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The therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) have been making headlines around the world for the past few years now. While the entire herb is thought to be beneficial in the right quantities, CBD products have become very popular since they do not cause any psychoactive effects. CBD, like all other cannabinoids, works by influencing the endocannabinoid system, a huge network which operates throughout the body, regulating physiological and psychological variables from appetite to pain sensation.

A balanced endocannabinoid system also helps to encourage and maintain homeostasis within the body – a state of equilibrium where organisms are able to regulate themselves without requiring interference from external forces. Any process that helps to keep the body in a balanced internal state is homeostasis.

The body is always regulating to ensure that factors including internal body temperature and oxygen levels are kept as they should. For example, if the body becomes too hot, our natural reaction is to sweat to cool down. If the body is too cold, it’s more likely to shake and shiver in an attempt to warm up. These are all efforts on the body’s part to maintain homeostasis. When changes to our internal environment occur, various changes are made in the endocannabinoid system to keep the body in equilibrium.

Homeostasis is crucial to preventing illness, whether it be a minor ailment or something more life-threatening. If homeostasis is disrupted enough that the body is unable to restore balance on its own, illnesses arise, and we typically need medication to get ourselves back in full working order.

Given that the endocannabinoid system regulates so many variables, it’s hardly a surprise that this network is so important to keeping us in homeostasis. CBD influences our immune system response, mood, reproductive cycle, appetite, energy levels and more. If one becomes offset, then a whole range of problems can potentially manifest.

The endocannabinoid system works by endocannabinoids interacting with cannabinoid receptors. For instance, anandamide is an antidepressant endocannabinoid that can be used to help with mood disorders such as depression. Anandamide’s effects are delivered when the compound enters the brain through the blood-brain barrier and connects with CB1 receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are not just found in the brain, but the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, the gut, the skin and more.

When homeostasis is disrupted, the body can instruct for the production of endocannabinoids that can connect with these cannabinoid receptors in the necessary manner. Usually, the body is able to manage these imbalances without any external help, but there is a growing belief that some people suffer from a condition known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).

People with this condition are unable to produce endocannabinoids at the required rate, leading to illnesses such as fibromyalgia. That we have found no cause or cure for fibromyalgia is enough to suggest that the condition emerges from imbalances in a less-understood system. But the promising results of studies where CBD treatment for fibromyalgia just strengthens the argument. Indeed, it is the view that cannabinoids from cannabis, sometimes referred to as phytocannabinoids, can help to regulate the endocannabinoid system in people who suffer from CECD.

Let’s take a closer look at CECD, and the interactions CBD makes with the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system became known to researchers in the early 1990s, and just over 10 years later in 2004, certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher put forward the concept of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency.

Russo’s belief that CECD was a real condition stemmed from his review of existing research, which showed that certain illnesses were typified by reduced endocannabinoid levels. From this, he argued that the reason why cannabinoid medicine was showing to be effective for some conditions was because it was acting as a supplement for people suffering from deficiencies in either endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors or both.

In research published in 2008, Russo identified fibromyalgia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as three conditions where there were “common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns” that could be the result of CECD. Hence, these conditions could perhaps be remedied successfully with cannabinoid-based medication. However, the effects of CECD could extend way beyond the three aforementioned conditions, with the endocannabinoid system also having a vital role to play in neurological health.

Research into CBD, which is found in significant levels in both cannabis indica and cannabis sativa strains (hemp is a strain of cannabis sativa), has revealed that this cannabinoid can help to achieve homeostasis through the reactions it makes in the endocannabinoid system.

The concept of CECD is still in its early days, and much more extensive research will need to be carried out before the condition can be proven with confidence, however it has given researchers a new system in which to develop medicines for therapeutic use. For instance, experts have already realized the importance of anandamide for the body and have concentrated on finding a treatment that can stop the FAAH enzyme from breaking down this chemical – thankfully, CBD seems to do just that.

This is not the only effect that CBD has on the endocannabinoid system, but it offers a glimpse as to why interest in the compound is surging. People are looking for ways to regulate their body without having to use dated treatments that cause side effects. Take CBD e-liquid as a prime example: when vaped, CBD gets to work on the endocannabinoid system within a couple of minutes, acting as an effective combatant for anxiety. Meanwhile, CBD-infused lotions can help to treat skin complaints that are the result of excess inflammation, such as acne.

While sedation is quite common after taking a big dose of CBD, this is a minor side effect in comparison to the overdose potential that comes with some prescription meds, such as opioid painkillers. The link between CBD and pain sensation is being explored at present, and while researchers haven’t worked out the exact connection yet, a 2017 study featured in Planta Medica found that CBD blocks the opioid reward mechanism, which suggests it may work as a treatment for opioid addiction. CBD may also influence a G-protein coupled receptor called TRPV-1 in some way – the TRPV-1 receptor detects and regulates body temperature, as well as controlling the body’s sensitivity to heat and pain.

But the reality is that we’ll have to wait a little longer before researchers learn about all the effects of the endocannabinoid system. The barriers to cannabis and therefore CBD research has caused research to be slow, but the positive spin on this is that CBD has still emerged as a great beneficiary to the endocannabinoid system.