Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Endocannabinoid Deficiency – What do seemingly unrelated health issues like IBS, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, and mood disorders have in common? They may be the result of a relatively new proposed condition called Endocannabinoid Deficiency.

What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

Endocannabinoid deficiency refers to a proposed condition by which the body’s Endocannabinoid System misfunctions. Dr. Ethan Russo was the first to introduce the concept, stating that it likely connects seemingly unrelated conditions like fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines, and chronic depression. To be clear, a healthy Endocannabinoid System helps control things like pain perception, metabolism, sleep patterns, and mood by producing endocannabinoids like AEA and 2-AG on-demand. However, sometimes there is a break in the process resulting in insufficient endocannabinoid production or absorption. The consequent endocannabinoid deficiency may cause symptoms like persistent pain, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and mood problems.

Phytocannabinoids and the EC System

Our bodies produce endocannabinoids on-demand to resolve (or at least lessen) stress-related discomforts like pain and low mood. Interestingly, plants (cannabis, in particular) also produce cannabinoids, which bind with internal cannabinoid receptors when consumed. These phytyocannabinoids produce many of the same effects as endocannabinoids, making cannabis a viable solution for endocannabinoid deficiencies.

However, the most active cannabinoid, THC, is still illegal throughout much of the world. Consequently, anything that develops alongside THC (for example, other cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, and CBN) is also illegal for commercial sale. Though some jurisdictions have legalized high-THC cannabis (a.k.a. “marijuana”) under very strict conditions, most people only have access to non-psychoactive cannabinoids derived from hemp.

Fortunately, hemp cannabinoids may exert some of the same therapeutic potentials as marijuana-based cannabinoids, including a proposed ability to boost a faulty endocannabinoid system.

Can CBD Improve Endocannabinoid Deficiencies?

CBD is technically a cannabinoid receptor antagonist, which means it does not bind well with either CB1 or CB2 receptors. However, it does affect many non-cannabinoid receptors and may help delay the reuptake of endocannabinoids like anandamide and adenosine to promote a healthier endocannabinoid tone.

So, how does CBD improve endocannabinoid deficiency? First, it must bind with a fatty acid binding protein (FABP) which helps usher the element through cell walls. Endocannabinoids also bind with these proteins, which generally start breaking down upon entering the cell thanks to a metabolic enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).

Notably, CBD reduces anandamide degradation by interfering with its access to FABP proteins to delay access to a cell’s interior. In doing, CBD increases endocannabinoid levels in the brain to help improve one’s overall endocannabinoid tone.

This phenomenon helps explain much of CBD’s proposed anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties because it inadvertently boosts adenosine levels in the brain. Notably, adenosine significantly contributes to cardiovascular functions by regulating blood-oxygen levels and blood flow. Importantly, these receptors also hold profound anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties.

CBD and Cannabinoid Receptors

As mentioned, CBD regulates the flow of information within and between cells. However, it also helps regulate cannabinoid absorption by altering the shape of CBD receptors. Commonly called an allosteric receptor modulator, CBD changes the shape of GABA-A receptors to help amplify the calming effects of cannabinoids. Importantly, by altering the shape of cannabinoid receptors, CBD may also affect THC’s binding ability, thereby reducing some of the more extreme side effects of the psychoactive cannabinoid. In doing, CBD can reduce feelings of anxiety and paranoia, and even help someone “come down” off an uncomfortable marijuana high.

Final Thoughts About Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Our bodies are literally built to process cannabinoids. Whether from our bodies or plants, cannabinoids help our bodies regulate stressors to maintain a healthy living environment.

When the body cannot produce or process endocannabinoids sufficiently, certain health problems may arise. Fortunately, supplementing endocannabinoids with phytocannabinooids might help improve endocannabinoid tone to reduce persistent or chronic conditions like pain, worry, sleeplessness, and more. Though research is still in its infancy, what we’re learning about cannabinoids and endocannabinoid deficiency is certainly promising.


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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay