Benefits of Cannabinoids
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
While the effects cannabis have been utilized for thousands of years by humans for recreation, medicine, and religious ceremonies; the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was relatively recent. A Czech analytical chemist, Dr. Lumír Hanuš, and an American pharmacologist, Dr. William Devane, are credited with the 1992 discovery.
How does it work?
The ECS is made up of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. These elements work together to regulate the signals that are sent between the cells of the body. The ECS’ primary function is to maintain a state of homeostasis within the body.
The human body is extremely complex and keeping its many interdependent systems in balance requires effective communication between cells. The ECS maintains these processes by producing endocannabinoids that bind with the cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the body.
Endocannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body. CB1 receptors are found in the Central Nervous System (CNS) and CB2 receptors are found throughout the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). These systems work together in order to regulate things such as: emotions, memory, satiety, pain perception, voluntary motor activity, the immune system, organ function, skeletal muscle activity, blood pressure, and the circadian rhythm.
Endocannabinoids vs Phytocannabinoids
While the body produces its own endocannabinoids, people tend to think about the ECS in relation to phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that originate from plant matter – typically the cannabis plant.
Just like any of the body’s other complex systems, the ECS can become dysregulated and impact the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. When this occurs, it can impact any of the bodily processes that are regulated by the ECS. That’s where phytocannabinoids become useful.
Studies have shown that endocannabinoid receptors respond to phytocannabinoids similarly to how they respond to endocannabinoids. This means that phytocannabinoids can be used to rebalance the Endocannabinoid System when it becomes dysregulated.
The Benefits of Phytocannabinoids
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is often considered to be the most well known phytocannabinoid, largely due to its psychoactive effects. However, there are many other phytocannabinoids that interact with the ECS without creating intoxicating effects.
After THC, CBD is probably the most well known phytocannabinoid.
It has been shown to have anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective properties.
Preclinical studies on rodents have shown that administration of CBD lessened the expression of symptoms associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression.
Clinical studies on humans have consistently corroborated these findings. For example, in a 2011 double-blind study, participants with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) were asked to complete a simulated public speaking experience. Half of the participants with SAD were administered CBD prior to the simulated public speaking experience and half were not. The results showed that the participants who were pre-treated with CBD had significantly reduced levels of anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort that were comparable to the healthy control participants.
Psychosis in Parkinson’s disease (PD) is one of the most difficult symptoms to manage. This is because the standard of treatment for psychosis includes the use of either conventional antipsychotic medications, which worsen motor function and commonly induce catalepsy; or atypical antipsychotics, which commonly have significant neurologic (brain) and hematologic (blood) side effects. This means that the standard of treatment for psychosis can end up decreasing the patient’s quality of life instead of increasing it.
Parkinson’s disease is the most prevalent and well-known basal ganglia disorder. It just so happens that the basal ganglia has a large concentration of cannabinoid receptors, making cannabinoids a perfect candidate for research on the relief of symptoms associated with PD.
Studies have shown treatment with CBD to increase quality of life in patients with psychosis symptoms, without the significant side effects commonly caused by antipsychotic medication.
This finding was not limited to just patients with Parkinson’s disease. Treatment with CBD was shown to affect the brain in ways similar to atypical antipsychotics, such as clozapine. In multiple studies, Schizophrenic participants reliably found treatment with CBD to lower their positive psychotic scores and improve their cognitive and general symptoms.
When something is said to have neuroprotective properties, what that means is that it has the ability to prevent neuronal cell death, or neurodegeneration. While the cycle of cell death and replacement is a natural part of the aging process, clinically significant neurodegeneration differs from the natural bodily process in the fact that neuronal cells do not regenerate at a fast enough rate to prevent a progressive loss of nerve cell function.
CBD has been shown to have a variety of neuroprotective properties. The two that are most relevant to the senior population are its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Together, these effects help to mitigate the neurodegenerative properties of inflammation and oxidation.
Neurodegeneration is a hallmark of many of the common ailments within the senior population: Parkinson’s disease (PD), Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and various other neuropsychiatric disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety, etc).
In addition to alleviating psychosis associated with Parkinson’s disease, CBD has also been shown to alleviate PD symptoms associated with neurodegeneration. These symptoms include tremor, muscle rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement that is not explained by tremors), anxiety, and REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD).
When we sleep, our body is meant to prevent us from acting out our dreams by paralysing our muscles. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is characterized by the loss of muscle atonia during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This means that those with RBD will often end up injuring themselves or those sleeping next to them as they act out their dreams. CBD has been observed to substantially decrease the frequency of RBD-related events in PD patients.
The neurodegeneration found in Parkinson’s disease shares a commonality with Alzheimer’s disease in its development of neurofibrillary tangles due to misfolding of tau proteins. Tau proteins are the foundation of microtubules, which help to provide structure to cells. When Tau proteins fold incorrectly, they can cause the cells containing them to be unable to properly perform their intended functions. In the case of neurofibrillary tangles, it is the cells responsible for clearing the “debris” left in the brain, macrophages. Without the proper functioning of macrophages, neurofibrillary tangles create a build-up of amyloid plaque, affecting the proper transmission of signals between cells. Excitingly, computational studies have found that the administration of CBD encourages the activity of the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms, helping to clear amyloid plaques. It’s important to note that CBD is not a cure for these neurodegenerative diseases, but rather it has been found to improve patients’ cognitive functioning and limit its further decline.