The Endocannabinoid System

Dr. David Allen from 2014 on the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.

CBD Nation – Full Review

CBD Nation is an excellent documentary about CBD and cannabis that most people will never watch.  You can watch it on Prime Video for $4.99 (rental) or $7.99 (purchase). CBDNationCosts

Maybe it was supposed to be released in theaters. Maybe it will be free next year.  It’s worth paying this small price to watch this year.  If you have friends and family who are skeptical about medical cannabis, buy it for them as a gift.  

The film starts with a study that found high levels of pharmaceuticals in bay mussels.  The obvious contrast is with the cannabis plant that can heal without many of the side-effects of harsh drugs. We then hear true stories of patients, including young Jayden David who had life-threatening seizures.  The legal medical cannabis industry is a patient-driven phenomenon.  Harbourside Medical Center in Berkley provided Jayden with a CBD tincture in 2011.  This medication virtually eliminated his seizures.


Jayden David’s epilepsy was controlled with CBD from cannabis.

Raphael Mechuloum is interviewed briefly at strategic points throughout the film. Mechuloum is the Israeli researcher who discovered THC also discovered the seizure-blocking effects of CBD 35 years ago.

Medical cannabis and CBD are presented as alternatives to harsh pharmaceuticals; and as promising treatments for difficult syndromes such as Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD). This leads to a presentation of the endocannabinoid system – our body’s natural system that helps maintain balance. Our bodies produce natural cannabinoids that maintain the balance of other systems in the body.  Cannabis appears to be a plant that contains substances that help our bodies maintain and restore balance.


Rylie Maedler was the inspiration for Rylie’s Law legalizing medical cannabis for children in Delaware

Rylie Maedler was a young girl when she developed an aggressive bone tumor that began destroying the bones in her face. Her mother began researching alternative treatments for shrinking tumors and started Rylie on cannabis oil.  Surprisingly these treatments worked to regenerate the bones in her face and to shrink the tumor. She did not require the reconstructive surgery that is usually needed.  The Delaware legislature unanimously passed “Rylie’s Law” to legalize medical cannabis for children like Rylie.

Veterans with PTSD are then featured. Colin Wells is a founder of the group “Veterans Walk and Talk” who use medical cannabis and hike several times a week in Southern California.  The founder of Irwin Naturals then describes his mission to offer CBD at reasonable prices.

The film is professionally produced and it makes a strong case for cannabis medicine. I wish this documentary could be widely viewed without paying a fee, but I guess that’s not realistic.  Check it out on Amazon Prime Video or Apple Video.  It’s worth the small cost of admission.

What is CBG Hemp Flower?

Beginning with the 2019 Fall harvest the online market has seen a new type of Cannabis for sale. CBG (Cannabigerol) hemp flower refers to the female flowers of hemp plants that are bred to produce primarily CBG rather than CBD.  The flowers actually contain CBGA – the acid form of CBG (just as THC flowers contain mostly THCA and CBD flowers contain mostly CBDA). Heat is needed to convert these acid forms of the cannabinoids to their bioavailable forms (without the A).  Most people know about marijuana flower, often called bud. CBD hemp flower is also becoming popular since the 2018 farm bill legalized it. The difference between these plants has to do with the dominant cannabinoid that they produce. Marijuana flower is highest in THC, while CBD hemp flower is highest in CBD.  The new flower is highest in CBG.

Young Hemp FlowerCBG is sometimes referred to as the “stem cell” cannabinoid.  Cannabis plants produce CBGA relatively early in their lifespan and much of it is converted to THCA and CBDA as the plant matures. Plant scientists have bred new strains of cannabis where this conversion has been blocked. Flowers from these plants are high in CBG once the plant material has been heated (decarbed).

When using cannabis medically the goal is to consume enough to get symptom relief without becoming intoxicated or impaired. THC flowers (marijuana), when consumed in enough quantity, make you high (intoxicated). CBD flowers relax you without making you high. CBG hemp flowers are drier than the more traditional CBD flowers and they produce different effects, which are difficult to describe.  If THC gives you a “head high” and CBD gives you a “body buzz,”  then CBG might be said to give you a “mind-body buzz”.  Some users report that CBG flowers enhance the effects of CBD when both are consumed together.  These CBG flowers are so new (as of this post in November 2019) that there is no real consensus as to their effects. Some early users of CBG flower report a clear-headed sense of relaxation without the sedation that accompanies some CBD flowers, but others do report sedation. As with all cannabis, the terpene profiles may also influence the effects. CBG itself is known to fight some forms of cancer, to reduce intraocular pressure, and to fight some infections.

I believe we are still in the early days of understanding these natural healing substances. Hemp that is high in other cannabinoids may be right around the corner.  Innovative companies like PotLuckExpo and Kanabia are already offering hemp-based products featuring exotic natural cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, and THC-V.  I have updated the shopping section to include note of places to buy GBG Flower Online.

We also have information on how to decarb CBD hemp flower.

What to Tell your Doctor if you use CBD or THC

It’s a good idea to tell your doctor about anything you are taking that might influence other medications. If you have been told to avoid eating grapefruit with a medication, for example, then you may need to use caution with CBD as well. A recent study looked at the in-depth issues when taking CBD with other drugs. They explore the cytochrome P450-complex enzymes in particular. It turns out that the interactions are complex but usually mild. The authors conclude that CBD is usually a very safe substance.

My doctor was supportive of my taking CBD.  She reported that it has helped some of her patients and that she has even recommended it at least once. I see other doctors for a couple of chronic illnesses, and they showed no interest in the fact that I take CBD.

shutterstock_164571476Many physicians are not familiar with the fact that our bodies produce natural cannabinoids that seem to help maintain balance or “homeostasis”. The endocannabinoid system has been studied since the first endogenous cannabinoid was discovered in 1992.  Anandamide was discovered by Raphael Mechoulam (the scientist who earlier discovered THC and CBD) along with NIMH researchers William Devane and Lumir Hanus.  It attaches primarily to the CB1 receptor in our bodies.  In 1995 Mechoulam discovered the second major endocannabinoid “2-arachidonoylglycerol” or “2-AG” which attaches to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Supplementing our natural endocannabinoid system with phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) has some risks.  These risks are seen mostly with THC. It’s probably even more important to tell your doctor about any THC use. Heavy users of marijuana can develop tolerance, with higher and higher doses needed over time to get the same effect.  Very heavy THC use can also lead to a rare disorder called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. The most troubling symptom of this disorder is severe bouts of vomiting.  Persons susceptible to psychosis should probably avoid THC because there is evidence that it can contribute to a psychotic episode. As noted above, CBD has not been found to have such risks.

Many people who live where marijuana is illegal do not report THC use to their doctor. They may fear that such a disclosure will become a part of their medical record and that the information will eventually make its way to their insurance company or someone else.  It’s probably a good idea to report THC use in any case, but it is especially important if you have any symptoms that may be related to such use.

Testing your DNA for Cannabis-related Traits?

A company called “Strain Genie” claims to be able to analyze your DNA and tell you how cannabis will affect you.  You may get information on how well you metabolize CBD as well as suggestions as to which terpenes you might most benefit from.  You don’t need to use marijuana to benefit from this.  Many of the results are relevant to hemp/CBD users as well.

StrainGenieIf you have used another service to analyze your DNA in the past you can save money and upload your raw data from that service to Strain Genie. If not, you can pay a lot more to spit into a tube and send it back to them. As I am writing this the costs are $150 if you send them your saliva or $30 if you upload your 23andMe raw data.

I had already tested my DNA through 23 and Me, so I opted for the $30 plan.  The report I got is awfully close to the sample report that they show on their site.   My results were a little more confusing, though.  Take these two sections:StrainGenieWarnings

Apparently I have a gene that slows the metabolism of substances like CBD, and I also have a gene that results in my breaking down CBD especially quickly.  What happens when these genes fight it out?  This information was not particularly helpful for me – since it seems like a wash.  They did modify their recommendations about what cannabis products I should choose.  They stated “Edibles Warnings Found! Based on these results, we will not recommend any edible products (including tinctures) below.”  What they did recommend are THC products that are also high in CBD, even though they knew that I live in an illegal state. StrainGenieRecommendations

Strain Genie seems to be part of the same company as Woahstork, a cannabis delivery service.  This service appears to be available in selected states only.  I’m not sure how closely Strain Genie’s recommendations match up with Woahstork’s selection of products, but Strain Genie pushes you pretty hard to sign up for the other service as well.

Is it worth it?  If you have already analyzed your DNA somewhere else, then it’s probably worth the $30 fee.  It gave me the idea of adding alpha pinene to the terpenes in my “Make your own CBD oil” blends.  They suggested that this might help my memory because I have slightly elevated risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m not sure I’d plop down $150 for these somewhat-limited results.  A better bet would be to wait for 23 and Me to go on sale (which it does from time-to-time) and then get their more comprehensive genetic results.  Once you have those results you can send the raw file to Strain Genie along with $30.

Qi and The Endocannabinoid System

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  This is apparently one of the body’s more complex systems – on the level of the digestive system, the nervous system, and the immune system.  It is believed to play a major role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the mind and body.  Where would I start writing about the digestive system (for example)?  How could I do it justice in this format? To get a sense of the complexity of the ECS see this 2012 “overview.”

shutterstock_623123291.jpgEndo stands is short for “endogenous”, which means originating within the body. Cannabinoids are the substances that activate the ECS.  We are more familiar with phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) such as THC and CBD.  After Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam and his associates discovered THC in 1963 (and later CBD) they began to search for how these substances worked. In 1991 they discovered that THC binds to certain sites in the brain and nervous system and they called these “CB1 receptors.” In 1992 the team found the natural substance that binds to this receptor and named it “anandamide.”  The team found another receptor, mostly in the gut and the immune system, and named it CB2.  They discovered the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) as a substance that naturally binds to the CB2 receptor (also binding to a lesser extent to the CB1 receptor).

So if the phytocannabinoid THC binds to the CB1 receptor, does the phytocannabinoid CBD bind to the CB2 receptor?  It would be great if it were that simple, but it is not. CBD does not bond directly to either CB1 or CB2 receptors but it appears to increase the level of natural cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). It is also a “negative allosteric modulator” to the CB1 receptor, actually reducing THC’s ability to bind with CB1.  This may be one reason that CBD seems to mellow THC’s high and decrease paranoia.  CBD also acts on chemicals like serotonin.  CBD’s ability to relieve pain is likely due to a different mechanism entirely.  It is the result of activating transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) receptors.

Got all that?  Me neither.

What I do get is the idea of homeostatis.  Wikipedia defines homeostasis as

“the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. Examples of homeostasis include the regulation of temperature and the balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH).”

The ECS appears to be responsible for regulating balance in the body.  Dr. Ethan Russo believes that some challenging syndromes, such as migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, are actually due to an endocannabinoid deficiency.  If our body produces too little anandamide and 2-AG (and other endocannabinoids) it may result in painful syndromes such as these. The implication is that cannabinoids may eventually be part of a treatment for migraines and fibromyalgia.

In China migraines and fibromyalgia might be addressed as imbalances in Qi (pronounced “chi”). Qi is the concept of vital energy.  Acupuncture meridians are thought of as channels for Qi in the body.  Qigong and Tai Chi are techniques for improving Qi.

Western Medicine is missing a system of vital energy.  Most systems of medicine around the world recognize the importance of this vital energy for the mind and body. The concepts of yin and yang are important components of Qi, and it is critical that yin and yang are balanced.  In Japan vital energy is called Ki.  In India it is prana.   Some Western medicine doctors understand that “the will to live” is an important component in someone’s battle against a chronic or terminal illness, but that’s about the only time you hear anything approaching this concept in the West.

Is the endocannabinoid system the same as Qi?  Do they at least overlap?  What do you think?