The endocannabinoid system is a feedback loop within the brain and all branches of the nervous system – higher brain functions of thought/memory/mood, movement, sensation, and the autonomic system which helps regulate all organs and the immune system down to the level of cellular proliferation. The endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by nerves when they have been either activated or suppressed. They signal the nerve’s state to other nerves in the area by binding to their cannabinoid receptors.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids manufactured by plants, particularly hemp. Marijuana, aka cannabis, is a specific strain of hemp which has high levels of the cannabinoid THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the psychoactive cannabinoid which produces the “high” and increased appetite typical of marijuana and hashish.
Other strains in the hemp family, traditionally grown for their fiber, have low to virtually no THC but are high in other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol [CBD].
Phytocannabinoids are similar enough in structure to endocannabinoids that they will also bind to cannabinoid receptors. In this way they can support the actions of the body’s own endocannabinoid system in maintaining balanced function in the nervous system and all the body functions it influences.
The affinity of hemp’s phytocannabinoids for receptors in the endocannabinoid system fit perfectly with the goal of holistic natural treatments in maintaining health by supporting homeostasis. Endocannabinoids are an integral part of the homeostatic mechanism which operates in tissues at the local level in the face of naturally occurring temporary challenges such as stress or normal inflammatory reactions. Instead of blocking or disrupting the body’s reactions, they assist in restoring normalcy using endogenous pathways.
Much more work needs to be done to uncover the activity of all phytocannabinoids – at least 65 different varieties at last count. There are currently over 27,000 peer-reviewed studies on the topic of cannabinoids. Evidence has been found for support of homeostasis in the brain, digestive tract, joints, immune system reactions and even skin.
As more information accumulates we will learn how to apply specific cannabinoids to support balance in different situations. For now, a “whole herb” approach can be applied by using low THC broad spectrum hemp.
The use of hemp-derived phytocanabinoids is more than a trendy fad. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support their use to reinforce the body’s powerful homeostatic pathways. Health is balance.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD