Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote a letter to Senator Jeff Sessions on how cannabis can help turn the opioid crisis around in America.
In his letter he explains how cannabis can not only provide the same pain relief as opioids, it can even heal the diseased addict’s brain, breaking their addiction. This is a promising solution for a crisis that takes 115 Americans lives a day. “I have seen this firsthand. All over the country, I have met patients who have weaned themselves off opioids using cannabis.” Gupta states the consensus is clear, cannabis can treat pain and decrease inflammation with virtually no risk of overdose or sudden death. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine arrived at this conclusion in 2017 after what is said to be the “most comprehensive studies of recent research” on the health benefits of cannabis.
We’ve seen Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN and recently on the Dr. Oz show explaining the science behind cannabis, how it works on the body, and why he thinks it is a promising plant medicine alternative for America. “For the past 40 years, we have been told that cannabis turns the brain into a fried egg, and now there is scientific evidence that it can do just the opposite… It can heal the brain when nothing else does.” Gupta writes to Sessions.
If this plant can be the answer to the opioid epidemic that took an estimated 45,000 lives in 2017, what can it mean for other diseases and mental health disorders?
Anxiety in the U.S.
Anxiety has become the number one mental health issue in America with over 18% of the population affected by the disorder. It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode.
We all feel stress and anxiety at some points in our lives. To a certain degree, there is a healthy amount of stress that helps us take action or defend ourselves in certain situations. We evolved a defense system called our sympathetic nervous system aka “fight or flight” that allows us to do just that in dire situations.
Stress and Anxiety in the Body
Anxiety for some may only last a day or so but for many, anxiety can be a regular feeling that can be debilitating at times and include panic attacks. We might see anxiety show up in physical ways such as shortness of breath, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia and over time maybe even weight loss (or gain), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), acne, heart problems, hormonal issues, and disease. In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid stress — we’re all feeling it in one way or another. Whether it be from work, family, politics, or our lifestyle choices. When the stress piles on over an extended period, your body actually becomes accustomed to this way of feeling and in a way it becomes the norm.
The stresses of life in addition to our physical states can play a role in our mental health. The way we take care of ourselves; mind, body, and spirit can greatly affect how much anxiety, stress and even depression we may experience.
There is much research to support that anxiety and depression can also be the result of inflammation and particularly inflammation in the gut. We hear the term “inflammation” a lot when dealing with chronic health conditions. Chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation has been directly implicated in just about every chronic disease; brain conditions are no exception. This low-level inflammation can manifest as problems like anxiety, depression, and brain fog.
When you feel stress creeping into your life, there are steps you can take to come back to balance and to equilibrium. In fact, there is a part of our central nervous system in our bodies that’s entire job is to bring us back into homeostasis, the endocannabinoid system. Nutrition, mindset, and lifestyle all play a role in keeping our stress and anxiety levels at bay and our nervous system balanced, but we most often see people turning towards pharmaceutical medications.
Typical Treatment: Pharmaceutical Drugs
“Some 40 million people in the United States suffer from anxiety disorder and about one third of them get treatment for it.”
The typical treatment might include therapy and pharmaceutical medications like benzodiazepines, antidepressants, beta blockers, and SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac, Zoloft, Valium, and Xanax.
Various reuptake inhibitors function by preventing the reuptake of their specific neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing them to stay longer in the synapses and increase their amount. Meaning they work with increasing a certain neurotransmitter like serotonin our “happy chemical” in the brain. These drugs may be helpful, but they are only a temporary fix that does not address the underlying cause of multiple neurotransmitter imbalances.
A little on neurotransmitters: these are the chemical “messages” sent by brain cells (neurons) to communicate with each other and with the rest of the body. These messages help coordinate and regulate everything we feel, think, and do. They include serotonin acetylcholine, norepinephrine (regulates learning and mood), serotonin (regulates sleep, mood, eating), dopamine (involved with experiencing pleasure), GABA, glutamate, and endorphin (moderates pain).
These pharmaceutical reuptake inhibitors only focus on one neurotransmitter, SSRIs, for example, focuses on increasing only serotonin in the brain. The issue with these drugs is that most cases of depression and anxiety are due to multiple neurotransmitter imbalances.
Focusing on just one neurotransmitter does not make it likely that this drugs will exacerbate the disease. Additionally, in many cases, these drugs actually increase depression and suicidal thoughts suggesting they may not be the best option for some.
So, while these drugs may be effective for many patients, some do not respond favorably and actually seem to get worse with common side effects (not to mention many are highly addictive).
Many patients do not see any results or cannot tolerate the harmful side effects these drugs include so we are seeing a big rise in non-pharmaceutical solutions, especially as new research on them emerges — including cannabis, and particularly cannabidiol.
Could cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant provide a viable alternative to pharmaceutical anxiety and depression medications?
What is CBD?
CBD, cannabidiol is a compound found in the cannabis plant (the plant that hemp and marijuana come from).
The cannabis plant produces thousands of compounds but increasingly becoming more popular are a class called cannabinoids.
These cannabinoids are all unique and interact with receptors in cells of the human body. THC has received most of the spotlight as the compound that “gets you high.” CBD is another compound of the 400+ in the plant that is showing to have amazing benefits to the body without the psychoactive effect.
While there are many different reasons people might be gravitating toward CBD, the center of its abilities is its highly anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is the cause of almost all chronic diseases including cancer, digestive issues, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, hormonal, and brain issues.
This makes CBD a promising natural supplement for those suffering from underlying inflammatory issues, both mental and physical.
CBD has gained much popularity in recent years because of the amount of interest among not only consumers but clinicians and scientist as well. With over 20,000 plus scientific articles on the cannabis plant, there is much reason to believe that the medical uses for this plant are here to stay.
Numerous animal and human experimental, clinical and epidemiological studies suggest CBD has powerful anti-anxiety and anti-depression properties. It has been shown to be safe, well-tolerated and may be beneficial for disorders including:
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
CBD on the Brain and Body
Believe it or not, cannabinoids do not only interact well in the body, but they are also already present in the body! Cannabinoids are present in mother’s breast milk, helping to replenish their babies endocannabinoid system. The human body actually produces its own endogenous cannabinoids making the research and science behind this plant’s healing benefits to the body quite intriguing.
We have receptors on the edge of our cells that take cues and organize chemicals. The biggest class of receptors in the body are cannabinoid receptors, which are specifically designed to process cannabinoids. You read that right, we have receptors in our bodies for the same compounds found in the hemp plant. We actually have cannabinoids inside our bodies that modulate the way we make hormones, the way we run our immune system and neurotransmitters in the brain. These receptors finetune neurons that produce serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate.
The dominant two receptors in our bodies are CB1 and CB2. CB1 is concentrated in the central nervous system but also found in other tissues as well, including liver, gut, uterus, prostate, adrenals, the cardiovascular system, and very high levels in several regions of the brain. CB2 is localized in the immune cells. CB2 is what controls inflammatory responses making it the more important one to pay attention to for therapeutic effects in general.
CB1 receptors are found in different parts of the brain, including those concerned with cognition, sensory perception, memory, and emotion. “The brain has these receptors that respond to endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that are naturally produced in the body and brain,” says Jerald Simmons, a neurologist at Houston’s Comprehensive Sleep Medicine Associates. “Some of the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are very similar to the endocannabinoids in the brain, and they act on the same receptors.”
The Endocannabinoid System
We all have what’s called the endocannabinoid system which is the largest neurotransmitter system in the body and part of the central nervous system in the body. It regulates every other neurotransmitter system including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a very important role in the human body for our survival. This is due to its ability to play a critical role in maintaining the homeostasis of the human body (meaning it is constantly working to bring about a state of balance to our bodies and minds), which includes the brain, endocrine, and immune system, to name a few.
This whole system regulates important activities such as sleep, immune, gastrointestinal, central and peripheral nervous system, reproductive, digestive, mood, memory, appetite, and other cognitive and physical processes.
Cannabinoids are chemical messengers of the ECS system and they modulate the way we make hormones, the way we run our neurotransmitters in the brain as well as our immune system. They are predominantly in the brain, the central nervous system, and the peripheral immune cells.
Why CBD does not get you High but relieves Pain and Anxiety?
CBD does not directly attach to these receptors – it is actually a modulator, which is why it doesn’t give you the psychoactive effect that THC does. CBD modulates what your endocannabinoids are doing and it increases the number of your endocannabinoids so when we take CBD oil, we are replenishing the endocannabinoid system with cannabidiol. CBD opens the channels and pathways in our brain and stimulates brain receptors to help regulate our system.
This is what helps the body have an alkaline balance. When our bodies are inflammed we have higher levels of acidity thus making CBD powerfully anti-inflammatory for the body.
CBD also puts our system into the parasympathetic nervous system state (our rest, relax and digest state) the opposite of our sympathetic nervous system, “fight or flight” mode.
Generally speaking, CBD works as an adaptogen herb – meaning it can adapt to whatever your body needs. Because it works directly with the very system that balances our bodies, it knows what to do in the body to bring you back into balance. CBD overall helps balance us emotionally, mentally and spiritually bringing our bodies back into the states we are meant to be in.
CBD boosts Anandamide aka “The Bliss Molecule”
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that is produced when we meditate, go for a run, or eat chocolate and is another cannabis-like chemical that is part of the endocannabinoid system.
Aptly named after ananda, the Sanskrit word for “joy, bliss, or happiness,” anandamide binds to the CB1 receptor (the one in charge of your mood, appetite, pain sensitivity, and sleep cycle).
This chemical calms down anxious feelings and makes extreme pain seem distant and irrelevant. Anandamide is not only elevated when we take CBD but it actually inhibits the enzyme that is responsible for breaking it down.
Less FAAH means more anandamide is able to stay in the body longer, which means a lifted mood, more euphoria, and bliss. At the same time, a lack of anandamide could be linked to depression and anxiety.
Why anti-depressants might not work?
As we’ve discussed these pharmaceutical drugs often target just one neurotransmitter in the body, but anxiety and depression are usually multifactorial, meaning they have many causes.
We are discovering that many mental disorders are not a one neurotransmitter imbalance, but a multiple one and/or an inflammation problem. Any systemic inflammation can lead to brain inflammation which is why CBD is a powerful solution tackling both of these issues that can cause anxiety and depression.
Anxiety & Depression are a Multifactorial Issue and Different for Everyone.
CBD looks to be a promising, safe supplement that can provide less inflammation, pain, anxiety, depression and more. Every case is different and no one person’s lifestyle or chemical makeup is alike; always consult your health care physician before getting off of medications or switching over.
We will continue to learn more about cannabis and its medical use as well as the endocannabinoid system as we are only in the infancy of research. Wellness Co will be on the cutting edge of research as we aim to educate and provide as much new information as possible.