The endocannabinoid system is crucial to our health. But there’s a problem: “doctors know almost nothing about” how cannabis affects it

Posted by

The title to an article posted on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website says it all: “Why doctors know almost nothing about the health effects of marijuana.” After noting that the medical and recreational use of marijuana has skyrocketed in recent years, the author shows us how doctors are in the dark about medical cannabis:

A mother asks her pediatrician if medical marijuana might help reduce her child’s seizures. An elderly hip surgery patient requests a marijuana prescription instead of opioids for pain. And a pregnant woman mentions to her OB-GYN that the clerk at a cannabis dispensary suggested a marijuana edible for her morning sickness.

How should a provider respond to these queries? The frightening answer is that we just don’t know.

That matters because 38 states in the U.S. permit the medical use of cannabis – upon recommendation or prescription by a doctor. But if there’s a giant knowledge deficit withing medicine itself you won’t get the help you need and deserve, or worse, you may be dissuaded – based more on your doctor’s sense of “morality” than anything else – from continuing to use the cannabis that has helped with your pain, anxiety, depression, skin condition, etc.

So on the basis that knowledge is power, the best you can do, aside from finding a doctor who is knowledgeable about medical cannabis, is to learn about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as best you can. And one of the best places to start is to look at the brief but excellent summary of the ECS, written for the public by Harvard’s Peter Grinspoon, the essence of which is contained in the first four paragraphs.

His crucial point is this: The ECS is integral to our health not just because it’s a system in its own right like, say, the nervous system, but because it modulates the other systems in our body:

The ECS is critical for almost every aspect of our moment-to-moment functioning. The ECS regulates and controls many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating.

Cannabinoids do this by inserting themselves into receptors, much like a key going into a lock. Once the CBD or THC is inserted, the cell “door” opens setting off signals that turn up or down the activity of that nerve/immune/skin etc. cell, restoring it to its proper functioning.

Unless and until doctors gain this vital understanding of the workings of the ECS they will not, as the AAMC article puts it, “be able to look patients in the eye when asked urgent questions and offer evidence-based answers.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.