One of the greatest ways in which cannabis can help us heal lies in its ability to activate the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to repair damage. Virtually all disease stems from some sort of damage on a cellular level. Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune dysfunction are all the result of an imbalance that leads to damaged cells and neurons.

But cannabis works with the endocannabinoid system to potentially repair this damage. It is possible that it can prevent, stop, or even reverse some of the major ailments that we face on a daily basis. The cannabis plant is able to do this by activating (or in some cases regulating) the endocannabinoid system.

And while this can help prevent damage from occurring, the ability of cannabis to help repair damage that has already happened is on the leading edge of treatments for a host of major diseases. Let’s take a look at some of the powerful healing modalities of this miraculous plant.

Cancer

As we age, our bodies inevitably deteriorate. Some changes, like grey hair and wrinkles, are easily visible. Others, like high blood pressure, often go unnoticed, but can be deadly.

Just as our body shows signs of aging on the outside, it also shows signs at the cellular level. Chemical reactions can damage and alter our DNA as it is continually copied. Our cells help to protect against these damages, but are not foolproof – all cells gradually accumulate DNA damage over your lifetime.

As a consequence of this damage, your genetic makeup is not the same in every cell; you are a patchwork of cells with subtle differences in their DNA. When a cell divides, it will pass on these changes, and as they accumulate there is more and more likelihood that there will be negative consequences.

When DNA repair mechanisms break down, cells can accumulate staggering numbers of mutations, increasing the risk of cancer drastically.

Beyond genetics, a complex mix of environmental and lifestyle factors modify cancer risk.

When we read the genome of a cancer it is possible to attribute mutations to certain types of stress. 

Lung cancers from smokers and non-smokers have different mutation patterns because of the action of chemicals in cigarette smoke that attack the DNA.

Research suggests that we can also use this approach to diagnose defective DNA repair, as each defect triggers a characteristic pattern of mutations. In this way and in most cases, mutation signatures can help us understand why a cancer has developed.

Cannabis may be the key to unlocking the potential of the endocannabinoid system to repair this damage. 

In 2012, French scientists reported the presence of cannabinoid receptors on the membranes of mitochondria, the energy-generating organelle within cells. This discovery laid the groundwork for continued research into the role of the endocannabinoid system in regulating mitochondrial activity, which is critical to how cells function. 

Defects in mitochondria have been linked to a wide range of neurodegenerative, autoimmune and metabolic disorders – including cancer.

A growing body of scientific data indicates that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two key components of the cannabis plant, can affect mitochondria, both directly and indirectly. It turns out that many of the biological pathways that involve mitochondria – including energy homeostasis, neurotransmitter release, and oxidative stress – are modulated by endogenous (naturally occurring within the body) and exogenous (externally sourced such as synthetic and plant-based) cannabinoids.

Although mitochondria allow energy to be accessed at a measured pace in relatively small quantities, the process of cellular respiration, whereby cells extract energy from nutrients, still can be damaging. High-energy electrons offload their energy in a multitude of complicated steps, until the lower-energy electron is finally released onto an oxygen molecule. Ideally, the oxygen molecule will interact with hydrogen and form water, which is very stable.

But sometimes the ionized oxygen, called superoxide, can escape, resulting in oxidative stress. Similarly, other unstable molecules like peroxide and hydrogen peroxide, can form and escape. These unstable, renegade molecules are called reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals. Free radicals cause damage by interacting with DNA, cell membranes, proteins, or other organelles.

By effectively neutralizing free radicals and mitigating oxidative stress, antioxidants confer a broad range of therapeutic benefits – from slowing down the aging process to reducing the risk of DNA damage linked to cancer. 

Brain Issues

After a head injury there is a release of glutamate, which, in excess, can damage neurons. This is called excitotoxicity. Because the glutamate neurotransmitter is a stimulatory neurotransmitter, it causes excitation in the next neuron as opposed to inhibition. This means that it is signaling the neuron to “fire.”

If you have too much glutamate in your brain, you are prone to excitotoxicity. When patients have a brain injury, their glutamate levels go up and neuron damage occurs due to excess amounts of glutamate, This causes an increase in acetylcholine and leads to excessive levels of anxiousness, fear, insomnia, restlessness, and more, making it imperative that we find a way to bring those levels back down.

The endocannabinoid system has a natural response built in to reduce the damage. There is a spike in anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2AG) – which are the two primary endocannabinoid molecules. These molecules work to reduce the amount of glutamate being produced, naturally protecting your brain from incurring initial or further damage.

Both phyto- and synthetic cannabinoids can bind to the ECS receptors, altering neural communication via neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. Disrupted activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, for instance, directly impairs processes such as learning, memory, restful sleep, and other cognitive functions. Indeed, many dementia symptoms are linked to disruption in acetylcholine (neuro-muscular) activity. This neurotransmitter is a primary target of current dementia medications.

Critically, the ECS has repeatedly shown its ability to modulate the neural communication associated with acetylcholine as well as other important neurotransmitters – an understanding that has led scientists to examine whether manipulation of the endocannabinoid system can be used to alleviate dementia symptoms or even slow the progression of the disease. Clinical trials show cannabinoids are safe for people with dementia.

While there is still much to learn, studies on the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD have shown great promise in helping to activate the ECS so that traumas can be greatly reduced. In early 2019, clinical trials began in the UK on a spray containing both CBD and THC. Low-dose cannabis use may very well be the key to helping prevent the root causes of dementia.

Autoimmune Disease

The endocannabinoid system is involved in immunoregulation and neuroprotection. Immune cells express both CB1 and CB2 receptors, secrete endocannabinoids, and have functional cannabinoid transport and breakdown mechanisms. There is significant biochemical evidence to suggest that biosynthesis (the creation of complex cells in our body), uptake, and degradation (the act of becoming less functional or breaking down of endocannabinoids) occurs in macrophages and leukocytes. This suggests that endocannabinoids can serve as local modulators of immune and inflammatory reactions. Think of someone standing at a light switch ready to turn it off and on at exactly the right time depending on how much light is in the room. 

Studies have found that the CB2 receptors in the ECS can suppress immune response in the body. This has been shown by CBD’s ability to trigger (and not bind with) the receptor. When activated by CBD, the CB2 receptors reduce the production of inflammatory cytokine peptides (amino acid bonds) in the body and increase the anti-inflammatory cytokine peptides. As a result, any inflammation in the body is reduced or eliminated as the ECS uses CBD to restore homeostasis within the immune system.

In addition to working with the CB2 receptor to regulate the cytokine peptides, CBD also works to slow down T-cell production. A T-cell is a type of white blood cell that is created in the thymus, part of the lymphatic system of the body. It plays a central role in immune system response. In addition to slowing down T-cell production, CBD helps suppress immune system cell memory, which reduces the chances of further autoimmune attacks.

Essentially, autoimmune disease is a dysfunction of our body’s natural defense system. Imagine a castle protected by thousands of soldiers. Then imagine that the soldiers are mistakenly told to attack the castle, inflicting all kinds of damage and chaos. The ECS works like the ranking officer to get the soldiers back in line and stop them from attacking their own castle.

In particular, CBD has shown much promise in autoimmune research. It binds to receptors throughout the immune system to stop it from attacking healthy cells. Although more research is necessary, it seems promising that regular use of CBD could help to regulate these problems, eliminating the symptoms of autoimmune disease before they begin.

In a review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, it was concluded that combination therapies of CBD and THC show that CBD can antagonize the psychoactive effects associated with THC and possibly mediate greater therapeutic benefits than either phytocannabinoid alone. 

But we see the greatest impact when we can benefit from all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the cannabis plant.

Using the whole plant or a whole plant extract is the only way to get the synergistic benefits that come along with the other “minor phytocannabinoids” in cannabis (which may also contribute to relevant activity). Cannabichromene (CBC) is the third most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Cannabigerol (CBG) displays affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. It also exhibits GABA uptake inhibition to a greater extent than THC or CBD, suggesting possible utilization as a muscle relaxant for the spasticity seen in multiple sclerosis. CBG also has more potent analgesic, anti-erythema, and lipoxygenase-blocking activity than THC. 

Conclusion

The human body is uniquely equipped to repair damage to our cells, nerves, and mitochondria. The ECS is a powerful regulatory system that helps keep our bodies in a state of homeostasis and springs into action to correct damage that leads to disease. 

When we experience ECS dysfunction, these systems go down, allowing damage to continue. But cannabis has the rare ability to interact with endocannabinoid receptors, helping to realign where it is off. Through the use of medical cannabis, you can help your natural defense system to work at its full potential, repairing damage and protecting you from disease. 

Here’s to health!



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