Every year more and more people are able to see, and willing to admit, that cannabis has helped people suffering from any number of medical conditions. They’re just not sure how. Does cannabis really help relieve that many symptoms? Some still think that slapping the word medical in front of the word marijuana is just a savvy way of getting legalization and is somehow scamming the system. Thankfully the number of holdouts who feel cannabis is a dangerous drug that will somehow destroy the fabric of our society, is continuing to dwindle as the years go by.
Eventually people realize that the sky isn’t going to fall just because the state they live in adopted a medical or rec program. The rational part of me wonders if they can honestly be blamed. Their fear is largely based on generations of bad propaganda pushed by people in positions of power who had agendas.
Truth is, almost nothing of what the ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda said was based in fact or science. Truth is, the number of deaths caused by cannabis is now equal to the same number of people gored by unicorns ( yeah I went there). Not only does cannabis NOT cause people to become crazed maniacs, but it actually helps your body to protect and heal itself. But how? How can a single plant help relieve so many symptoms? Well, it all has to do with your Endocannabinoid System, which wasn’t even know about until about 30 years ago.
What is the Endocannabinoid System and what does it do??
The Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, consists of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. This system is responsible for regulating and balancing many processes in the body, including immune response, communication between cells, appetite and metabolism, memory, and more. It’s the system that makes sure all your other systems are working properly. When something isn’t right, your Endocannabinoid System is what tells your body that it needs to heal itself.
These cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids mimic a lock and key mechanism. Much like you insert a key into a lock, cannabinoids bind to your receptors and unlock them to cause a change in how your cells function. This results in a certain effect in your body. When you have issues with your endocannabinoids, it can lead to physical difficulties and other problems caused by an imbalance in your body.
To understand the human Endocannabinoid System, it’s helpful to know a little about one of the most fundamental concepts in biology: Homeostasis. The easiest way to explain homeostasis is to take a page out of the children’s story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The story is about the idea that the best outcome is often times somewhere in the middle. We don’t want things too hot or too cold, but just right!
Homeostasis is the concept that your body functions are actively regulated in order to maintain a balance and operate within a certain range. Our bodies aren’t able to operate at it’s peak when our temperature is too hot or too cold, or when our blood sugars are too high or too low, etc. For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation. This is why cannabis has been shown to help so many different symptoms or conditions.
Many doctors are uncomfortable recommending an herbal medicine and even more doctors absolutely hate the idea of smoking a medicine. Our medical system is setup in a way that prefers to isolate a single substance, put that in pill form, and push it out to the masses. This way of thinking severely limits the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids.
Unlike pills, you consume hundreds of cannabinoids when you consume cannabis and these compounds work synergistically with each other to create a more medically therapeutic effect. This is often referred to as the “Entourage Effect”. The term was popularized by Dr. Ethan Russo—a neurology physician who has spent his career conducting medical research on cannabis—and his 2011 paper, “Taming THC.”
Whole Plant Medicine
The main benefit to using whole plant medicine versus isolated THC or CBD is for the synergetic effect that we briefly discussed above. The easiest way to demonstrate this is the fact that CBD can help balance out the psychoactive side effects of THC but there are plenty of other benefits to using whole plant medicine. However, the biggest reason is that the plant extracts can target more parts of the body than simply THC alone. This is especially helpful to patients that are suffering from more than one symptom.
Research has also suggested that certain terpenes, which create the smell of cannabis, have the ability to increase the sedative effects of THC. It is believed this happens because myrcene helps to improve the absorption of active ingredients. This further illustrates that the different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes, activating different systems in your body, is what gives each strain of cannabis its own unique gift to each patient.
For patients, finding the right strain of cannabis is more about finding the right combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes, in a specific ratio to create a desired effect. This is why I strongly suggest our patients understand how to read the testing certificates of analysis that are required by the state of Missouri for all cannabis products sold in dispensaries. For more information ask your favorite budtender what terpene and cannabinoid profiles might be worth trying to help improve your quality of life.