Welcome to the 11th episode of our Medical Cannabis Now series. With the New Year approaching, we wanted to go over Healthy Living as we all begin to consider our New Year’s Resolutions. In this episode, Kim covers a wide range of topics that apply to our overall health. As the weather gets colder and the days become shorter, mental and physical health becomes more important than ever – and these two are closely intertwined. This episode discusses the importance of good gut health, combating seasonal affective disorder, exercise, social support, and how the endocannabinoid system can affect them.
The endocannabinoid system
Many view medical cannabis as only useful for specific medical conditions. However, there are those who simply want to use medical cannabis as perceived prevention against disease and illness. Maintaining our wellbeing is important and cannabis can possibly play a role. To better understand this, let’s revisit the endocannabinoid system.
The naturally occurring endocannabinoid system is said to affect our homeostasis – the balance in our body. The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) has CB1 and CB2 receptors, also known as cannabinoid receptors, and they are found in many different organ systems. This gives insight into why cannabis is said to help with a variety of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated. The ECS is not activated only when there is disease, but is in constant ebb and flow to maintain our homeostasis. It is thought to be involved in all types of daily routines that our bodies go through.
Expressions like “I have a bad feeling in my gut” became popular for a reason and that is because our mind, mood, stomach, and gut are all connected. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is the controlling system of all things related to digestion, and can trigger emotional changes within a person; especially those who deal with gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. Our enteric system contains CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout and it is said to play a role in acquiring energy from the gastrointestinal system and using it.
Cannabinoids that act on these receptors also act on other receptors in our gastrointestinal system that are outside of the ECS. They could potentially be involved with lipid metabolism, GI motility, and secretion. In fact, there is evidence that increased tolerance to THC can slow down GI movements and also affect appetite control and immune function. Overall when it comes to good health, gut health is always a factor.
There are several ways to maintain a strong digestive system and healthy eating habits. The first is eating the right foods such as fermented foods, fiber-rich foods, and vegetables, but also eating at regular intervals. Doing so helps improve gut health and maintains regular hunger and fullness cycles.
Many of our patients complain of poor appetite and eating habits. Appropriate dosing of medical cannabis can help a patient create a better eating routine and stimulate appetite. It has been shown that endocannabinoids – our bodies naturally occurring cannabinoids – will increase in between meals. As they increase, it can trigger hunger and the levels will drop once that person eats. As for eating the right foods, you may hear experts talk about probiotics. There is evidence that CB2 receptors in your gut could possibly stimulate natural probiotic bacteria and help with gut immunity.
Due to cannabis’ anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, we commonly prescribe to patients suffering from IBS or inflammatory bowel disease. For gastrointestinal-related symptoms, we often recommend taking cannabis orally in a softgel or oil form to our patients. When taking medical cannabis as an ingestible (an oil or soft-gel), more research has surfaced (including one study from the University of Michigan) that found taking your medicine with a healthy fatty snack, avocado or organic natural peanut butter can increase the absorption rate of the medicinal components of the cannabis.
What impacts our mood?
The next big factor that affects our overall well-being is our mood – and right now our collective mental health is truly being tested given the ongoing pandemic. Our mood affects how we relate to our environment and can manifest itself as physiological symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems. During the winter months, many report adverse effects on mood. A great example of this is seasonal affective disorder which people experience due to the lack of time spent outdoors and having less daylight. In turn, this affects sleep, appetite, energy, and other aspects of life. Our mood is also affected by innate factors such as hormones and other brain chemicals. One of the top pieces of advice given to anyone suffering from stress and poor mood is to meditate and practice mindfulness. This can sometimes be difficult as many patients find it hard to focus due to stress or their minds racing.
Medical cannabis can help with focus and promote better energy. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that cannabis, especially CBD, helps with anxiety and elevating mood. It has been shown that cannabinoids like CBD can bind to receptors in the brain that affect mood. When looking to use medical cannabis in any capacity it is always a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional – but it is especially important to do so when using it for mental health. Medical history, medications, type of symptoms, and severity can greatly impact the effect of cannabis on a patient. Other ways to improve mood when feeling down include socializing, bright lights (either natural or artificial) getting quality sleep, and eating the right foods.
Quality sleep for physical & mental health
Our bodies need sleep in order to restore themselves, process information from the day before, and allow for healing. Good sleep has been tied to preventing certain illnesses like heart disease and it helps to limit excessive weight gain. Poor sleep on the other hand can significantly impact our quality of life in a negative way. Commonly patients at Apollo complain of sleep disturbances and many of these patients report positive effects of medical cannabis on their sleep patterns. If you want to learn more about sleep and medical cannabis, please check out Episode 9 where we go deeper into how medical cannabis may help our sleep and other insomnias.
Cannabis, CBD, & exercise
Regular exercise is crucial for our overall health. It can help stave off many diseases and conditions like arthritic pain and it reduces the risk of heart disease. At the clinic, we’ve seen an influx of patients wanting to use CBD for recovery after a workout or sports. More athletes are starting to use CBD as a tool for performance, more effective recovery, and soothing muscle inflammation. Professional sports leagues are also beginning to ease restrictions on players using CBD. In fact, in 2018 the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD off its list of prohibited substances.
So how can CBD help? There is limited evidence on how CBD or medical cannabis can help specifically with muscle recovery. However, there is evidence that shows that CBD decreases inflammation by stopping pro-inflammatory markers and promoting anti-inflammatory markers. It’s believed that while inflammation is beneficial in recovery, CBD can help reduce the length of muscle soreness and provide a safer analgesic effect. It could possibly help improve exercise-induced muscle damage. In a study on mice by example organization, they examined CBD and muscle regeneration in relation to muscular dystrophy. There is one study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology that was conducted on mice with a type of muscular dystrophy, looking at CBD and muscle regeneration. It found that a high dose of CBD in the gastrocnemius and diaphragm muscles improved muscle strength, coordination, and reduced tissue degeneration. While our patients do report CBD helping take the edge off from muscle soreness and assists them in recovery this is an area that is in need of more research.
Community and social engagement
Whether it’s through a phone call or engaging online with friends, we shouldn’t let social distancing prevent us from communicating with our friends and loved ones. It’s long been documented that we are social creatures, and our sense of belonging and community play a huge role in our overall happiness. Shared experiences give us positive memories along with the feeling of growth and motivation. Some studies have even shown that by interacting with others we train our brains by improving memory formation and recall. One study at the Cognitive Neurology & Alzheimer’s Disease Centre found that those over 80 who have the mental agility of someone younger than them have one thing in common: close friends.
We recognize that many patients suffer from social anxiety or from other conditions that prevent them from socializing and interacting with other people. Medical cannabis may help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with either the interaction itself or the condition preventing the patient from socializing. One positive outcome of using medical cannabis through a clinic like Apollo is that there is a sense of community. Our patients have taken the initiative to connect with others using platforms like our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, which leads to mutual support and meaningful interactions.
Questions & Answers
Question: What are the best things I can do to lower my blood pressure?
Answer: This is difficult to answer because high blood pressure is not always due to one factor. Some experts recommend that patients try to relieve stress or eat healthier to reduce blood pressure. Medical cannabis may help with lowering stress levels. For blood pressure, it is critical to consult with your healthcare practitioner about what might be causing high blood pressure and ways to lower it.
Questions: I have a family history of diabetes – what can I do to help prevent it? Does medical cannabis play a role for diabetic patients?
Answer: An epidemiological study done by the University of Nebraska suggested that cannabis users had healthier insulin levels than their counterparts and had less insulin resistance. Having less insulin resistance or healthy insulin levels is said to decrease the risk of having diabetes. However, there is no evidence right now that says using cannabis can prevent diabetes. There is no evidence to say it will improve levels in those already diagnosed with diabetes, but more research is being done. It is also suggested that CBD and other cannabinoids could help alleviate the symptoms and damage done by diabetes such as neuropathic pain, retinal damage amongst others. That said, there is no conclusive evidence conducted in a research study to make these definite conclusions at this time, but there are enough connections that make it definitely interesting enough to look into.
Preventative health is about looking at the big picture and how each part affects each other. Eating well and digestion is affected by our brain which is affected by our mood which can influence or be influenced by sleep. By understanding how cannabinoids work in each area, there could be room for us to use medical cannabis in the same way we use vitamins -but before that could happen we need more research.
I hope we’ve given you some perspective on how to improve your health and maybe even inspired some new resolutions! Please send any questions or feedback you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org! We love hearing from you.
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