What Happens When the Endocannabinoid System Becomes Unbalanced?

The transmitters that fire throughout your body can fluctuate in quantity, meaning that the available receptors in your body would also fluctuate increasing or decreasing in quantity. When this happens, it can limit your body’s natural ability to find balance resulting in several potential issues: 

1)   Stress:

In the modern world, we think of “stress” as negative. However, for our ancestors, when faced with danger, the stress response helped them to quickly respond to threats and stay alive. 

When exposed to stress, the body reduces levels of anandamide, triggering feelings of agitation and anxiety. Simultaneously, your body increases levels of 2-AG, which dampens your perception of pain and activates memory, to help you escape the situation and avoid danger in the future.

2)   Bad Sleep or Insomnia:

While scientists have yet to fully understand how the endocannabinoid system effects sleep, what we do know is that the endocannabinoid system influences many parts of the brain and the body that are vital to a healthy night’s sleep. Experiments have shown that increasing the amounts of CB1 (the receptor that absorbs anandamide and THC) helps regulate sleep patterns as well as an increase in REM sleep. In addition, increasing anandamide or THC into the brain has shown to increase levels of adenosine (another natural chemical in the brain), which plays a role in promoting sleep and suppressing arousal. If you have an endocannabinoid deficiency or imbalance, it will likely cause sleep deficiency or even insomnia.

3)   Disease/Illness:

Our endocannabinoid systems can become unbalanced for many reasons that are beyond our control. New research suggests some diseases and illnesses are caused by an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system. Research is just starting to find associations for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, PTSD, glaucoma, arthritis, and schizophrenia, to name a few.

Scientists are still figuring out which diseases are caused by imbalances in the endocannabinoid system, and which diseases cause the endocannabinoid system to become imbalanced. Common sense tells us it’s probably a bit of both in most cases. Either way, many diseases are an indication that your endocannabinoid system may also be impaired.

How Can Cannabinoids Help the Endocannabinoid System?

But what happens if the endocannabinoid system can’t balance itself? That’s where cannabinoids can help. They will flood the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids which bind with the receptor that would naturally bind with the endocannabinoids in the body, if the body was making them and functioning properly.

In the brain, cannabinoids and endocannabinoids work as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters interact with a lot of different receptors and thus have a lot of different effects.

A cannabinoid that’s gotten a lot of recent attention from scientists is cannabidiol (CBD). It doesn’t have any intoxicating properties, so its benefits come without the high that one might get from THC. One known function of CBD in the brain is to stop the fatty acid amide hydrolase enzyme from breaking down anandamide, so the anandamide can have more of an impact. That’s why researchers believe CBD can help treat anxiety disorders. It neutralizes the enzyme that would destroy the anandamide, giving the anandamide more time to counter the exaggerated anxiety response.

Supporting your Endocannabinoid System

If you want your endocannabinoid system to function optimally, it’s essential to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle. A good diet that is well rounded in healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and sugars combined with exercise is a great place to start. However, there are influences on the internal environment that we don’t always have control over, and when it does go wrong it can lead to things like chronic illness and inflammation that can cause lasting health problems and lead to a deteriorating quality of life. 

In one case, researchers have found links to the endocannabinoid system and rheumatoid arthritis. A 2014 study found that humans with rheumatoid arthritis had high levels of CB2 receptors in their joint tissues. Researchers also showed that activating these receptors leads to less joint inflammation and bone deterioration. Some of cannabis’s components can target CB2, although more research is needed.   

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