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Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome: Can CBD Help?

Most people have never heard of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome. But new research suggests that it may play a role in a variety of medical conditions and CBD oil supplements might play a role in treating them.

The human body is a complex machine. In school, we study our bodies’ intricate mechanisms and how all of our systems work together to keep us functional. The primary systems we learn about are:

  • Circulatory (heart, blood vessels)
  • Digestive (stomach, intestines)
  • Endocrine (glands, hormones)
  • Integumentary (skin)
  • Lymphatic (immune)
  • Muscular (muscles)
  • Nervous (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
  • Reproductive (sex organs)
  • Respiratory (lungs)
  • Skeletal (bones)
  • Urinary (waste excretion)

And then there’s the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But unless you’re a scientist, work in the medical cannabis industry, or just have a tremendous level of knowledge about biology and marijuana, it’s likely you’ve never heard of it.

The endocannabinoid system is a structure that weaves through and interacts with most of your other bodily functions. However, the details of the ECS are highly sophisticated—and can even be downright confusing. Below, we’ve done our best to simplify this not-so-simple bodily function.

Homeostasis is a Balancing Act

To fully understand the ECS, you must also understand the basics of homeostasis. Homeostasis is an automatic process or reaction by the body to maintain optimal internal function that is necessary for survival. Think of homeostasis as a balancing act.

For example, when your body temperature rises, you begin to sweat, which helps to return your internal temperature back to 98.6 degrees. On the other hand, if you are in cold weather conditions, your body shivers to produce heat from within. These processes are homeostasis at work.

The ECS helps maintain balance in all systems of the body, not only in humans, but in many other mammals and animals, as well. If something in your body is off-balance, the ECS jumps in to help you heal from the inside, out.

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Three Components of the Endocannabinoid System

  1. Cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2
  2. Endocannabinoids that activate cannabinoid receptors
  3. Metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids after they are used

There are two primary cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Both receptors can be found throughout the body, but CB1 receptors are most concentrated in the central nervous system. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are mainly in the lymphatic (immune) system. The receptors enable cells to register the benefits of cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC.

But why would the human body produce cannabinoid receptors if there were no naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body?

Migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS and related conditions display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggests an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines.
— Dr. Ethan Russo
While humans don’t naturally produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD from cannabis, we do produce endocannabinoids (‘endo’ meaning ‘within’ the body). These are Anandamide (a fatty acid neurotransmitter) and 2-AG. Both of these chemicals bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors and play their own roles in energy homeostasis.

The metabolic enzymes that are used in the endocannabinoid system—FAAH, which breaks down Anandamide, and MAGL, which breaks down 2-AG—ensure that, if you’re not properly balanced, homeostasis kicks in immediately to re-balance your internal environment.

Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED / CECD) or Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CEDS) is any condition or illness stemming from a lack of endocannabinoids in the body. In some cases, the body doesn’t naturally produce enough endocannabinoids or enough CB1 and CB2 receptors to sustain homeostasis. When homeostasis stalls, the body becomes unbalanced, and is vulnerable to disease.

Cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo first hypothesized his theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency in Neuroendocrinology Letters in 2004. His theory proposed that, since the ECS plays a major role in homeostasis, it is possible that CECD may be related to a variety of ailments.

In 2016, Dr. Russo published a follow-up research review, stating that current research supported his initial theory. The research reveals that CECD may cause a hypersensitivity to pain, resulting in pain conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Each of these conditions has shown to be resistant to many standard treatments. Someone who has an endocannabinoid deficiency may suffer from one or more of these ailments due to their body’s inability to return to a balanced state.

Unfortunately, at this time, the only known ways to measure endocannabinoid levels are through invasive procedures that require samples from brain tissue. However, scientists are working on new, less invasive methods, such as analyzing saliva. There are also ways to self-diagnose CECD, based on several factors that include clinical diagnoses of chronic pain conditions, anxiety, and depression.

Endocannabinoid Deficiency Linked to Neurological Disorders

The ECS runs throughout the body, and there is an especially high concentration of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the central nervous system. Based on this knowledge, one can infer that an endocannabinoid deficiency would significantly affect brain functioning.

The endocannabinoid Anandamide is also a neurotransmitter. This means that it plays an important role in physiological functions such as cognition, motor activity, and immune responses, among others. If you don’t have enough Anandamide in your brain, you may begin to lose certain functions. The diseases that are related to a dysfunction of neurotransmitters—such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases—have been associated with clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.

CBD for Endocannabinoid Deficiency

I realized I had been under-dosing CBD. Now I manage all my conditions with between 250mg and 500mg of CBD every day, and I microdose cannabis to help boost the CBD. This will help to create whole-body wellness and most likely reduce inflammation, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and help to manage pain.
— Denise Wilson
Dr. Russo also says that cannabinoids (aka phytocannabinoids, ‘phyto’ meaning ‘from plants’) from cannabis plants are essential nutrients. He suggests that regular supplemental doses of cannabinoids can minimize certain ailments and diseases by boosting the endocannabinoid system and ensuring that it functions properly.

To learn more about living with endocannabinoid deficiency, CBD Hacker contacted Denise Wilson, who leads a support community for those living with the symptoms associated with CEDS.

Denise has been clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and has suffered from severe migraines since childhood.

Wilson had been experimenting with varying doses of CBD and THC until she read Dr. Russo’s theory. She now manages her symptoms with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. (Some say the method of including THC “micro-doses” is the best way to maximize CBD therapy.)

Wilson explained, “After I read Dr. Russo’s work, I realized I had been under-dosing CBD. Now I manage all my conditions with between 250mg and 500mg of CBD every day, and I microdose cannabis [THC] to help boost the CBD. This will help to create whole-body wellness and most likely reduce inflammation, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and help to manage pain. In many cases, this [regimen] will eliminate the need for anti-depressants and opioids.”

Dr. Russo concludes his 2016 research review with, “Migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS and related conditions display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggests an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines.”

Treating and Preventing Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Knowing what we know about the endocannabinoid system, it’s no wonder that cannabis has been used for thousands of years to treat everything from headaches to epilepsy to nausea to depression. Cannabinoids help our internal environments stay balanced and they help our bodies heal naturally.

This doesn’t mean you need to smoke weed to keep your ECS working efficiently. There are many ways to boost your endocannabinoid system, including:

If you feel that you may have an endocannabinoid deficiency, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Also, if you are interested in trying CBD oil or any other CBD product, talk to your doctor first, as CBD may interact with prescription medications.

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The Author

Erin Cline

Erin Cline

Erin Cline is a freelance writer who lives in Phoenix, Arizona and enjoys covering topics such as cannabis, real estate, and content marketing. Erin is a proud dog mom and karaoke champion.