Endocannabinoid Deficiency: A Complete Guide

Nikhil Goswami

Professional physicians often find it hard to trace the root cause of depression, anxiety, and pain. Your doctor may even say, “the pain is all in your head,” or they might even categorize your symptoms as psychosomatic.

What if it is because they have limited knowledge about the endocannabinoid system? The endocannabinoid system was discovered in the 1990s by researchers while exploring cannabis. Did you know that this system controls nearly every function in your body?

The endocannabinoid system helps control functions like learning and memory, sleep, digestion, appetite, pain control, mood, and immune responses. So, an endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome might be the root cause of your fibromyalgia, migraine, and other discomforts.

So, what is endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome? What are the symptoms of this disorder, and how do you treat it? Keep reading this article to learn more.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Before we discuss endocannabinoid system deficiency, let’s quickly go over this ECS system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast network of cells that sends and receives signals throughout the day to regulate our bodies.

The ECS controls most bodily functions like:

  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Learning and memory
  • Motor control
  • Pain control
  • Nerve functions
  • Inflammatory and immune responses
  • Cannabis regulation
  • Appetite and digestion
  • Reproductive system
  • Hormones
  • Skin health
  • Pleasure/reward
  • Temperature regulation

What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CED)?

CED is a medical theory that proposes low endocannabinoids contribute to the pathophysiology of conditions like fibromyalgia, migraine, and irritable bowel syndrome.

As mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system performs different essential tasks in the body. This system is vital in regulating the central nervous system, boosting immune response, and improving mood.

So, what happens when your cannabinoid levels are low? An endocannabinoid deficiency has been linked to a wide range of discomforts. According to research, every human being possesses an underlying endocannabinoid tone.

Endocannabinoid tone measures the endocannabinoid system’s overall health (ECS), including endocannabinoid levels and ECS activity. So, what then disrupts your endocannabinoid tone?

An endocannabinoid deficiency occurs when the body’s natural endocannabinoid system isn’t producing enough endocannabinoid. Congenital and acquired disorders, such as those involving the immune system, can cause endocannabinoid deficiency.

How Does One Develop Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

The 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) act on the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. These signaling lipids send signals to targeted issues, instructing them to take specific actions.

On the other hand, the ECS uses two types of fatty acids: monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL) and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). The ECS uses these enzymes to break down the cannabinoids in our bodies.

Since the ECS is involved in many processes, tweaking one area without influencing the others is almost impossible. A shortage of these primary endocannabinoids or enzymes can occur due to congenital, genetic, or acquired injuries or defects.

There are many diseases associated with endocannabinoid deficiency. An endocannabinoid deficiency can cause problems like cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disease, dysmenorrhea, and phantom limb pain.

However, fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are the greatest evidence to date that this disorder exists.

These three symptoms have, up until now, seemed to have no known origin and were, hence, difficult to diagnose. Most professional physicians will write them off as psychosomatic.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) and Disease

As mentioned earlier, endocannabinoid metabolism is essential in regulating and maintaining several body functions. However, if your endocannabinoid function were to decrease, it would likely cause a lowered pain threshold and disrupt other functions.

A CED is a common cause of migraines, fibromyalgia, and functional bowel disorders. This condition is common in diarrhea-predominant IBS patients. Now, let’s have a looked at diseases associated with clinical endocannabinoid deficiency:

  • CED and IBS, Fibromyalgia, and Migraines

IBS, Fibromyalgia, and migraines have a lot in common. One is that there are no specific tests for them. You can’t scan or perform blood tests for them. On the other hand, these symptoms also share a lot of pathophysiological trends, including:

  • A lack of diagnostic markers in tissue pathology or laboratory tests
  • Diagnosis by exclusion, when all other possibilities have been ruled out
  • Depression and anxiety are common
  • The three diseases often occur together, a phenomenon known as comorbidity.
  • Doctors usually label them as psychosomatic
  • Patients with one have a higher risk of developing the others

Pathophysiological trends are abnormal changes that occur as a result of a disease. Although these conditions can go undetected for a long time, they all feature a hypersensitivity to pain.

For example, migraine sufferers experience typical headache symptoms and painful stimuli like bright light and noise. Additionally, people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome have a heightened awareness of their digestive tracts.

Plus, sensations that won’t hurt usually can be excruciatingly painful for them. In the case of fibromyalgia, you may experience excruciating pains in specific fibrous tissues or tissues.

Furthermore, people with these three conditions are at a lifetime risk of developing sleep disorders, headaches, anxiety, and depression. While this symptom profile serves as a starting point for investigating these conditions, there is substantial evidence connecting all of them to CED.

  • CED and Melancholic Depression

Although they share similar symptoms, melancholic depression can be much more severe than general depression. Symptoms of melancholic depression include fatigue, weight loss, poor sleep, reduced appetite, and a lack of expression.

Additionally, people who suffer from this type of depression usually experience memory problems, concentration issues, and a heightened sensitivity to stress. Also, suicidal thoughts and intense feelings of guilt are widespread among people experiencing these symptoms.

On the other hand, blocking the CB1 receptor causes symptoms similar to melancholic depression. These symptoms include wakefulness, increased stress and anxiety, arousal, and decreased appetite, suggesting the ECS may be involved.

  • CED and Functional Bowel Disorders 

Irritable bowel disorder (IBS) is generally characterized by abnormal bowel movements, spasms, stomach discomfort, and gastrointestinal pain. However, the most common symptoms of this condition are diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bowel movements.

Certain foods or behaviors (e.g., overeating) might trigger this condition. On the other hand, IBS is also a common cause of anxiety. IBS is a common problem in the western world, affecting over 10% of the population.

Still, there are currently no physical signs of this condition that can help to pinpoint a cause. However, experts believe that CED is one possible root cause of this condition. Recently, it was discovered that the ECS modulates GI propulsion, inflammation, and secretion in the gut.

This discovery suggests that CED may cause IBS and increasing the body’s cannabinoids may effectively treat it. The use of cannabis extracts to treat GI problems dates back to the 19th century.

  • CED and Stress

The ECS also plays an important role in regulating stress. How? The ECS acts as a buffer against the effects of stress, and experts believe that changes to the ECS can affect stress response.

In 2014, researchers tested CB1 knock-out (KO) mice with mice subjected to chronic stress (the CB1 receptor remained inactivated). According to the research, the stressed mice developed depression symptoms, while the KO mice showed the same symptoms with or without stress.

The KO mice showed lower 5-HTT levels than the stressed mice under stressful situations. As this research shows, there is a connection between depression, stress, and ECS.

  • CED and PTSD

Studies show that those with PTSD have lower levels of AEA and higher levels of CB1 availability. Furthermore, higher amygdala CB1 receptor availability is associated with elevated arousal levels and abnormal threat processing.

Abnormal endocannabinoid levels are nearly a certainty in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The results of previous studies to compare cannabinoid levels in blood samples from people with PTSD and those without the disorder have been inconsistent.

  • CED and Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease appears to significantly reduce CB1 availability by repressing its transcription. Also, A reduction in GABA levels has been observed in Huntington’s disease. This decline may be related to the ECS, which aids GABA modulation.

  • CED and Other Possible Health Problems

CED could potentially affect a wide range of other areas as well. The following are other possible health problems of clinical endocannabinoid disorder:

  • Causalgia
  • Brachial plexopathy
  • Brain disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disease
  • Infantile colic
  • Repetitive miscarriage
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced physical activity

How to Treat CED

Neurotransmitter deficiencies, like CED, can cause many health problems. Thankfully, there are effective ways to treat CED and get your endocannabinoid levels back to normal.

ECS treatment aims to normalize and strengthen the system so the body can regain its natural balance. The three main ways to treat CED. They include:

  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Cannabis
  • Nutrition

Note that the endocannabinoid system interacts closely with the gut microbiome. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut microbiota is essential for treating CED. The best way to maintain a healthy gut is to have diverse microbiota.

On the other hand, the best way to diversify your microbiota is to maintain a healthy diet. Eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to diversify your microbiota. This is because these items contain prebiotics that serve as a food source for the microbiota.

On a different note, endocannabinoids are synthesized from fatty acid precursors. Therefore, getting the appropriate ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is crucial.

The standard American diet has an omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio of about 1:20 to 1:40. However, 1:2 is the ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the average American diet come from vegetable oils, processed foods, and fried foods.

However, you need to eat less processed and packaged foods and more fresh foods to maintain a healthy gut microbiota. Fresh foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh fish
  • Pasture-raised eggs
  • Fresh meats
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., flax and chia)

In addition, spices and plants that contain Beta-caryophyllene (BCP) are also good for your gut. Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene that aids CB2 receptor activation and provides endocannabinoid system support.

BCP is also an effective mood enhancer, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. Examples of BCP-rich spices and herbs include:

  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Black pepper
  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Healthy Lifestyle

Making certain lifestyle changes can also help in treating CED. For example, regular exercise can strengthen and benefit the ECS. Compared to intense or light exercise, moderate aerobic exercise has a greater effect on endocannabinoid signaling.

In addition to its health benefits, exercise is also an enjoyable activity. Therefore, if you are creating an exercise regimen for a patient, it’s better to include exercises they enjoy than ones they don’t.

Other treatments like massage, acupuncture, and osteopathic treatments have also shown promising results in maintaining a healthy ECS. On the other hand, connections to nature and loved ones also help to strengthen the ECS.

Also, you can rebalance the endocannabinoid system with activities that involve physical touching and social interaction. What’s great about the endocannabinoid system is that whatever supports it also makes you feel good.

  • Cannabis

Consuming cannabis is another great way to boost the ECS. Cannabis is a powerful herbal medicine due to the abundance of terpenes and cannabinoids it contains. Cannabis contains terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD, THCM, CBC, CBN, and CBG. You can also look for cannabis flower to boost ECS.

For example, THC acts as a partial agonist, like the naturally occurring molecule anandamide. So, adding this phytocannabinoid to a CED patient’s (one that lacks endocannabinoids) treatment plan can help supplement the system.

However, it’s important to note that you don’t have to consume THC to the point where you feel intoxicated. The goal of taking THC is to support the endocannabinoid system. Therefore, consuming low THC will get the job done.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another effective and safe tool for boosting the endocannabinoid system. This substance can inhibit the enzymatic breakdown of anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid.

Cannabidiol also competes with the fatty acid-binding proteins that transport our endogenous cannabinoids. As a result, our endogenous cannabinoids will last longer in the body.

In addition, the different terpenes present in cannabis can positively impact the endocannabinoid system. Terpenes like linalool, myrcene, humulene, beta-pinene, and beta-caryophyllene can help boost energy, improve mood, alleviate stress, and treat depression.

Knowing which terpenes are dominant in a cannabis treatment is crucial for properly diagnosing and treating a CED patient.

  • Consuming Phytocannabinoid Wannabes

Another way to boost your endocannabinoid levels is by consuming phytocannabinoid wannabes. Certain plants contain compounds that try to pass themselves off as cannabinoids. Examples of plant compounds that exhibit cannabinoid-like properties include:

  • Salvinorin A

Salvinorin A is the main active molecule in the Salvia divinorum plant. This compound interacts with dimers of the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and the K-opioid receptor.

  • Falcarinol

The Daucus carota (carrots) plant contains this compound in high amounts. Falcarinol also binds to both the K-opioid and CB1 receptors.

  • N-Alkylamides (Alkamides)

The alkamides in echinacea have been shown to bind with CB2 receptors, inhibit AEA reuptake, and produce effects similar to AEA.

Other ways to increase your endocannabinoid levels include:

  • Using Glucocorticoid hormones
  • Using CB1 or CB2 agonists
  • Inhibiting endocannabinoid transport
  • Using MGL and FAAH-inhibitors
  • Allosteric modulation of ECS function

The enzyme FAAH catalyzes the breakdown of AEA, while MGL catalyzes the breakdown of 2-AG. Slowing down this process helps to boost endocannabinoid levels.

Conclusion: What Does ECS System Helps In?

The endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating and maintaining several body functions. The ECS system helps with pain control, nerve functions, memory, motor control, and digestion.

In this article, we’ve provided information about endocannabinoid deficiency symptoms, causes, and treatment. However, you can improve endocannabinoid function by maintaining a healthy diet, consuming cannabinoid-rich plants, and making certain lifestyle changes.

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