“It is important for healthcare providers to be aware of CBD use in their patient population,” concludes a primer on CBD and the endocannabinoid system, published by the Baylor College of Medicine this July.
It meets a pressing need: 9 in 10 physicians admit they don’t know enough about medical cannabis to prescribe it, while at the same time it’s become “insanely popular” (JAMA); even parents are increasingly seeking it for their kids.
The paper could just as well be called, Hey doc, meet the endocannabinoid system. The ECS is front and center for good reason: “it’s criminal,” say docs, that it’s not taught enough in med schools as it’s a physiological system that deserves equal ranking with any other, the nervous system, say. And, it performs a unique function: it communicates with every other physiological system in our body and does so for a crucial reason – to keep them all in healthy balance. As such, the ECS is the body’s master-regulator.
It has two main components: endocannabinoids, molecules within us that run around our body talking to, say, our immune system to tamp down runaway inflammation; and receptors, tiny structures on the surface of our cells that receive the endocannabinoids and facilitates their transfer into the cell so they can get to work.
Here’s the thing about receptors: they’re everywhere in our body. And that’s why the ECS affects basically everything our body does, from mood and memory to pain and inflammation. As the authors explain, the ECS affects an unprecedented wide array of systems in the body:
. . . effects on a wide array of systems in the human body, including the immune system, the nervous system (anxiety, autism, multiple sclerosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, neuropathic pain), the endocrine system, the cardiovascular system (atherosclerosis), the digestive system (inflammatory bowel disease and motility disorders), and skin (inflammatory skin disorders, disorders of hair and pigment, and itch).
So what does CBD and the more than 100 other cannabinoids (phyocannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant have to do with the ECS? They mimic the role of endocannabinoids. So if the ECS is itself being worn down by chronic stress, disease, aging, and whatnot, we can top it up with these plant cannabinoids, alone or in combination, to get it working properly again.
Interestingly, the Baylor paper says that the phytocannabinoids have been identified in many plants outside of the cannabis species, including clove, black pepper, Echinacea, broccoli, ginseng, and carrots.
We’re just beginning, say the authors, to understand the impact of phytocannabinoids and their clinical applications.