Body of endocannabinoid research makes compelling case for wider use

By Dr Philip Blair

- Last updated on GMT

Body of endocannabinoid research makes compelling case for wider use

Related tags Cannabis

An exciting new area of research involves the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the phyto-cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).  

As many as five new studies are being listed daily by PubMed about synthetic and phyto-cannabinoids. Science has linked the ECS with complex processes from anxiety to immunity. 

This explosion in research includes over 18,000 publications about cannabinoids, 3,200 about ECS and 1,330 concerning CBD alone. This research bonanza is revealing more and more about the ECS master control system and its shining star, cannabidiol.

The ECS was discovered after an intensive search for human receptors that bonded to the psychoactive substance in cannabis. In addition to finding new receptors, several new hormones were discovered. 

It appears that our endogenous cannabinoids carefully regulate many aspects of our lives. Our first encounter with cannabinoids occurs just after birth at our mothers breast. The endocannabinoids are probably the reason babies suckle and become calm when breast-feeding. In adults, the so-called “runner’s high” is actually caused by the athlete’s own cannabinoids, not endorphins.

Currently, vigorous research is afoot to find new chemicals similar to our endocannabinoids. The reason for the intensive interest is the consistently positive results being reported about cannabinoids. 

The cannabis plant actually contains more than 60 different kinds of cannabinoids about which scientists know very little except for just two. Most people are aware of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and its association with drowsiness, decreased coordination and appetite stimulation. 

But few people are aware of cannabidiol (CBD) and its broad range of beneficial effects seen in cell research, animal studies and a few human trials. In fact, most of the rush to change cannabis laws for medical use is about CBD because it's been effective controlling epilepsy when all other treatments have failed. 

Unfortunately, synthesised cannabinoids from the pharmaceutical industry, like rimonabant for obesity, have had serious adverse effects.

The barrier to research to date has been restrictive laws that have classified cannabis as a dangerous substance without medical benefit. But the genus cannabis actually contains two very different subspecies: marijuana and industrial hemp. 

Marijuana is being bred around the world for its psychoactive effects caused by THC. Conversely, industrial hemp has been cultivated for food and fibre for millennia and contains no psychoactive potential. 

Before cotton, hemp was the primary source for clothing, sails, rope and paper. Then, in the mid-2000s, supercritical carbon dioxide extraction was able to safely extract non-psychoactive cannabinoids from hemp and avoid regulatory restrictions. Now, organic, high quality CBD is available throughout the industrial world.

Probably, the best validation of cannabidiol benefits is US patent 6,630,507, “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neural protectants​”, granted to the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2003. 

This 26-page treatise illuminates the science showing that cannabinoids can limit nerve injury and treat neurodegenerative diseases. It singles out CBD as “particularly advantageous​” because it “avoid[s] toxicity​.” 

Twelve years of further research have uncovered no less than 13 healthful mechanisms of action throughout the body. Clearly, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system may represent one of the greatest threshold events in modern medicine.

  • Dr Philip Blair is medical director for CBD manufacturer and distributor Elixinol​ and a West Point graduate, retired army colonel and a board-certified family practitioner. 

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