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We wish to thank everyone who attended our first cannabis patient conference, Medical Cannabis: The Science Behind the Hype, which was held in San Rafael, California, on Saturday, November 1, 2014. We were awestruck by the collective knowledge of not only our presenters, but of our guests as well.
We want share the information presented at the conference with all of you, so over the next several weeks we will expand and reinforce more than two-dozen key ideas that were presented at the conference.
One of these lessons, which we found challenging to understand as we entered into cannabis care, is how and why cannabis works by helping modulate our bodies’ systems. In order to understand that, we first need to understand the homeostasis process.
What Is Homeostasis?
Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells that must all perform both independently and in symphony with all other cells to keep us alive and well. The collection of wide-ranging processes by which the body monitors and modifies its internal environment to adjust to change is called homeostasis. And since we are a single unit, it is no surprise that any changes in one or more of our bodies’ systems affect one or more of our other systems. The body works tirelessly to keep itself in balance.
The Homeostasis Process
All homeostatic processes can be broken down into three parts:
- A receptor senses, monitors, and responds to changes in the environment. Information about these changes is sent to a “control center,” such as our brains, which stores the tolerance range of change and determines how to respond when a change is out of range.
- The control center then sends signals to an effector, such as muscles or internal organs in the body.
- The signal triggers a change to correct the deviation by depressing it. This is called “negative feedback.”
We Are in a Constant State of Change
Our bodies are constantly monitoring and adjusting to changes. Although they are automatic and you never have to think about them, you most likely notice many of these changes. Consider the following:
Respiration rate is affected by the level of carbon dioxide in your blood, which is monitored and controlled by an area at the base of the brain. This process causes you to breathe deeper and more frequently when you climb stairs, as your muscles cells burn more oxygen.
Blood pressure is also moderated as our brains respond to feedback received from various cells throughout the body. It sends signals to dilate (widen) blood vessels to reduce pressure or constrict (narrow) vessels to increase pressure.
Sleep-wake homeostasis regulates the pressure to sleep, and is related to the amount of time that has elapsed since the last adequate sleep episode. A sleep deficit triggers a compensatory increase in the intensity and duration of sleep, while excessive sleep reduces sleep propensity.
Our moods fluctuate in response to stressors and changes in the environment.
Cannabinoid Deficiency and Age-Related Illnesses
Research is showing that supplementing our diets with cannabinoid—medicinal compounds found in cannabis and other organisms—can help our bodies maintain homeostasis, particularly as we get older.
Dr. Robert Melamede, a professor at the University of Colorado, says that “cannabinoids regulate sub-cellular biochemistry, intercellular communication, and all body systems” and that “cannabinoid deficiency has been implicated in a number of age-related illnesses.”
A study in Endocrine, Metabolic, and Immune Disorders—Drug Targets reports, “The ECS [endocannabinoid system] has deep phylogenetic roots and regulates many aspects of embryological development and homeostasis, including neuroprotection and neural plasticity, immunity and inflammation, apoptosis and carcinogenesis, pain and emotional memory, and the focus of this review: hunger, feeding, and metabolism.”
Cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system have been implicated in the control of appetite, cognition, mood, and drug dependence.
One of the most exciting areas of cannabinoid research is the study of cannabinoids as anti-tumoral agents. The main active cannabinoid in cancer Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been observed inducing glioma (cancerous tumor) cell death, while protecting healthy cells in the entire body from becoming malignant by stimulating the cellular hemostatic process called autophagy. These results were published by Complutense University, Madrid in an April, 2009, report titled: “Cannabinoid action induces autophagy-mediated cell death through stimulation of ER stress in human glioma cells.”
Which Cannabis-Based Medication Is Right for Me?
While cannabinoid therapy is poised to change patient care as we know it, today cannabis medicine is mostly administered and controlled by “budtenders,” well-meaning individuals who lack formal medical training. Cannabinoid advocate Justin Kander points out that dispensaries are run almost entirely by entrepreneurs, and the role of doctors has mainly been limited to writing recommendations. This has been a problem, but the good news is that the situation is starting to change.
Cannabinoid nutraceuticals are now entering the market. made from combining the words nutrition and pharmaceuticals—can be dietary supplements or so-called “functional foods” that benefit the body. Some have suggested that our bodies needs 65 mg of phytocannabinoids—cannabinoids produced by many plants, including cannabis—every day to stay in balance.
The rising use of cannabis extract medicine and standardization confirmed through potency testing for cannabinoid profiles enables medical doctors (MDs) to take a more active role in recommending specific cannabinoid medicine to fight cancer and other diseases.
Doctors, universities, pharmaceutical firms, and other entities around the world are conducting trials and other research to map cannabinoids to medical conditions and desired patient outcomes. For now, like other medicines, finding the product, or strain, that works with your body and effectively treats your medical conditions and symptoms can require some testing.
A handy dosage chart based on published research from the Mayo Clinic can be accessed at: http://gbsciences.com/cannabinoid-dosages/.
We encourage you to contact us if you need advice. We will do our best to guide you in the right direction.