Endocannabinoids and public health
There is a LOT of data to digest when considering matters of public health. There is no value in the data unless it is massive and inclusive of a large portion of the population. This makes it difficult to get a clear picture of trends in public health, and even more difficult to unearth their root causes. Issues like the obesity epidemic, the autism epidemic, the growing percentage of the aging population with Alzheimer’s disease, and others have been the focus of extensive research due to the massive portions of the public that they affect. Interestingly, many of the medical phenomena that have materialized over the last three quarters of a century are treatable in some ways – and preventable in many ways – by introducing cannabinoids into the diet.
This correlation is remarkable because it has given us a glimpse into a potential cause of these ailments, which again, is difficult to obtain. It has led to research on the possibility that the prohibition of cannabis which began in the 1930s cut off access to a seemingly important part of the human diet: the cannabinoids found in hemp. For millennia, hemp was not only a major source of nutrition for the people of the world, but more importantly it was a primary food source for livestock.
As biologists have discovered, when matter moves up the food chain, it becomes more concentrated. If 2% of the gross weight consumed by livestock is cannabinoid matter, that number can be more than doubled in the livestock that we consume, and so forth. Some researchers even suggest that our endocannabinoid system may have developed due to frequent consumption of cannabinoids in our food, especially non-hemp food such as beef or poultry that has been fed a hemp-based diet. Thus, there is a growing consensus that cannabis prohibition may in fact be a contributing factor to the growing rates of these widespread illnesses that affect people from every corner of the population. Of course, correlation isn’t causation, so what leads them to make this claim?
What is clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD)?
One interesting tidbit of data shows that the autism rate began spiking in the late 1980s, perfectly coinciding with the birth of the initial offspring of baby boomers, the first generation who consumed a fully hemp-free diet. Coincidentally, Alzheimer’s rates soared along the same time frame. Many questions have been raised about the possible connection between these ailments and a lack of phytocannabinoid stimulation of the endocannabinoid system.
The currently understood role of the endocannabinoid system is as one of the chief mediators of homeostasis in the body. This is observed across many body systems and many conditions. Due to the immensely complex nature of the ECS, its natural functional state is referred to as endocannabinoid tone, because function is not tied to either low or high levels, but a sophisticated balance. ECS over regulation can lead to obesity and liver damage, and under-regulation can result in chronic pain and immune system deficiency. If our bodies evolved to have an endocannabinoid system because of the cannabinoids found in our diet, then it is reasonable to assert that the removal of those cannabinoids from the diet would result in many problems of ECS tone in a species that came to rely on their presence.
One of the leaders of this school of thought is Dr. Ethan Russo. Back in the early 2000s, he posited that many of today’s common conditions and syndromes, such as fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome, are caused primarily by imbalances in their respective systems. Combine this with the fact that endocannabinoid receptors comprise not only the greatest number of receptors in the body, but an overall majority of them, and we begin to see that endocannabinoid regulation is a majorly under-researched area of study. As medicine continues to advance, we can expect to see traditional treatment methods and alternative endocannabinoid augmentation therapy coming together to form a more well-rounded approach to wellness and preventative health.