What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and why is it important in regulating our health?

The ECS is a physiologic system involved in maintaining human health and homeostasis. Endocannabinoids and the system receptors are found throughout the human body, In each different tissue the cannabinoid system performs different tasks. The ECS connects and performs actions related to our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs.

Cannabinoid receptors are found all over our bodies and are assumed to be more numerous than any other receptor system. There are two main cannabinoid receptors: CB1 – mainly found in the nervous system, tissues, organs, glands, and gonads; and CB2 receptors, which are mainly found in the immune system. Cannabinoids found in cannabis (and other plants found in nature) bind to these receptors to produce various effects.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. To date, researchers have found over 480 compounds in the plant, but only 66 are termed cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are further classified into various classes, each having different impacts on the body and ECS.


 

What is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

THC is an active cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that produces psychoactive effects. Low amounts of THC can also be found in hemp plants. THC binds to CB1 receptors and produces a sense of euphoria. THC has been shown in research studies to have impacts on pain, muscle spasticity, glaucoma, insomnia, low appetite, nausea, and anxiety. Side effects can include: increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction times, memory loss, and anxiety. The use of THC should be done under the guidance of a trained healthcare professional to understand the right dosages for the right symptoms or conditions and to ensure no drug-drug interactions.


 

What is Cannabididol (CBD)?

CBD is an active cannabinoid in both the cannabis and hemp plants that does not have psychoactive effects. CBD has been shown in studies to have some effects on various conditions such as seizures, inflammation, pain, mental health disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, nausea, migraines, anxiety, and depression. Documented side effects of using CBD include: appetite changes, fatigue, weight loss, dizziness, and diarrhea. There has been no documented overdose or fatality associated with using CBD. The use of CBD should be under the guidance of a trained healthcare professional to ensure no drug-drug side effects or contraindications exist.


 

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are organic compounds in cannabis, hemp and a wide variety of plants that are responsible for the aroma and flavor. They influence the effects of cannabis and other cannabinoids and its combined medical value. Terpenes are formed in the cannabis trichomes and as terpenes interact with other cannabinoids, they contribute to the entourage effect and can enhance therapeutic value. Currently, there are at least 20,000 different terpenes in nature, and over 100 have been found in the cannabis plant.


 

What is a CBD Isolate?

A CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD, and does not contain THC or any other cannabinoids or plant compounds. Isolates typically do not have an odor or taste, and are typically a highly processed product. Because CBD isolate does not have other potentially beneficial compounds, it may not express the full health benefits that could be derived from a full – or broad spectrum formulation.


 

What is full spectrum or whole plant cannabis medicine and why is that important?

Full spectrum cannabis products celebrate the various components and constituents in the cannabis formulation rather than distilling down the cannabis to only focus on one or two cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. As evidence is pointing to the value of the combination of molecules, considering a “full spectrum” or a “whole plant” tincture, oil or product can impact the body differently. A full spectrum product is thought to create the entourage effect, which has been shown to have a variety of medicinal effects on different health conditions and symptoms.

The entourage effect is related to the therapeutic properties of the cannabis plant. Other cannabinoid molecules such as terpenes and flavonoids bind to our receptors and influence the interaction of cannabinoids and their effect on various health outcomes.

Cannabinoids and terpenes hit different targets in our bodies, and the combined activity at those targets (receptors or other cellular pathways) often results in clinically better outcomes.


 

What is the state of the evidence of benefits and harms of medical cannabis?

There have been several research studies conducted to understand the health risks and benefits of cannabis and different cannabinoids over the past few decades. In 2017, a comprehensive literature review of the evidence related to cannabis health benefits and risks was published, examining over 20,000 peer-reviewed articles. The findings are delineated by health conditions and symptoms, and can be found freely accessible online from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine .

Despite the existing and emerging evidence around the benefits of medical cannabis, patients should work with trained healthcare professionals to ensure the maximum success of their medical cannabis and poly-pharma medication treatment plans.

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