Whoa, Your Body Makes Cannabinoids!

Recently, more of our patients are asking for our professional opinion about supplementing with cannabinoids (CBD or THC) for pain reduction. The honest answer we usually gave to this question was “we’re not sure”. But now, there’s compelling research that supports both natural and supplemental ways to reduce pain using cannabinoids. For the scope of this blog post, we are going to focus on the natural ways that you can boost your own internal cannabinoid system. Introducing….The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)!

Pioneering work by a Physical Therapist

Cheryl F Wardlaw PT, MMSc CFMT, is a pioneer in the area of putting pain science into practice with physical therapy. She is the author of the books Taming Pain: Lessons From the Trenches and Restoring the Pain Control System: A Beginners Guide to Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System. Cheryl is a Senior Instructor for the Institute of Physical Art and offers two of her own courses through the IPA called Taming Pain, and The Endocannabinoid System. Years of treating patients in the clinical setting, compiling and reviewing the science, writing, and teaching has led to this body of work.

All of the information in this article is sourced from her teachings and cited research. She has personally reviewed this article and has given permission for us to share it with you!

The Endocannabinoid System

the endocannabinoid system

We have a system in our body that creates, utilizes and then gets rid of cannabinoids — on demand. On a basic level, the system is made up of enzymes, transmitters and receptors. These receptors can be found everywhere — in the nervous system, immune cells, fascia, muscle, bone, fat cells, and organs like the pancreas, liver, heart, blood vessels, kidney and GI tract.

With receptors in so many areas of the body, the Endocannabinoid System regulates most of the processes related to pain and your overall health. Here is a list of the processes the ECS controls:

  • Pain
  • Liver Function
  • Learning and Memory
  • Bone Formation and Tissue Healing
  • Inflammation
  • Skin Function
  • Nerve Firing Threshold and Myelin Formation
  • Sleep and Mood
  • Appetite, Metabolism and Digestion

Inhibition is its superpower

So, what’s is an example of when the body needs to make cannabinoids on demand? Lets look at an example that relates to physical therapy and pain. After an injury, we need an inflammatory response to heal the injured area. But without the Endocannabinoid System, the normal (and necessary) inflammatory response would go unchecked.

In this case, the Endocannabinoid System’s job is to regulate the inflammatory response. If our body doesn’t know when to quit, it results in prolonged inflammation and pain.

That’s just one example of what can go wrong. Because the ECS has receptors nearly everywhere in the body, there are many more things that can go awry if the inhibitory action of this system isn’t functioning. Examples include impaired memory and focus, allergies, auto-immune disorders, GI problems, depression and anxiety, and much more.

Lifestyle Tips

By now, I’m guessing you want to know how to boost and restore health to your Endocannabinoid System. Since this article is not meant to provide medical advice (read our disclaimer), no specific dosages are given. Please ask your doctor or healthcare provider if you plan to take any supplements. They can help you determine if you need to worry about drug interactions and can help you figure out the best dosage.

Dietary Changes

Photo 107255360 © Marilyn BarboneDreamstime.com
  • Fatty Acids: try to get as close to a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6:Omega-3 as you can
  • Agmatine: found in nuts, seeds and creatures like crab and lobster
  • Chocolate: make sure it’s 70-90% cacao
  • Herbs and Teas: especially green tea and turmeric (curcumin is the active ingredient that the ECS needs)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fruits and Veggies: provide flavonoids and Diindolylmethane (DIM)
  • REDUCE Coffee Intake: coffee decreases cannabinoid production and access to the receptors. Caffeine isn’t the problem (remember: teas and chocolate are GOOD!)
  • Avoid Pesticides: eat organic when possible
  • Minimize use of plastics: and especially don’t heat your food in them
  • Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol: regular use of moderate to high quantities impairs the ECS (this includes THC from marijuana)
  • Take Probiotics: especially dairy based

Lifestyle changes

Swimming in cold water checks 3 boxes: cold exposure, exercise and stress reduction
  • Moderate to vigorous exercise: moderate = you can talk but not sing, vigorous = you can’t say more than a few words
  • Cold exposure: swim in cold water, finish your shower with cold water for 30-60 seconds, or stick your face in ice cold water
  • Manual Therapy: physical therapy, massage and stretching
  • Reduce stress: walk, play, meditate, laugh, sing, avoid the news. If you’ve been chronically stressed, supplement with magnesium, zinc and B6.

CBD Supplementation

CBD is a supplemental cannabinoid
Photo 159512517 © Tinnakorn JorruangDreamstime.com

Now that you know that there is a whole system in the body dedicated to processing cannabinoids, you would be correct in assuming that CBD can be helpful as a supplement. However, this topic is too lengthy for this article. We highly recommend the books and courses listed in the next section for more details on supplementing with CBD.

In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind if you plan to supplement with CBD.

  • Purchasing CBD is a lot more expensive than boosting your ECS. Start with the ECS first!
  • Even though there is little to no THC in most CBD products, there are still some states that place limitations on CBD, make sure you aren’t breaking any laws
  • As with anything lucrative, there are many unscrupulous people trying to “get in the game”, therefore you really need to scrutinize your sources when purchasing supplemental CBD
  • Always consult with a healthcare professional who is familiar with CBD supplementation, they can help you determine the best dosage and method of delivery that is specific to you and your condition

Where to get more information

If this blog post has you intrigued and you want to learn more, we recommend purchasing one or both of Cheryl Wardlaw’s books: Taming Pain: Lessons from the Trenches and Restoring the Pain Control System: A Beginners Guide to Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System. Additionally, Cheryl Wardlaw’s courses through the Institute of Physical Art are open to the general public, not just healthcare providers. If you’ve been in prolonged pain, we hope you take the time to delve deeper into the ECS and CBD supplementation with these resources.

In the meantime, finish your shower cold tomorrow morning!

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