to cannabinoids produced by the plant, there are endogenous cannabinoids (such as anandamide and 2AG ) that occur naturally in the mammalian brain and body, as well as synthetic cannabinoids created by pharmaceutical researchers.
Extensive preclinical research—much of it sponsored by the U.S. government—indicates that CBD has potent anti-tumoral, antioxidant, anti-spasmodic, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsive, and neuroprotective properties. CBD directly activates serotonin receptors, causing an anti-anxiety effect, as well.
In recent years, scientists associated with the International Cannabinoid Research Society ( ICRS ) have elucidated a number of molecular pathways through which CBD exerts a therapeutic impact. For example, a preclinical study by Dr. Sean McAllister and his colleagues at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco report on how CBD destroys breast cancer cells by down-regulating a gene called ID -1, which is implicated in several types of aggressive cancer. Silencing the ID -1 gene is, thus, is a potential strategy for cancer treatment.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister.
CBD & THC Synergy
According to McAllister’s lab, the best results were obtained when CBD was administered along with THC . Several studies underscore the therapeutic advantages for combining CBD and THC —particularly for treating peripheral neuropathy, a painful condition associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis ( MS ), diabetes, arthritis, and other neurodegenerative ailments. Clinical research conducted by with GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, has also shown that CBD is most effective as an analgesic when administered in combination with whole plant THC .
The images above are from an experiment by McAllister testing how CBD can stop the invasion of cancer cells in human cell lines. Compare the untreated breast cancer cells on the left to the breast cancer cells destroyed by CBD on the right. Photo credit: The California Pacific Medical Center
Cannabinoid science. Medical marijuana research led to the discovery of The Endocannabinoid System, an important system in the human body.
Hemp and CBD: Endocannabinoid system drives innovation, growth
It’s been less than 18 months since the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and legally differentiated hemp from marijuana as containing less than 0.3% THC. Yet hemp and the influence it could have on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is driving growth, experimentation and innovation even as the Food and Drug Administration has not confirmed a regulatory pathway for these products.
While CBD and THC are two of the most well-known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, researchers have identified more than 100 others. Even with a large body of research about the beneficial effects of CBD on seizure disorders, gaps exist between anecdotal experiences, cultural understanding and scientific findings of how CBD works.
Even as researchers plow full steam ahead on CBD and THC, the health community is looking to other cannabinoids such as CBN, CBDV, CBG, CBC and CBV. And it’s not all about cannabis. Cannabinoids are also found in some plants including ginger, magnolia, echinacea, clove oil and even broccoli, to name a few.
The body produces its own cannabinoid compounds that interact with the ECS, which is part of the body’s nervous system and its largest neurotransmitter system. The ECS has two main cannabinoid receptors, which are known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors primarily located in the central nervous system and the brain work to help regulate pain, sleep, mood, cognitive function and appetite, among other functions. The CB2 receptors are found throughout the immune system, including the gastrointestinal tract and in low densities in the central nervous system. These receptors are associated with immune function, gastrointestinal function, inflammation and pain responses. This is why CBD has also been linked to helping with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.
While THC acts like the body’s own cannabinoids, attaching to CB1 receptors and stimulating the ECS system, CBD does not directly stimulate the ECS system. Instead, it helps to make the ECS system work more effectively. One belief is that it acts as a reuptake inhibitor, much like Prozac does, to help alleviate anxiety and stress. For instance, anandamide, also referred to as the “happiness neurotransmitter” is released during exercise or when we do things such as meditate. It helps create a sense of calm. CBD helps to suspend the reuptake of anandamide so that it stays in the system longer, prolonging that sense of calm.
Hence, many new CBD products focus on promoting calm and enhancing CBD’s effect on the body by combining it with other herbs or fatty acids. While studies have not conclusively shown that CBD helps with sleep, experts believe that CBD’s ability to help offset occasional anxiety is part of the reason it may help with sleep. Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD are also thought to further boost health benefits of CBD by allowing it to work in concert with all of the compounds of the hemp plant, including terpenes and flavonoids, rather than in isolation. This is also referred to as the entourage effect. In addition, as more organic hemp becomes available, expect to see more USDA Organic certified products coming to market as organic is recognized as a way to guarantee a clean product while also having a transparent supply chain.
If transparency is your store’s thing, PearlCBD has got it. The company’s CBD oil capsules are non-GMO, made with full-spectrum hemp grown organically in the U.S. and are manufactured in an FDA-registered facility adhering to strict GMP standards. For full transparency, these products feature near filed communication (NFC) tagging. Simply tap a phone to any PearlCBD product to get instant access to batch test results, cultivation data, videos of the lab where it was produced, education content and more. SRP: $80, 60 capsules
Gaia Herbs Hemp & Herbs Calm
A transparency pioneer, users can find everything they might want to know about Calm with the Meet Your Herbs traceability tool. Calm features 20 mg of cannabinoids from full-spectrum hemp extract (complete with sterols, terpenes and flavonoids) blended with passionflower, milky oats and Gaia-grown skullcap. These herbs offset occasional anxiety and stress. SRP: $24.99, 30 capsules
Cornbread Hemp Whole Plant CBD Oil
One of the few fully certified USDA Organic products on the marketplace, Cornbread Hemp uses Kentucky-grown hemp extracted from the hemp flower with organic sugarcane ethanol. Whole-plant CBD is full-spectrum CBD except it is a bit less refined and can contain fats, waxes and other fibrous components from the hemp plant. Because it’s full spectrum, it is thought to be rich in sterols, terpenes, flavonoids, chlorophyll and Vitamin E. SRP: $64.99, 30 milliliters
Elixinol Omega Turmeric CBD
Here powerhouse turmeric is blended with full-spectrum CBD-rich hemp oil complete with complementary cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes, as well as algae-derived DHA, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. As a building block for CB1 receptor formation, omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help boost the endocannabinoid system. Omega Turmeric’s certificate of analysis is on the company’s website. SRP: $39.99, 30 capsules
Many new CBD products focus on promoting calm by combining it with other herbs or fatty acids—but cannabis isn't the only source.