High on Health: Cannabinoids in the Food Supply

Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found within the human body. They’ve been there for 600,000 years or more, but we’ve only just noticed it! One of the remarkable things about endocannabinoids is their striking similarity to the active ingredients of cannabis called phyto-cannabinoids. In fact, it was the effort by scientists to understand the exact mechanism by which cannabis works in the body that led to the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System little more than a decade ago.The science of endocannabinoid medicine has progressed to a dizzying degree in the past few years. There is wider awareness that the ‘endocannabinoid system’ is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body, regulating relaxation, eating, sleeping, memory, and, as noted by the Italian scientist Vincenzo Di Marzo, even our immune system.

Cannabinoids promote homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite external fluctuations, at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism. For example, endocannabinoids are now understood as the source of the runner’s high.  The endocannabinoids naturally found in human breast milk, which are vital for proper human development, have virtually identical effects as cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Amazingly, the mechanism at work after smoking or eating cannabis, when adults get the “munchies, is essentially the same as what causes breastfeeding babies to seek protein-rich milk.

Universally accepted following its discovery in 1995, the endocannabinoid system asserts it power to heal and balance the other systems of the body by turning on or off the expression of genes. Cannabinoids hold the key that unlocks receptor sites throughout the brain and immune system triggering potent healing and pain-killing effects.

The endocannabinoid anandamide, (Ananda = bliss in Sanskrit + amide = chemical type) a naturally neurotransmitting lipid compound made by all mammals, is basically a self-manufactured “natural THC” circulating within. Anandamide and THC act through the cannabinoid receptors and have similar effects on pain, appetite, and memory, etc.

There are two types of cannabinoid receptors in the body — the CB1 receptors found primarily in the brain and the central nervous system, and the CB2 receptors that are distributed but primarily found in the immune system. These receptors respond to cannabinoids, whether they be from breast milk, or from a cannabis plant.

Aside from the cannabinoids produced by the body and those found in cannabis, there are numerous substances that interact with the endocannabinoid system, such as cacao, black pepper, echinacea, tumeric and even carrots. But it is the Cannabis plant that produces the most powerful cannabinoids mimicing most closely those produced by the body. No downsides, no side-effects, no drug interaction issues, and so far, no giving up your hard earned funds to big pharma.

Make no mistake, I’m not referring to THC, of which Americans smoke more of per person than any other people on Earth, but rather the “other,” non-psychoactive cannabinoid called Cannabidiol (CBD), a prominent molecular component of the cannabis plant.  While CBD does not bind to either the CB1 or CB2 cannabinoid receptors directly, it does stimulate endogenous cannabinoid activity by suppressing an enzyme that breaks down anandamide. CBD is also a counterbalance to the action of THC at the CB1 receptor, mitigating or muting the psychoactive effects of THC.  Weed enthusiasts would be wise to keep some CBD on hand for when things get… out of hand.

If just 10% of what research doctors are now saying about CBD is true, then this is a discovery with significance similar in medical impact to the discovery of antibiotics. Myriad serious scientific peer-reviewed studies in Europe have pointed to CBD as having almost unprecedented healing power over an extraordinary variety of pathologies. Even the stodgy National Cancer Institute has referenced this on their website.

Surprisingly, there is still little awareness of this outside of the medical research community.  Surely an unknown plant newly found in a remote rainforest with the same medical profile would be heralded as a miraculous cure. But in the last half-century, this particular plant has been better known as an intoxicant than a medicine.

The stigma that obscures wider awareness of its beneficial nature has been carefully cultivated. For decades, Hearst newspapers bombarded Americans with images of Mexicans and African Americans led into vice and violence by the evil weed. In the public mind, cannabis was transformed from an obscure ingredient in patented medicines with pharmacy sales rivaling aspirin, to an intoxicant the use of which would lead inevitably to decline and debauchery.

In a spectacular confluence of politics, racism, corporate greed, and political corruption, the federal government managed to outlaw cannabis for all purposes in 1937, with medical research becoming virtually impossible in the U.S.

Now, in California and around the country, research doctors are peer-reviewing the recent explosion of clinical studies from abroad, as well as conducting their own pre-clinical research without humans. Persuasive evidence abounds that CBD is effective in easing symptoms as well as reversing of a wide range of difficult-to-control conditions, including: rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, PTSD, epilepsy, antibiotic-resistant infections, neurological disorders, and muscular dystrophy.

CBD has no side effects and becomes very effective as an anti-psychotic when given in larger doses. With more antioxidant potency than either vitamin C or E, CBD has consistently demonstrated neuroprotective effects, and its anti-cancer potential is, by all accounts, enormous. Sean McAllister, PhD at California Pacific Medical Center said “CBD could spell the end of breast cancer,” and claims it could render chemotherapy and radiation a distant 2nd and 3rd options for cancer patients.

Don Abrams M.D. at UCSF says the studies point to “a remarkable ability of CBD to arrest cancer cell division, cell migration, metastasis, and invasiveness.”  The vast impact of the endocannabinoid system on human health explains and validates anecdotal reports of cannabis used effectively for a wide range of health conditions. Studies on the efficacy of CBD treatment are already driving the design and development of precision targeted single-molecule medicines. Indeed, we are hard-wired for cannabinoids.

The US government may not admit the medical efficacy of cannabis, but the global pharmaceutical industry has been researching it for many years. Some 350 scientists from drug-company labs including Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, and Allergan (maker of Botox and silicone breast implants) regularly attend meetings of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. They are all trying to develop synthetic drugs that confer some of the health benefits of cannabis without the psychoactivity. “It’s a foregone conclusion,” says Julie London, M.D.,”that the next decade will see a new generation of Big Pharma medications based on cannabis.”

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