Does cannabis seem like a wonder drug to you? Each week, it seems like there are new claims about the herb’s medical benefits. Well, to help shed some light on how cannabinoids actually work, Dr. Ethan Russo sat down with Project CBD for an interview. Watch this neurologist explain CBD and endocannabinoid dysfunction in the video below.
What does CBD do, exactly?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is perhaps one of the most misunderstood cannabinoids out there. This is unfortunate because it does some really cool stuff. But, how exactly does it work? What makes it different from psychoactive THC?
The difference lies in where they bind to special cell sites called cannabinoid receptors. These cannabinoid receptors make up a larger endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates all sorts of things, including mood, metabolism, pain, reproduction, and immune function.
Here’s how Russo explains the difference,
[CBD] doesn’t tend to bind directly to what’s called the orthosteric site [on cannabinoid receptors] where THC binds. Rather, it binds on what’s called an allosteric site, another site on the receptor, and it so it alters the binding of both THC and the endogenous cannabinoids, the endocannabinoids.
Simply stated, CBD changes the way endocannabinoids, your body’s own marijuana, bind to certain receptors. This changes their action slightly. In the case of THC, cannabidiol prevents some of the psychoactive effects.
Why does this difference matter?
It’s a misconception to think that CBD engages one cannabinoid receptor, while THC engages another. Rather, CBD employs the endocannabinoid system in a very different way. It’s quite distinct from molecules found in many other drugs and has a unique interaction with the body.
Russo explains further,
Cannabidiol is what’s called the negative allosteric modulator, which is a fancy way of saying that when THC is present it interferes with its activity – which is a good thing in terms of wanting too much psychoactivity and again limiting side effects like anxiety or rapid heart rate that can be a problem if someone has too much THC.
So, while psychoactive THC directly connects to cell receptors, CBD comes along and tells those came receptors whether or not to respond.
Russo goes on to explain that the compound also directly engages other cell receptors, like one of the serotonin receptors implicated in depression.
What is clinical endocannabinoid deficiency?
It’s well-known now that both THC and CBD have a variety of medicinal uses. THC directly replaces endocannabinoids in your body. CBD regulates endocannabinoid production and function. But, why would this be useful?
Back in the early 2000s, Russo first published the theory of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency. Researchers have known for a while that dysfunction or deficiency in neurotransmitters contributes to disease.
In Parkinson’s, for example, dopamine-producing neurons die off. This causes major issues with conscious movement.
Russo started wondering: what would deficiency in endocannabinoids look like? Here are his thoughts,
Well, we already knew that. If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems.
What diseases are caused by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency?
Thus far in his research, he’s narrowed his focus on three conditions: migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. Yet, since his work was first published, other researchers have suggested that mental health conditions like autism and bipolar disorder may also be caused, in part, by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.
Scientists are still working to put Russo’s theory to the test. Yet, a group in Italy has found promising evidence in migraine patients. Russo explains,
They showed in people with migraine that the levels were vastly lower than in normal people that didn’t have migraine headaches. So this was the first strong objective proof, if you will, behind the theory. There have been other examples that have tried to document the new paper.
Why isn’t the ESC more well-known?
Unfortunately, research on the endocannabinoid system is sorely lacking. Medical students are not taught about it during school, and thus far very few pharmaceutical drugs are designed to tap into the ECS.
This is mindblowing for several reasons, one of them being the fact that cannabinoid receptors are found in very high concentrations on cells in different parts of the body.
As Russo mentions, these receptors are especially abundant in the brain,
There are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than there are for all of the neurotransmitters put together. That being true – and it is – recognizing that fact, why would one ignore this system? Why isn’t this being taught?
Our public needs to know about this and how lifestyle and diet affect this system, and how it could be brought to bear to improve their life condition.
To help close the gap on endocannabinoid research, Russo and the team at Phytecs are working to develop drugs, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplements that enhance the ECS.
Watch the video
Russo explains some more cool things in the interview. Including information on other herbs that can improve your endocannabinoid system. Super fascinating!