The human body is a complex system filled with delicate balances that include large populations of bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. This is called the microbiome and it is responsible for maintaining a healthy system, especially a healthy digestive system. Maintaining healthy microbiota in the gut is essential to overall health and well-being. Recent studies have suggested CBD has the potential to be helpful in keeping the healthy balance in check, but what does that really mean? We first need to discuss how CBD interacts with the human body.
The Endocannabinoid System
The ECS is responsible for maintaining a constant state of homeostasis in the body. This is an important function because all of our internal systems need to be in equilibrium to work effectively. When any sort of instability is registered, the ECS kicks in and rushes to the location of the issue to stabilize the condition.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids. The chemical compounds the body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
- Cannabinoid receptors. Found on the surface of cells throughout the body, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes. Proteins that work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. Enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are similar to naturally produced compounds in the body, it’s possible for CBD to attach to the receptors just as endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and once attached acts as a blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
The relationship between the ECS and the microbiome is symbiotic and mutually beneficial, however if an imbalance does exist it becomes an issue known as dysbiosis and can cause physical and mental harm.
The microbiome is an important part of human health. It has the ability to affect every part of the brain and body, from mood to metabolism. The microbiome of the gut specifically extends from the esophagus to the intestines and beyond. This one large region of the human body is responsible for a lot of diseases humans have endured. It has often been found that disturbances to the gastrointestinal system have a higher possibility of being associated with obesity, cancer, and other disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. That is why maintaining a healthy microbiome is essential.
Generally microbiome health goes hand-in-hand with diet, including the ingestion of probiotics and other healthy bugs that are meant to help promote a healthy gut. These healthy “bugs” help break down food and provide the body with the needed nutrients. It’s a mutually advantageous situation, with the microbiome providing them fuel and a place to live, and them helping our system extract as much nutrition as possible from everything we consume as it passes through our digestive system.
A recent study on the power of the microbiome has shown that the makeup of this super system depends on more than just diet and the bacteria in our gut has more power than just the ability to break down the food we eat. This study examines how the bacteria also help regulate the epithelial barrier on the microbiome. This barrier is a critical and protective layer that lines the gastrointestinal tract. The research shows that bacteria use the endocannabinoid system and the CB1 receptors to interact with the entire digestive system and plays a huge role in maintaining the overall health of the entire body, as well as an important role in protecting against disease. The fine lining of the epithelial is controlled very carefully to help it manage the body by preventing damage or quickly repairing any damage that happens to occur. The bacteria in our guts help contribute to the health of that lining, therefore adding to its ability to keep us healthy .
How Cannabis Helps
Research has concluded that the endocannabinoid system is directly linked to gut microbiota, showing that by altering the microbiota of the gut, it’s possible to change conditions like obesity through the use of prebiotics being introduced to the ECS . Based on that knowledge, scientists began researching the effects of cannabis products on the gut microbiome and found that by adding a daily dose of THC to mice living on a high-fat diet, they were able to improve the gut microbiome of these mice to more closely resemble that of a healthy and balanced diet .
Currently there aren’t many studies exploring the benefits of cannabis on the human gut microbiome, however a 2017 study examined the effects of cannabis among 19 lifetime users and 20 non-users. The research showed the cannabis users had bacteria populations that would normally be associated with a high calorie diet, however they had lower BMI overall .
Another study looked closely at the microbiomes of HIV-positive participants and found that those who used cannabis showed a decrease in two bacteria commonly linked to obesity . Scientists also examined the effect of THC on mice and concluded that it increased the levels of a beneficial bacteria genus that is most typically associated with fermented foods and dietary supplements. Like other experiments, this was conducted on mice, however the results are positive and could lead to further human research .
This research is still very new and scientists are working to make sense of the implications, but the current evidence suggests that the bacteria in the gut directly interacts with the endocannabinoid system, giving it the opportunity to influence both the activity and the makeup of the microbiome while it transmits messages to the body and the brain. Further research implies that it’s possible for microbiome health to be modified and improved by the addition of plant cannabinoids, including both THC and CBD .
All of the research on the benefits of cannabis in the gut microbiome is in its initial stages and scientists are still uncertain about which specific healthy bugs are controlled by the ECS. With more than 1000 species of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, it will take some time to determine which specific species are affected. There is still a lot to be learned about the interaction of the ECS and the microbiome, and even more specifically, how cannabis products like CBD can add to the equation.
Currently research is just trying to determine where the interaction even begins. There are theories that the interaction begins in certain regions of the gut, while others suggest it is a process that happens throughout the entire system. They are also mostly unaware of what specific cannabinoids may affect the endocannabinoid system and the microbiome.
There are many unanswered questions when it comes to how cannabis can affect the microbiome of the gut, but the possibilities are exciting and have the potential to change the way people manage their health forever. Cannabis is a new industry and we’re just experiencing the beginning days of it. Society is going to have to be patient while researchers around the world really dig into the possibilities of this amazing plant.