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The Human Endocannabinoid System

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The Human Endocannabinoid System

Our bodies have over a dozen biological systems, each of which performs a specific, yet essential function to keep us alive and healthy. You may be very familiar with some of them such as the muscular system, the digestive system, and the skeletal system.  There are a handful of biological systems you may be less familiar with such as the integumentary system, also known as the body’s largest organ because it includes the skin, hair, nails, glands and nerve receptors. Another example would be the endocrine system, which is made up of the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries, and testicles. Together these glands produce hormones that regulate our metabolism, growth, development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood.

But there is a lesser-known system that like the others, provides an essential function to life, yet gets little attention. This is the endocannabinoid system, the system responsible for creating that magical experience you feel when you consume cannabis. Today we are going to talk about the human endocannabinoid system, the one they did not teach you about in school.  

So what exactly is an endocannabinoid system and what does it do? 

The human endocannabinoid system is a complex network of protein-based receptors called cannabinoid receptors and endogenous fatty acids called cannabinoids. These cannabinoid receptors are programmed to make and use cannabinoids. The cannabinoid receptors are tiny sensors that pick up bio-chemical cues from their surroundings. An endogenous cannabinoid describes the cannabinoids produced within the body. Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced inside the cannabis plant. Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids naturally stimulate the cannabinoid receptors within the human body. 

Cannabinoid receptors are extremely concentrated within our brains, especially the hippocampus, which controls our memories; the cerebral cortex, which controls our higher cognitive abilities; the cerebellum, which controls our motor coordination; the basal ganglia, which controls movement; the hypothalamus, which regulates our appetites; and the amygdala which controls our emotions. All of these areas are responsible for the mental and physiological processes we experience within our bodies. Cannabinoid receptors can also be found in other organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.  

What is homeostasis?

Every cannabinoid receptor within our endocannabinoid system has an unique task to perform. Each unique task results in the same goal: promoting and maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. Translation: The endocannabinoid system is an important body system because it has the ability promote and maintain a stable equilibrium within the body. Cannabis literally balances our bodies by destroying abnormal cells and this helps us to stay healthy. Considering that many illnesses and diseases within our bodies stem from some type of imbalance, I would consider this is a major medical discovery. Since its discovery in 1990, the endocannabinoid system has been considered the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health because cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every stage of biological life.

When was the endocannabinoid system discovered?

On July 18, 1990, Lisa Matsuda announced that she and her colleagues from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) located the exact DNA sequence to encode a THC-sensitive receptor. In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam, William Devane, and Dr. Lumir Hanus located a special neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter was a naturally-occurring “endocannabinoid,” which attached to the same brain-cell receptors as THC. They named it “anandamide,” deriving from the Sanskrit word for bliss.  How perfect is that name? In 1995, Mechoulam and the other scientists, discovered the second endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or “2-AG” and 2-AG locks onto the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Since this research is less than 30 years old, we are still at the beginning stages of learning how important our endocannabinoid system really is and how the endocannabinoid system works in conjunction with the other biological systems inside our bodies.

What is clinical endocannabinoid deficiency? 

Many common chronic medical conditions have been linked to deficient or overactive neurotransmitters within our bodies. In other words, common chronic medical conditions have been linked to an unbalanced internal environment. For instance, Parkinson’s disease is caused by a dopamine deficiency. Alzheimer’s disease is caused an acetylcholine deficiency. It would make sense that there would also be a disease caused by a cannabis deficiency—this disease is called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) and it can happen to anyone, regardless of age or gender. CECD occurs when there is:  

  • not be enough endocannabinoids synthesized;
  • not be enough cannabinoid receptors;
  • too much of the enzymes that break down endocannabinoids; or 
  • not enough endocannabinoid signaling happening within the body.

So now when you are asked, “why do you use cannabis?” and you are stumbling through your thoughts of “it evens me out” or “because it makes me feel better” and you can’t capture the words to explain the magic that is happening, just tell them that you have a disease called clinical endocannabinoid deficiency and cannabis is how you treat it. They still may judge you and that is okay.

Closing thoughts & questions for the #HIOCommunity:

Can one be so in tune with their body that they can detect the earliest signs of endocannabinoid deficiency as a craving? In other words, if cannabis promotes and maintains balance within the body, does the body crave cannabis when it is coming out of balance? Like how our bodies crave water or liquid when thirsty and how that craving is interpreted as the early signs of dehydration? These are important questions for some cannabis consumers, and since research is still relatively young, these answers are still unclear. However, I would like to believe as our endocannabinoids levels start to drop one of the ways our bodies communicate this drop, is to initiate a cannabis craving.  After all a craving is just one of the ways our bodies can communicate or signal that they need something. Sometimes that something is cannabis. Sometimes it is a nap. Sometimes it is a sandwich. Sometimes it is all three.

The endocannabinoid system might be one of the ways to explain the magical feelings you have when you consume cannabis. The balance it restores to your body might be the reason your nausea is calmed and your creativity soars. But, just like any other consumable, cannabis is not the only thing you should consume in order to be more balanced and healthy. Just like you wouldn’t eat unhealthy foods and exercise, or drink tons of coffee and not sleep, you shouldn’t treat cannabis as a cure-all for any negative symptoms you have that hint at unwellness. Cannabis is just another tool in your toolbox and should be treated as part of a wellness system. 

Do you believe that this explains your cannabis cravings? Do you think that this might be an explanation as to why cannabis helps you achieve some of your goals? Might this be the reason for the good effects you feel when you can’t otherwise explain them? Do you believe that new knowledge that we learn about the endocannabinoid system over time will help shine a light onto how homeostasis is achieved in the body? 

Let’s talk about your research and experiences. How has cannabis helped heal you inside out?

-AshleyAsatu

Photo Credit: Bloom Farms

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Treating Insomnia with Cannabis

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Treating Insomnia with Cannabis

If you can’t go to sleep at night and find yourself counting sheep, scrolling through your phone, or just staring at the ceiling chances are you are not alone. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported that more than one-quarter of the U.S. population admitted to occasionally not getting enough sleep, while almost 10 percent of the population experienced chronic insomnia. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. 

A sleeping disorder is a condition or set of conditions that disrupts one’s normal sleeping patterns. Being deprived of sleep on a regular basis can negatively affect one’s health if not controlled because our bodies need sleep in order to properly function. Symptoms of insomnia range from difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up too early, and not feeling refreshed despite getting an adequate amount of sleep.

My first experiences with insomnia started eight years ago when I was working full-time as a legal assistant while going to graduate school at night. My life consisted of a demanding toddler, a full-time job, and a grueling graduate course load. My social life was practically nonexistent because working, taking care of my family, going to school, and studying depleted all of my time and energy. On the nights I did not have class, I started to drink two energy drinks a night just so I could stay up late and study. When I did have class, I added coffee into the rotation to ensure I stayed awake in class and during the two-hour drive to and from campus.

After my second quarter of graduate school, I started to notice I was having difficulty falling and staying asleep at night. Once I did finally fall asleep I would wake up a couple hours later from some crazy nightmare shivering and sweaty. My night sweats were so out of control that most nights I would have to shower and change my bed linens. Afterward, I could never go straight back to sleep and I would enviously watch my husband as he effortlessly drifted back into his snore-filled slumber. This cycle continued for the next eight months despite following my doctor’s instructions and taking the prescribed medications. Nothing worked. I was an over-caffeinated, anxious, stressed out, sleep-deprived mess, on the verge of having a mental and physical breakdown. Since the medications my doctor and psychiatrist prescribed were not working I decided to conduct my own personal case study with the one medication I had not intentionally tried: Cannabis. While I am not a doctor or an expert on insomnia I would like to share some of the information both anecdotal and scientific that I have learned over the past eight years.

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can be due to primary or secondary causes. Primary causes of insomnia is sleeplessness that can not be associated with any identifiable underlying medical, psychiatric, or environmental causes. An example of a primary cause of insomnia could be a temporary job loss or the death of a loved one. In both of these examples, sleeplessness can be directly attributed to adjusting to these recent events and not an underlying medical, psychiatric, or environmental cause. Secondary causes of insomnia is sleeplessness that can be associated with any identifiable underlying medical, psychiatric, or environmental causes. Some examples of secondary causes of insomnia could be chronic pain due to a medical issue like fibromyalgia, or a noisy environment that is keeping you up. In these examples, sleeplessness can be directly linked to an underlying medical (fibromyalgia) and environmental causes (noisy environment). In my case, my insomnia was directly related to adjusting to life as a graduate student.

Cannabis & Sleep

A study by Kenneth Cousens and Alberto DiMascio in 1973 found tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be an effective hypnotic that significantly decreased the amount of time it took an insomniac to fall asleep and decreased their awakenings in the first half of the night. Their study also discovered a side effect known as the “high hangover” that seemed to increase in intensity and duration when THC was administered to patients in the study in dosages over 30 mg. Upon waking some patients felt dehydrated, disorganized, dry-eyed, and lethargic.  The effects of a high hangover can be avoided or reduced by staying well hydrated before and after you consume cannabis and it doesn’t hurt to only consume quality cannabis that is free of pesticides and other harmful substances like mold.

Another study conducted by Katherine Belendiuk and a group of researchers in 2015 found that nearly half of the adults purchasing medical cannabis at a medical cannabis dispensary in California were doing so specifically to help manage their insomnia and/or nightmares. Their study highlighted several discoveries I thought were interesting to point out. First, their data revealed that individuals who consumed cannabis as a method of managing their nightmares actually preferred sativa strains over indica strains. Second, they introduced the term Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) which is a term used by psychiatrists and mental health professionals for diagnosing purposes. CUD is basically the new medical term for cannabis abuse and cannabis dependency. Their data showed that individuals who preferred primarily indica strains were more likely to have CUD. Last, they discovered insomnia and greater sleep-onset latency can be linked to using higher CBD strains.

Eric Murillo-Rodriguez and a group of researchers conducted several studies in 20062011, and 2014 in which they discovered when cannabidiol (CBD) was administered to male rats with the lights on it actually increased their wakefulness. So if you need a daytime pick me up these studies suggest that non-psychoactive strains may do just that because CBD enhances alertness and suppresses sleep. It may be worth it to switch out your mid-afternoon caffeine break for a CBD break!

In my experience with utilizing cannabis as a nightcap, I discovered that indica dominant strains with a THC percentage of at least 18 to 25 percent are perfect for inducing sleep without the lingering “high hangover” the next morning. My two favorite strains at the moment are Grandaddy Purple and Afgoo. However, there are other things you can try to get a better night’s sleep.

Many medical and recreational cannabis users consume cannabis as a method of treating their sleep disorders. Multiple studies throughout the years have proven that consuming medical cannabis has improved the quality and quantity of sleep and that it is a promising treatment for various sleep disorders when used with intention. As the legalization status of cannabis continues to change around the world it would be amazing to have more scientific studies conducted on humans instead of rodents since our endocannabinoid systems and other biological systems are different. 

#HIOCommunity: Do you suffer from a sleeping disorder? If so, what tools and/or medications are you using to treat your sleeping disorder? Is cannabis one of those tools? If so, how have your experiences been?

-AshleyAsatu

Photo Credit: Bloom Farms

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Coming Out of the Green Closet: Talking to Friends and Family about Cannabis

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Coming Out of the Green Closet: Talking to Friends and Family about Cannabis

Coming Out of the Green Closet is a series of articles regarding being honest about your relationship with cannabis. These following articles are designed to offer simple talking points towards having these important conversations with those in your life and communities, if you choose to. Part one, Coming Out of the Green Closet: Talking to Friends and Family about Cannabis, will be from the perspective of an adult coming out to your family and friends.

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Coming out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Teenager about Cannabis

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Coming out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Teenager about Cannabis

Coming Out of the Green Closet is a series of articles regarding being honest about your relationship with cannabis. These following articles are designed to offer simple talking points towards having these important conversations with those in your life and communities, if you choose to. Part three, Coming Out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Teenager about Cannabis focuses on having an open dialogue about cannabis with teenagers or young adults.

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Coming out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Child About Cannabis

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Coming out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Child About Cannabis

Coming Out of the Green Closet is a series of articles regarding being honest about your relationship with cannabis. These following articles are designed to offer simple talking points towards having these important conversations with those in your life and communities, if you choose to. Part two, Coming Out of the Green Closet: Talking to a Child about Cannabis, is for those who are considering explaining their relationship with cannabis to their children but they don’t know where to start.

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Battling My Depression

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Battling My Depression

Depression is a gift I never wanted. Taking the time to understand my depression has reframed the way I care for myself and those around me. I tend to carry burdens that are not mine. When the weight of those burdens and some other things in my life became unbearable, I slipped into a particularly vicious cycle of depression. I started getting re-triggered by people, things, and emotions I thought I had overcome. During this time, I intentionally used cannabis, essential oils, physical activity, therapy, journaling, nature, nutrition, and the power of my sisterhood to battle the depression I was experiencing. 

I choose to treat my depression holistically because it is what works best for my body. Depression is different for everyone. It may take some trial and error before you figure out the formula that works best for you. My battles with depression taught me the importance of unapologetic truth-telling, self-care, wellness, and love. Over time I have learned that when one of these things are lacking, my depression starts to resurface. While I am not a doctor or an expert on depression I would like to share what has been helpful to me along the way. Below you will find a list of eight tools that may be beneficial to you or someone you know battling with depression.
 

Cannabis

When I am feeling depressed I intentionally surround myself with smells that evoke happy memories and give me energy.  I love using essential oils because I can keep them in my purse and have a personal aromatherapy session anytime I need one.  My favorite essential oil is called

Cheer Up Buttercup and it is a blend of lemon, lime, grapefruit, and bergamot oil.  This oil is designed to make you feel energized, refreshed and uplifted. 
 

Physical Activities

Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Outside of the mental benefits of having a regular physical activity practice, there are also physical benefits such as improving sleep patterns, lowering blood pressure, reducing body fat, increasing your energy levels and you might be able to fit those old jeans in the back of your closet again! Some of my favorite physical activities are yoga and tabata style exercises. Another favorite of mine is sex. Yes, sex. An orgasm a day may just keep the depression away.
 

Therapy

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of therapy and mental wellness. If you are blessed to have medical insurance, take advantage of it and find a therapist in your network that resonates with your spirit.  If you don’t have access to medical coverage or you are looking for another option check out 7Cups. This platform is an affordable, on-demand, emotional health service that works by connecting real people to real listeners in a one-on-one chat. Anyone can talk about whatever is on their mind with trained, compassionate listeners. The 7 Cups of Tea listener doesn’t judge, try to solve problems, or tell you what to do. They just listen and empathize. Sometimes that is all we need. 
 

Journaling

My depression is like a wet blanket of emotions or nothingness that I can’t shake off, making me exhausted both physically and mentally. It can also make me irritable, disinterested, and very pessimistic. I intentionally stay away from indica dominant strains when I am depressed because from my experiences they only amplify my depressed state. Instead, I prefer to consume sativa dominant cannabis strains. Especially strains with limonene terpenes. Limonene is great for treating depression because it has the ability to elevate one’s mood and reduce stress. My go to strains when I am depressed are XJ-13Lambs BreadSour Diesel, and Jack Herer.
 

Essential Oils

Journaling is an amazing tool for those trying to become more in sync with their triggers, thoughts, and emotions by recording and reflecting private thoughts.  Keeping a journal allows you to process the situation or experience by recording and reflecting on it. Remember, there is no right way to journal. Just make time for yourself on a consistent basis to record and reflect. Also, make time to go back and read over your thoughts, you might be surprised at the connections you make yourself.
 

Nature

Take advantage of Mother Nature and go outside. Feel the sun kiss your skin. Sit by the ocean and absorb the salt. Go for a hike and work up a sweat. Sit in the grass and read a book. Look at the stars and the moon. One of my favorite things to do is to sit near a body of water and meditate. 
 

Food

We are what we eat so it is important to maintain a healthy diet because food can affect our moods. Yes, there is a proven connection between our moods and our foods. When I am hungry I tend to get angry and irritable very fast. When I eat a lot of starch I tend to feel sluggish and bloated. I encourage you to really listen to your body and figure out a healthy diet that works for you. 
 

Community

When you are depressed it can be tempting to shut your friends, family, and community out but this is when you really need them the most. Reach out to your friends. Tell them you need their love and understanding more than ever. Allow them to show up for you. Surround yourself with your loved ones. 

#HIOCommunity: Do you suffer from depression? If so, what tools do you use to battle your depression? Is cannabis one of those tools? If so, how have your experiences been?

Additional Resources:

Exercise & Depression

Food & Depression

Nature & Depression

10 Reasons to have an Orgasm

-AshleyAsatu

Photo Credit: Bloom Farms

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