The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of cannabinoid receptors distributed throughout both the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral tissues of the human body. It is mainly responsible for maintaining homeostasis among bodily systems including but not limited to the: immune, metabolic, cardiovascular / circulatory, musculoskeletal, and central nervous system; the endocannabinoid system is being studied for its potential to be manipulated in order to either inhibit or facilitate certain outcomes related to disease.

Studies suggest that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in neuroprotection and the regulation of the immune system. Regulating immune cells through, “proliferation and apoptosis” (Endocannabinoids and immune regulation), harmful, non-functional cells (such as malignant cancer cells) are reduced while functioning cells are increased. Similarly, receptors of the endocannabinoid system have been shown to play a role in the regulation of inflammation in both the CNS and peripheral systems. In terms of metabolism, receptors in the gastrointestinal tract as well as the hypothalamic nuclei have shown a direct relationship to hunger and satiety signals. Additionally, receptors found in liver and adipose tissue correlate to the formation and reduction of fat. Potential manipulation of such receptors may open up the possibility of treatments for dietary conditions such as eating disorders or obesity. Cannabinoid receptors found in the cardiovascular system have been found to play a role in vasorelaxation and vasoconstriction leading to potential targets to confront issues such as hypertension. With relation to the central nervous system, the area of most concentrated cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoid system has a hand in many foundational human activities such as, “pain reduction, motor regulation, learning/memory, and reward”.

ENDOCANNABINOID DEFICIENCY

 

Given the widespread distribution of receptors in the ECS, it’s not improbable that many different disorders can result from an imbalance in this system. These imbalances may be congenital or acquired. If it’s a deficit originating from birth, it’s possible that genetically-susceptible individuals might produce inadequate endocannabinoids, or that their degradation happens too quickly. The same deficits might be acquired through injury or infection, or potentially nutritional imbalances.

Dr. Ethan Russo, a prominent and well-published cannabinoid researcher, has written a detailed description of the endocannabinoid system, results of a and its efficacy for human health:
“The analgesic and palliative effects of the cannabis and cannabinoid preparation have been amply reported over the past generation. In essence, the effects result from a combination of receptor and non-receptor mediated mechanisms. THC and other cannabinoids exert many actions through cannabinoid receptors, G-protein coupled membrane receptors that are extremely densely represented in central, spinal, and peripheral nociceptive pathways.”

“Endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) even regulate integrative pain structures such as the periaqueductal gray matter. The endocannabinoid system also interacts in numerous ways with the endogenous opioid and vanillio systems that can modulate analgesia and with a myriad of other neurotransmitter systems such as the serotonergic, dopaminergic, glutamatergic, etc, pertinent to pain. [Russo] has suggested that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency may underlie the pathogenesis of migraine, fibromyalgia, idiopathic bowel syndrome, and numerous other painful conditions that defy modern pathophysiological explanation or adequate treatment.”

“Furthermore, researchers Steele Clarke Smith and Mark S. Wagner referenced Dr. Russo’s thoughts on why CBD has such a widespread mechanism of action across the body in their 2014 paper (Russo 2004):
“Dr. Russo understood that each neurotransmitter system can have pathological conditions caused by a deficiency: Alzheimer’s dementia attributed to loss of acetylcholine activity, parkinsonism due to dopamine deficiency, depression associated with lowered levels of serotonin, etc.

Thus, he reasoned, should this be any different in the endocannabinoid system, where the endocannabinoid receptors are especially dense? Could an endocannabinoid deficiency – either congenital or acquired – explain the pathophysioloogy of these elusive conditions?”
This seems to be the general tenet underlying the unparalleled therapeutic diversity of CBD and other cannabinoids, and why supplementation with exogenous cannabinoids may help correct imbalances resulting from an endocannabinoid deficiency.