Cannabis has been thought to be a powerful medicine for hundreds of years, but there hasn’t always been research to back up that claim. One theory aims to explain why cannabinoid-based therapies may be effective for managing various chronic illnesses, especially those related to the immune system and internal inflammation—an underlying condition called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency.
But what is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency? And how do you know if you have it?
For now, you don’t. The condition is just a well drawn theory, but experts in the field believe that it explains why cannabinoid-based therapies are effective and may help us understand how to best use cannabis to our advantage.
Here are the basics:
The theory of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency focuses on the importance of the Endocannabinoid System’s role in general wellness. Research suggests that the Endocannabinoid System is responsible for maintaining homeostasis—or proper balance of certain regulatory functions.
We believe that the Endocannabinoid System has a hand in balancing mood, appetite, body temperature, pain signaling, inflammations, immune processes, and more.
It does this by maintaining a proper balance of endocannabinoids, a fat-based molecule that functions similarly to a neurotransmitter, and endocannabinoid receptors, the sites where endocannabinoids bind to send messages through the body.
When the body does not produce enough endocannabinoids or endocannabinoid receptors, it can lead to an imbalance within the endocannabinoid system.
When the Endocannabinoid System is imbalanced, the body may not properly execute certain regulatory functions, which may leave room for disease to develop.
The research we have regarding Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency is limited, but Ethan B. Russo, a renowned endocannabinoid researcher, has been working on this theory since he first recognized a possible connection in 2001.
In a more recent study, Russo found that certain conditions may be linked to lower levels of endocannabinoids or endocannabinoid receptors. The study focused on three conditions: migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition to finding a clear link to lower endocannabinoid levels, the researchers also found that the three conditions showed clear signs of comorbidity:
97% of the selected fibromyalgia patients suffered from headaches, and over 35% of patients who fit the criteria for chronic daily headaches (migraines) also fit the criteria for fibromyalgia. 31.6% of chosen participants with IBS also fit the criteria for fibromyalgia, and the reverse was true—32% of the patients with fibromyalgia could have also been diagnosed with IBS.
The study is unclear about the underlying reason for these comorbidities, but infers that it’s because they may all be caused by the same endocannabinoid deficiency.
Further, the research explores a few other conditions that may have an underlying link to Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, including motion sickness, Multiple Sclerosis, neuropathy, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, various eating disorders, and autism. However, the evidence to support these claims is preliminary, and sometimes only animal evidence is available.
The same study also noted that elevated endocannabinoid levels may cause various issues, like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and hepatic fibrosis.
If you suffer from one of the aforementioned conditions, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, but keep in mind that Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency is just a theory that still needs to be researched before it can be established as a true cause of any health conditions or chronic illnesses.
That means that there are no specific treatments available for Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency—you won’t even get the diagnosis. Of course, that hasn’t stopped researchers from evaluating the effectiveness of cannabinoid-based therapies on many of the same conditions linked to Endocannabinoid Deficiency.
In fact, cannabis has been established as an official treatment course for some of these conditions in states where medical marijauana is legal. Not all endocannabinoids function the same, however, and sometimes whole-plant cannabis is either ineffective, inaccessible, or causes adverse reactions for some people due to it’s potent THC content.
Another theory is making its rounds through the wellness community, and it may make a lot of sense.
CBD, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid with a lower risk profile than THC, has also been researched as a therapeutic route for various chronic illnesses. Most of this research is also in preliminary stages, but there is evidence supporting the potential of CBD for managing multiple sclerosis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, and more.
While there is no evidence that points to CBD as a cure for any condition, many researchers believe that CBD may play a role in regulating endocannabinoid production. Instead of binding directly to endocannabinoid receptor sites like most cannabinoids, it's thought to bind indirectly, which modifies the receptor’s ability to bind with other cannabinoids.
In some cases, this modification is thought to reduce the absorption of endocannabinoids, which may sound counterproductive in the case of the theorized Endocannabinoid Deficiency, where there already isn’t enough to go around.
However, by reducing the reuptake of endocannabinoids, CBD may actually signal the body to produce more endocannabinoids over time. Other preliminary evidence suggests that CBD may inhibit the enzymes that break down certain endocannabinoids, leading to increased endocannabinoid levels in the body.
For that reason, many people believe that CBD has potential for managing endocannabinoid deficiencies and promoting a natural balance within the Endocannabinoid System.
We still have a lot to learn about CBD’s potential for managing various chronic illnesses, but it’s relatively sound safety profile leads many people to give it a shot, often with good results.
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