Cannabis & the Nervous System
The nervous system acts as our bodies’ communication system.
The nervous system acts as our bodies’ communication system, connecting the body and brain with the outside world. It processes information and converts it into messages that the body responds to through the brain and spinal cord. When problems arise in the nervous system, it can be dramatically decrease our quality of life and can even be deadly. Cannabis has been showing a lot of promise in reducing symptoms brought on by diseases of the nervous system, where CB1 receptors are abundant throughout. In fact, it’s the plant’s impact on this system that has led to some activists declaring it should be covered by insurance as a legitimate medicine.
There are nerves located in every inch of us, within our head, feet, hands, and also more sensitive parts of our anatomy bearing the most and making them more sensitive to stimulus than any other part of the body. It’s this system that makes it possible for our brain to communicate with various tissues and vice versa – controlling movement, our senses, and influencing thought and emotion. When a problem arises in the nervous system it can affect a multitude of other bodily systems, disrupting function and negatively impacting quality of life.
Our bodies actually produce cannabinoid molecules, known as endogenous cannabinoids. These interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Of the cannabinoids synthesized by our bodies, anandamide is the one that has a chemical structure similar to THC. CB1 receptors for cannabinoids are abundant in the nervous system, the very receptors that bind with anandamide as well as THC. When we have THC in our system, it can influence memory, concentration, thinking, coordination, our senses, how we experience pleasure, and even our perception of time. This is because THC binds to these receptors, sending false messages or impulses throughout the nervous system which may be beneficial if done with proper dosing. Neurogenerative diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and multiple sclerosis have all shown positive outcomes when cannabis is administered. It’s been found that CBD has neuroprotective properties that encourage and protect the growth of new neurons, leading us towards creating new studies surrounding the brain, spinal cord, and the use cannabis. One of the most notable properties of cannabis used as a medicine is its ability to benefit various forms of epilepsy, with plenty of anecdotal evidence such as video footage of children and adults using CBD oil to prevent or stop severe seizures. A seizure is defined by excess and uncontrollable neural activity, and THC slows down signaling between neurons by binding to receptors and preventing overactive communication.
Nerve pain caused by diseases such as fibromyalgia or diabetic neuropathy has been shown to decrease when cannabis is administered either as a topical or when it is ingested. This comes to no surprise as CBD is often used by patients for pain, with studies backing its uses as an analgesic.
Francesca Filbey, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas in Dallas, discovered that heavy cannabis smokers that have been smoking for at least four years tended to have a smaller volume of gray matter in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region associated with addiction but also associated with intelligence and cognition. Whether or not this is a good or bad side-effect is often debated, but further research is needed to make conclusions on the matter.
We may be familiar with cannabis’s effects on the nervous system regarding some diseases, but we have yet to truly embark on studies involving healthy brains and spinal cords. There’s anecdotal evidence which suggests that cannabis heightens all the senses, impairs short-term memory in some users, and acts as an alternative or supplemental medication for those with depression, anxiety, or other neurochemical imbalance in the brain. We know that dosing levels, cannabinoid ratios, and terpenes present in the strain may create synergistic effects and changing any one of them can lead to different results in the same person. As cannabis continues to gain support, as medical institutions and universities undertake studies surrounding the plant, be sure to keep up to date by reading current medical journals and the news for breakthroughs.