For some people, marijuana — also known as cannabis — is a wonder drug. Some consider it a relatively harmless recreational drug.
The truth? The active chemical compounds found in marijuana, either alone or in combination, can have beneficial and harmful effects on a person’s physical and mental health and fitness. These effects can vary significantly depending on the product being consumed, the manner of consumption, and the individual.
Adding to the argument, two people sharing the same product can experience vastly different sensations. What makes one individual feel more outgoing and creative can make another feel anxious and paranoid. What stimulates one person’s appetite can make another feel nauseous or give a third person indigestion or heart palpitations.
With marijuana, this adage holds true: If it’s strong enough to produce a positive effect, it’s strong enough to produce negative side effects, as well.
In this post, we provide an overview of the body’s endocannabinoid system, explain how various chemical compounds in cannabis interact with it, and describe several adverse side effects to be aware of, regardless of whether you’re using cannabis for medicine or adult recreational purposes.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
Any explanation of how cannabis impacts the body begins with an examination of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). ECS is a chemical messaging network that regulates various bodily functions, including fertility and pregnancy, appetite and digestion, sleep, motor control, pain and pleasure, immune function, temperature, mood, and memory.
The ECS consists of three primary components:
- Cannabinoid receptors: Located on the surface of cells, these receptors receive messages in the form of chemical molecules called cannabinoids. Picture a cannabinoid as a key that fits into the cannabinoid receptor on a cell to turn a biological response on or off. The two main receptors are CB1, located mainly in the brain, and CB2, located mainly in the gut and other peripheral organs.
- Endocannabinoids: These small molecules are chemical messengers that activate cannabinoid receptors. Two well-studied endocannabinoids are Anandamide (AEA), the “bliss molecule,” which is thought to affect mood, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which plays an important role in the regulation of food intake and energy metabolism, anxiety and depression, addiction, immune system function, inflammation, and proliferation and invasion of certain types of cancer cells.
- Metabolic enzymes: These chemical compounds break down endocannabinoids after they’re used. Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) breaks down AEA, and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) breaks down 2-AG.
While the endocannabinoid system has its own cannabinoids, collectively referred to as endogenous cannabinoids, other exogenous (externally sourced) cannabinoids can interact with receptors:
- Phytocannabinoids (from plants) include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN). THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that is mainly responsible for producing the euphoric “high” associated with marijuana use, while CBD is mostly associated with relaxation and relieving pain and inflammation. Research on CBN is limited, but potential benefits include improved sleep, pain relief, reduced inflammation, and neuroprotective effects.
- Synthetic cannabinoids (produced in a lab) are generally used to help map the ECS but may also be used as pharmaceutical medications.
Regardless of their type and source, the effect cannabinoids have on the ECS is based on the shape of the cannabinoids and their receptors and the type of interaction the molecules have with the receptors.
Cannabinoids are classified as agonists or antagonists based on the effect they have on receptors:
- An agonist activates the receptor to produce a biological response. THC and CBN are CB1 and CB2 agonists.
- An antagonist interferes with or inhibits the biological response of a receptor. CBD is a CB1 and CB2 antagonist.
The ECS is another system of the body, like the nervous system, but it’s been overlooked. Historically, we in the medical community haven’t talked about it as much as we have about other systems of the body. However, it’s there for a reason and has multiple functions.
It helps to regulate sleep, appetite, inflammation, mood, fertility, and digestion. As with anything else, under-stimulation and over-stimulation of the cannabinoid system can lead to bad outcomes. Finding balance is what’s important.
With some conditions like irritable bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), just as some antidepressants help to improve symptoms by impacting serotonin receptors in the central nervous system in the brain and enteric nervous system in the gut, so too can cannabis (both THC and CBD) by impacting CB1 and CB2 receptors respectively.
Recognizing Adverse Effects of Cannabis Use
Cannabis contains nearly 500 chemicals, including cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN, and others) and terpenes (plant-based compounds that may produce additional effects alone or in combination with cannabinoids and are largely responsible for giving cannabis its various aromatic qualities).
Every substance you ingest has the potential to produce both positive and negative effects. Some of the negative effects cannabis can produce include the following:
- Anxiety/panic attacks/irritability
- Psychosis (paranoia, delusions, hallucinations)
- Heart rhythm disturbances
- Indigestion/acid reflux
- Low blood pressure
- Impaired memory or cognition
Suppose you experience any of these or other symptoms while using any cannabis product. In that case, we recommend stopping your use for a week or longer to determine whether your symptoms are related to cannabis use.
Using Cannabis as Part of a Comprehensive and Personalized Plan of Care
If you’re using cannabis or planning to use it to treat a medical condition, we strongly encourage you to include it as part of a comprehensive and personalized care plan. Most studies that examine the potential benefits of cannabis use it in isolation, and as soon as the cannabis is discontinued, study participants who have benefited from it quickly regress.
The best approach is a restorative and proactive wellness plan that includes diet, lifestyle, supplementation, peptides, and other treatments — possibly including carefully selected cannabis products — in combination. This personalized and comprehensive combination therapy serves as a long-term solution for restoring health, fitness, and resilience.
Before embarking on any treatment plan, consult with a functional and integrative medical practice to obtain a thorough evaluation and testing to identify the root causes of whatever is ailing you and to develop a plan to address those underlying causes. If you’re in or near Tampa, Florida, contact us to schedule your initial consultation.
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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about the use of marijuana is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.