Cannabis products are a godsend for many suffering from chronic illness. They are able to resolve multiple issues from digestive issues to chronic pain. But how? Some say that it may be because cannabis is able to make up for a cannabinoid deficiency, known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED).
The theory was first publicized by Dr. Ethan Russo in 2001. Back then, he theorized that the endocannabinoid system was involved in neurodevelopment, neuroplasticity and immunity alongside other physiological aspects. Thus, any dysfunction to the system could lead to a variety of health problems. These problems include irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and migraines.
In a study from 2016, Dr. Russo and others recorded evidence that supports the possibility of CED leading to a variety of health issues. Studies have shown for example that those with fibromyalgia and migraines have statistically significant differences in anandamide levels (a cannabinoid that is produced in the body) in their cerebrospinal fluid. Decreased endocannabinoid function was also recorded among those with PTSD.
Beyond this, clinical data has shown that cannabinoid treatment and lifestyle changes that promote the health of the endocannabinoid system are associated with reduced pain, better sleep and other health benefits.
“If endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep among the almost universal physiological systems subserved by the endocannabinoid system (ECS).” says Dr. Russo in the 2016 paper.
The origin of cannabinoid deficiencies is still unknown, although Russo has suggested that they may be due to genetic reasons, disease or injury. Due to limited research so far on the endocannabinoid system, the validity of Russo’s findings however are still open for debate.
Thus, Dr. Russo is currently working to conduct more studies to investigate the system further- especially looking at its relationship with the gut’s microbiome.
“The vast majority of physicians just have no background in the ECS,” he said. “Despite it being discovered almost 30 years ago, there’s been very little uptake of it in med school curricula—it’s just not being taught, and whether that’s an unfortunate association with the word ‘cannabis’ is unclear. But clearly we have a knowledge deficit in regard to it, and until we rectify that we won’t have the ability to treat our patients more effectively.” says Russo.