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The Endocannabinoid System and Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency

We spoke exclusively to Ethan Russo who believes that many common diseases stem from clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.

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Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the mid-1980s was a major breakthrough in modern medicine. Yet, if you looked at the curriculum for most medical schools, you might not know it. The finding would not have been possible without the help of the cannabis plant, which remains illicit in most countries around the world. After wide-spread legalization of medical cannabis and over three decades of research, knowledge about the endocannabinoid system and its associated pathologies, like clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, remain sorely overlooked.

The Endocannabinoid System: The Find of the Century?

Two decades before the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, a team of scientists led by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a professor of medical chemistry a the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, had finally isolated the primary psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). After the discovery, researchers around the globe began the quest to figure out exactly how the compound worked.  A group led by Dr. Allyn Howlett, a neuroscientist then with St. Louis University, finally cracked the mystery: THC produced its psychoactive effects through engagement with specialized cell receptors.

A cell receptor can be thought of as a lock that is embedded on the surface of a cell membrane. These locks only respond to specific chemical keys. In this case, THC was the key that engaged a cannabinoid receptor. As research would soon reveal, cannabinoid receptors are part of a larger endocannabinoid system (ECS), a neurotransmitter and cell signaling network like none other.  Made up of receptor sites, their respective chemical activators, and the enzymes that deactivate these compounds, scientists quickly unveiled that the ECS was ubiquitous throughout the human body. Cannabinoid receptors are nearly everywhere — connective tissue, the brain, the spinal cord, internal organs, the digestive tract, the skin, and immune cells.

After what surely was many long hours in the lab, Howlett and her team landed on something big. Why on earth would these receptors be found in so many places? Nearly three decades down the line, scientists are still exploring the wide-reaching ramifications of the endocannabinoid system, Howlett included. In the time since its first discovery, the ECS has been found to be a potent regulator of brain activity, hormonal function, and immune response, linking the three main regulatory systems together. It’s this pervasive modulatory network that responds to THC and other cannabis constituents. When a person consumes intoxicating forms of cannabis, THC hijacks the cannabinoid receptor sites that are normally inhabited by compounds that the body produces naturally.

These compounds are called endocannabinoids. The prefix endo- refers to endogenous or internal cannabinoids. In contrast, the cannabinoids found on the cannabis plant are phytocannabinoids with the prefix phyto referring to plants. As it turns out, endocannabinoids are molecules that help maintain a state of equilibrium, or homeostasis, throughout the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Endocannabinoids play the part of harmonizers or middlemen, managing how each of these systems responds to stressful stimuli and communicates with the others.

Endocannabinoids are at least in part responsible for regulating the biological clock, managing things like hunger and sleep over the course of the day. Cannabinoid receptors are also highly concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, and metabolism, giving them regulatory effects over a remarkable number of physiological functions. One endocannabinoid, called anandamide, even takes its name from the Sanskrit word for bliss Ananda thanks to its calming and relaxing effects.

With such a profound influence over so many basic bodily commands, it is now theorized that problems in the ECS may contribute to a wide variety of difficult-to-treat pathologies. These potential pathologies include ailments as diverse as migraines and autism.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency May Contribute to Disease

Howlett and Mechulam may have kicked off the first forays into the endocannabinoid system, but they are far from the only scientists who made serious contributions to this emerging arena of health and medicine. Back in 2001, Ethan Russo, a neurologist and medical researcher, first made the case for clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). Russo is currently the Director of Research and Development with the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI). His theory? That many common diseases stem from deficiencies of the endocannabinoid system.

“Many human disorders relate to deficiencies of neurotransmitter function,” Russo told Cannabis Aficionado. “We know that a lack of acetylcholine, the memory neurotransmitter, is key to dementia in Alzheimer disease and related disorders. Parkinson disease is associated with a lack of dopamine function. Depression is related to problems with serotonin.”

Now, Russo suggests that something similar could occur in the endocannabinoid system. “In 2001,” he explains, “I hypothesized that various human disorders could be related to a lack of endocannabinoids, the natural chemicals within our brain and bodies that are similar in activity to THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.”

Since endocannabinoids have wide-spread functions in the body, a lack or deficiency of these signaling molecules could cause a whole host of trouble. Symptoms like seizures, mood troubles, and generalized pain, nausea, and inflammation are all possible side effects of an endocannabinoid imbalance. Further, the universal nature of the ECS means that ailments which are seemingly unrelated to each other may now be classified together under the endocannabinoid umbrella.

“The prime candidates for clinical endocannabinoid deficiency are migraine, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome,” says Russo, describing conditions that are currently thought of as distinct and separate pathologies. “All [three] have compelling evidence in the interim that there are deficiencies in endocannabinoid function. Additional evidence has accumulated to include post-traumatic stress, autism, and other disorders.”

It is the ECS that perhaps describes why conditions like migraine and irritable bowel syndrome may share so many overlapping symptoms, including changes in mood, digestive distress, pain, and fatigue. These problems may be genetic in nature or acquired over time. At least one scientist has even gone as far as to describe the endocannabinoid system as a “bridge between body and mind”, connecting the physical reality with an emotional and intellectual one.

Toward Recognition of the ECS

Researchers have been investigating the influence of the endocannabinoid system in disease pathology for the past 30 years. Despite advancements in our understanding about the ECS, however, therapies targeting the endocannabinoid system are still few and far between. While some cannabinoid-based therapies are available to select patients, medical cannabis still remains one of the primary therapies that targets the ECS.

Yet, while the herb has been immensely helpful to patients around the world, both cannabis and endocannabinoid research still suffers from underutilization and harsh political barriers to research. In fact, a 2018 study from the Washington School of Medicine found that only a meager nine percent of medical schools teach their students about medical cannabis. This is despite the fact that the medicinal use of the herb is legal in 33 U.S. states and all of Canada.

“In my opinion, the media attention [on the endocannabinoid system] is not yet sufficient,” says Russo, “as the scientific evidence behind the theory is now quite solid based on serum and cerebrospinal fluid tests and other data.” He is referring to tests conducted in patients with schizophrenia,  migraine, and epilepsy. In each of these conditions, patients exhibited a dysregulation of endocannabinoid molecules in their cerebrospinal fluid. In post-traumatic stress, scientists at the New York University Langone Medical Center made a similar finding back in 2013. Compared with controls, PTSD patients demonstrated reduced endocannabinoid circulation.

“Considering the extreme amount of suffering and economic costs associated with clinical endocannabinoid deficiency disorders, it is necessary to have better research support and clinical investigations,” he presses. Better research and support would enable medical researchers and other scientists to more efficiently establish key therapies and interventions for endocannabinoid disorders. “While it is clear that cannabis in one form or another can be very effective in treating such disorders, certain lifestyle approaches, such as low impact aerobic activity, and dietary manipulations with prebiotics and probiotics may also be effective.”

Unfortunately, nearly 75 percent of medical schools also fail to provide students with the required amount of nutrition education. In a world of quasi-legal remedies and underacknowledged illnesses, its past time that formal institutions look seriously into endocannabinoid health.

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Celebrate 710 with the Aficionado Guide to Cannabis Concentrates

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White Apricot Sherbet. PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

For many enthusiasts, concentrates are among the most enjoyable and versatile of cannabis products. While a little concentrate goes a long way, these extracts are easily vaporized, smoked, or used to make infused topicals, edibles, and more. Not all concentrates, however, are created equal. The way that different cannabis concentrates are prepared has an impact on the end result. 

In order to delve deeper into the past, present and future of cannabis concentrates this 710, we have called in the expertise of the team from Oleum Extracts. The Washington-based, multi-award-winning processor company is considered to be one of the best in the industry, developing consistently innovative products — like their THCA crystalline Wizard Stones — and producing high-quality extracts.

Here’s what every aficionado needs to know about cannabis concentrates.  

The Evolution of Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

Oleum Extracts believe that the evolution of cannabis concentrates has seen a shift away from the wants and needs of producers towards those of the consumers.

“As consumers become more educated, they are asking better and more meaningful questions regarding the products they are ingesting/consuming, which is a good thing,” said Team Oleum. “New topics such as cannabinoid profiles, terpene profiles, how the products made, what kind of materials are used, and knowledge of the manufacturers are making their way into the purchasing decisions of consumers.”

They also think that as consumers become savvier to which companies and products have the most stringent production policies and consistent products, “brand trust and loyalty are beginning to make their presence felt.”

When purchasing cannabis concentrates, asking for the cheapest products with the highest THC levels should not be at the forefront of consumers minds and Team Oleum believes “we’re starting to see this shift happen away from that type of thinking.”

Recent developments of isolation products demonstrate “the evolution of concentrates that can be seen in THCA, THCV (appetite suppressant), CBD, CBG, CBN (sleep aid) and Delta-8-THC (anti-nausea).”

Oleum’s THCA Crystalline Wizard Stones are a good example of this. They pride themselves in the purity of their extracts, and test results of the Wizard Stones “often come back at 99.8%+ pure,” they said.

“We are anxious to see what comes out of the isolation of these other cannabinoids, as these compounds are often only found in trace amounts in flower form (less than 1%). Now that we are able to isolate them, we will be able to see the implications of larger doses and combinations of these cannabinoids and/or cannabis-derived terpenes on the human vessel.”

All About Solvents

The majority of cannabis concentrates require a solvent to extract. A solvent is a substance, usually a liquid or a gas, that separates trichome resin glands from unwanted plant material. The separated essential oil is then collected and further processed to create the high-potency oils and products that are so popular today.

Many different solvents can be used to make cannabis concentrates. Of these, however, there are three solvents that dominate the market: butane, carbon dioxide, and ethanol. Each of these solvents is used to effectively remove cannabis resin from the plant and concentrate the resin into the sap-like oil aficionado’s everywhere have come to know and love.

Butane

Butane is one of the cheapest solvents to use when making cannabis concentrates. It was also the first solvent to be used to make concentrates for dabbing, and concentrates made with this solvent are often referred to as butane hash oil (BHO). In general, concentrates extracted with butane tend to preserve more aromatic qualities than those extracted with carbon dioxide. For this reason, butane is used to make live resin, a concentrate rich in aromatic molecules called terpenes. No other solvent can be used to make live resin.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is most commonly used to make syrupy extracts for vapor pens. The solvent, however, can also be used to make other forms of concentrates. Oils extracted with carbon dioxide can be dabbed, used to fill capsules, or used as oils put underneath the tongue. Unlike butane, however, carbon dioxide tends to remove much of the terpene aroma molecules found in cannabis flower. As such, CO2 oil can feature a strikingly different chemical composition than the cannabis plant from which it came.

Ethanol

Concentrates extracted with ethanol are among the most expensive around. And yet, this solvent is perhaps one of the best to use during cannabis extractions. For those hoping to maintain aromatic terpenes in their concentrate, products made with ethanol are typically the way to go. Ethanol captures more terpenes and pigment molecules called flavonoids than other concentrates. Concentrates made with ethanol are sometimes processed into full spectrum cannabis oil (FECO), while others are used to make products for dabbing.

How To Spot Quality Concentrates

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

Searching for truly high-quality material? There are three basic factors to keep in mind: color, consistency, and lab reports. A hallmark sign of quality in almost all cannabis concentrates is a golden-amber coloration. Most solvent-based concentrates should appear amber, although the color can range a light gold to warm rust.

Some concentrates, like FECO and RSO, may look almost black. The deep coloration in these products indicates that greater amounts of chlorophyll were extracted along with other cannabis compounds. While more chlorophyll may provide a bitter, herbal taste, the inclusion of a greater variety of plant chemicals may make these types of concentrates more appealing to medical consumers.

The introduction of alternative methods and new equipment has resulted in an improvement in cannabis concentrates — good news for the aforementioned medical patients and dabbing enthusiasts alike.

“Equipment manufacturer’s from other industries are now tailoring their businesses to accommodate cannabism, which has been a great thing to experience,” said Team Oleum. “I’m sure we will continue to see this trend moving forward, especially as extraction and processing evolve to service high volume needs as the market expands.”

Concentrates should feature a fairly consistent constitution. No one, for example, wants to find hard chunks in their budder, nor do they want to find leaf matter or stem fragments in their hash. If a concentrate doesn’t take on the form that is advertised, chances are it is a low-quality product.

“In the beginning, good concentrates were known pretty much by aesthetics and the way they looked,” said Team Oleum. “Followed up with a sniff, the color and smell of the product were the easiest ways to spot a good concentrate back in the day. Now, a concentrate can look great, and even smell ok, but once dabbed or vaped might taste horrendous.”

Team Oleum believe that regulations and laws in Washington’s market are making people purchase products on looks, rather than smell.

“With the legal market here in WA, the consumer is not allowed to open the package of concentrate or smell the product before purchasing,” said Team Oleum. “This takes away what beforehand was a vital component in making a decision of what product to buy and how much to purchase. As a result, it seems to be aesthetics and brand trust that leads most in their decisions today in spotting good concentrates.”

Third-party lab reports are essential, proving the manufacturer and consumer with information on the chemical constituents in the concentrate, like the terpene profiles of the flower.

“While a concentrate may look attractive, low-quality flower with low terpene content may have been used during the extraction,” said Team Oleum. “Most lab reports list information on the potency and dominant cannabinoids in the product. Some reports, however, will also list the primary terpenes in the concentrate as well. In general, the more terpenes preserved in the concentrate, the greater the flavor and aroma.”

“The only individuals really doing any quality control of the products before going out to market are the producers and processors themselves. If these individuals are not cannabis consumers,  and/or are not trying their own products it is doing a great disservice to both their brand and their consumers.

“If the owners and operators of these brands do a good enough job at this, the reward is consumer trust in both the brand and its products. When people can trust where the material is being sourced, how it is being processed and the care that goes into its production from start to finish. These are the brands that are earning the most market share and seeing the most positive feedback from consumers.”

Most Common Concentrate Preparations

Walk into any cannabis shop these days and you’re sure to find a plethora of containers filled with sticky goo. The market for cannabis concentrates is growing faster than ever, with data suggesting that concentrate sales may surpass sales for dry flower within the next four years. Here are some of the most popular cannabis concentrate products — including some specialties from Oleum Extracts.

Shatter

Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | RuggedCoast

Shatter is easy to spot in a dispensary but relatively difficult to make for extractors. Shatter is a cannabis concentrate that takes on the consistency of an amber-colored glass shard. These shards can be broken up and dabbed, although the oil’s crystalline constitution makes it slightly more difficult to work with than other concentrate preparations.

Wax

PHOTO | David

Wax and shatter are made in essentially the same way, although wax tends to be physically agitated more during processing. As a result, the preparation loses its glass-like consistency and instead develops a waxy, honeycomb-like constitution. Some individual strains may also be more inclined to “wax up” than other strains. In general, waxes tend to be softer and easier to manipulate than shatters.

Budder

Budder is whipped wax. Instead of walking on eggshells trying to create a glass-like shatter, budder is whipped automatically in order to create a smoothe yet opaque concentrate. The end result is soft, fluffy, and easy to manipulate.

Oil

PHOTO | Eric Limon

Cannabis oils are concentrates that maintain a consistent liquid state. Oils are most often made with ethanol, which preserves the widest array of phytochemicals found in any cannabis extraction. Oils of this type are often referred to as full-spectrum cannabis oil (FECO) or Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). These oils are often used under the tongue or are ingested orally. Carbon dioxide, however, can also be used to make a syrupy oil, such as that found in vapor cartridges.

Live Resin

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

Live resin is a king among concentrates. Unlike all other concentrates, live resin is made using fresh cannabis flowers that have been flash-frozen in order to preserve terpene quality. These fresh flowers are then processed using butane as a solvent, creating a wet and semi-solid concentrate that features superior flavor, aroma, and overall terpene quality.
Solventless Concentrates

Using a solvent is the easiest way to extract cannabis concentrates. Solvents, however, are not required to make a concentrated cannabis product. Products like hash and rosin do not require solvents at all, which makes them preferable to many consumers. Although, solventless concentrates tend to be less potent than their solvent-based counterparts.

Rocks and Sauce: Oleum Extracts

Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

“Rocks and Sauce is a product where THCA crystals grow in their own high terpene extraction,” said Team Oleum. “They are often made from fresh frozen material but can be made from dried/cured material, too.”

Honey Crystal/CryoTek: Oleum Extracts

Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

“This product is fully dewaxed, quad filtered and highly processed,” said Team Oleum. “We make Honey Crystal/CryoTek from dried/cured material. CryoTek means that the Honey Crystal has gone through an additional stage of processing to further refine the material.”

Hash

PHOTO | Frenchy Cannoli

Hash is one of the oldest cannabis preparations available. It’s also one of the simplest to make. Hash is most often made by rubbing dried cannabis flower on a screen, breaking off trichomes via agitation. The broken trichomes are then collected and compressed into hash.

Bubble hash or ice water hash is another type of concentrate made using agitation. Only, this variety of hash uses ice water to freeze trichome resin glands. The cold temperature makes trichomes more brittle, which allows them to more easily break away from plant material. The end result is grainy trichome goo that is then dried and compressed into hash.

Rosin

Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | RuggedCoast

Rosin is one of the most popular concentrates available today. Like hash, rosin is relatively easy to make. This solventless preparation uses heat and pressure to melt trichomes off of plant material. These trichomes are often melted between two solid hot plates, which compresses them into an almost shatter-like consistency. Rosin tends to be slightly translucent, although it remains mailable and soft, a stark contrast to shatter’s glass-like nature.

Terpsoline: Oleum Extracts

Cannabis Concentrates

Photo | Oleum Extracts

“Terpsoline is another one of our products that is made of up of THCA Crystalline Wizard Stones and cannabis-derived terpenes,” said Team Oleum.

Exciting Advances and New Developments in the World of Cannabis Concentrates

Cannabis Concentrates

PHOTO | Oleum Extracts

Team Oleum believe that isolates, the separation of cannabinoids and terpenes are exciting developments and new in the field of concentrates.

“We are now starting to understand isolation and separation on a much deeper level,” said Team Oleum. “This allows us to reconfigure ratios of cannabinoids to terpenes — to alter the experience, flavors and effects of these products.

“This has never been an option before with cannabis concentrates, we believe the future will incorporate a lot of these unique and novel combinations into the cannabis consumer’s diet. For instance, our IceWalker is a product that incorporates THCA Crystalline Wizard Stones, Delta-8-AquaTek Distillate and cannabis-derived terpenes. These types of concentrate concoctions were not possible a few years ago, we are excited to see what will come available in the next five years.

“In addition to isolations, we are also starting to retain terpenes (flavors) and their respective cannabinoids in such a way as to mimic the actual taste, smell and effect of the flower it comes from. It wasn’t too long ago that material was just put into a column and blasted with solvent, hoping for the best outcome in the end product and it was often hit or miss. Now, a lot more science, better cultivation, and preparation of materials, and better understanding and innovation of equipment have allowed us to employ much more efficient methods in cannabis extraction and processing. This, in turn, allows us to produce a much higher quality product much more consistently. Something that benefits both the producers and the consumers.

“Last but not least, CRC (Color Remediation Cartridge) seems to be making an introduction by offering solutions to the removal of unwanted colors and compounds in cannabis concentrates. These colors and compounds include lipids, chlorophyll, carotene, xanthophyll, pheophytins and lycopene,” said Team Oleum. “Due to the compounds being used in this process, it should only be done by those with proper equipment/lab and training. It definitely has its place in the concentrate industry as a means of cleaning up product, but in the same breath, good concentrates should always come from good starting material. As the tried and true saying goes, “Fire In.. Fire Out”.

“These methods of remediation can often take away from the true and original character of the strain and extract. We try to stay as close to the original cultivar as we can…in most cases it’s what we and the end consumer prefers.”

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The Complex Relationship Between Cannabis and Mental Health

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cannabis and mental health
PHOTO | Lumppini

The month of May is coming to a close, and with the end of Mental Health Awareness month comes one of the most difficult topics of discussion among the cannabis industry: Does cannabis improve mental health, or make it worse? Many dedicated consumers and patients would be quick to tell you that the plant has had a profoundly positive influence on their lives. And yet, emerging science on the topic has revealed that cannabis and mental health have a much more complicated relationship than ever predicted.

What is Mental Health?

Before diving into the ways in which cannabis affects mental health, it’s useful to paint a picture of what mental health actually means. For most, mental health means being free from depression, free from psychiatric illness, and perhaps even blissfully happy. Unfortunately, while more people are aware of mental and emotional health than ever before, the concept is still far too often boiled down to either a means of coping with severe mental disorders or as a reinforcement of the idea that you should strive to be happy all of the time.

Both of these popular beliefs are a myth — most people must learn how to develop mental health skills at some point in their lives, and, although it is difficult to admit, being happy all of the time is a scientific anomaly. Contented and peaceful, sure, but moments of blissfulness and pure happiness wax and wane for just about everyone. Of course, this is not to discount the lives or experiences of the many who struggle with severe mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress, severe depression, and other psychiatric ailments.

For Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and a world-renowned psychologist, mental health can be broken down into four primary components: mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. While the names may seem like a mouthful, Linehan believes that each building block is essential for being able to both tolerate and relate to the world in a healthy way.

First, mindfulness is the ability to observe what is happening in the present moment without judgment. Secondly, interpersonal effectiveness relates to your ability to ask respectfully for what you want while setting clear boundaries and saying no what you don’t want. Emotional regulation refers to the ability to feel your emotions without clinging to them or letting them get the better of you. Finally, distress tolerance is the ability to tolerate daily stresses and bounce back from stressful situations.

For Linehan, mental health means practising and maintaining fitness in all four of these skills. Even those with a diagnosed psychiatric disease can still practice these skills to improve their mental health. The therapy was initially designed for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, but the concepts have taken root in the world of psychology and are often readily applied to individuals experiencing all sorts of mental health concerns — from addiction to depression to schizophrenia to struggling with an unexpected life transition.

The Complex Relationship Between Cannabis and Mental Health

So, why bring up Linehan? The definitions of mental health are perhaps as vast as the types of therapies available. As such, there are numerous ways to approach the broad topic of mental health. Most psychiatrists offer a mixture of skill-building and medications in order to treat their patients. Is cannabis a worthwhile therapy for mental health? Well, if early research is any indication, it appears that it would depend on how you use it.

Cannabis for Mental Health: The Pros

For many, cannabis is a go-to remedy for mental health concerns. Whether that means popping a CBD capsule to get through a stressful day or if that means developing a treatment plan to keep symptoms of traumatic stress at bay, cannabis is oft touted as an effective way to improve your state of mind. Cannabis has a long-held reputation as a mood-lifter, inspiring laughing fits, improving sleep, and promoting all-around feelings of well-being.

In patients with serious diseases like cancer, the plant has been proven to reduce pain and improve quality of life, factors which have a profound influence on mental health. There is some early evidence that specific cannabis compounds may be helpful for reducing psychosis related to advanced diseases like Parkinson’s Disease.

Similarly, early experiments suggest that isolated cannabis extracts may reduce agitation associated with dementia. In early clinical trials, CBD treatment has even improved the lives of patients living with treatment-resistant schizophrenia. In the area of post-traumatic stress, cannabis compounds are being studied as uniquely viable treatments for the condition. Amazingly, research suggests that chemicals in the cannabis plant may be able to address possible neurotransmitter deficiencies in PTSD patients.

Further research still explores the ability of low to moderate doses of cannabis medicines to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, perhaps offering patients an alternative to medicines like benzodiazepines, which come with a greater addiction potential and a host of severe side effects. Cannabis, in contrast, has been dubbed as well-tolerated with limited side effects in most of the mental health trials conducted so far.

The Risks of Cannabis For Mental Health

But, is cannabis a cure or a crutch? While a body of positive research on cannabis as a mental health aid exists, the plant cannot simply be lumped into a category as either good or bad. Instead, research seems to indicate that cannabis may be beneficial in some circumstances, but it may also worsen overall mental health in others. In high doses, for example, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), may increase anxiety and cause panic attacks.

Further, professionals also have concerns about the chronic consumption of high-potency cannabis. Several epidemiological studies have suggested that long-term cannabis consumption, especially of the high potency variety, is correlated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and poor mental health. While correlation does not always indicate causation, researchers have found that the younger you are when you pick up a regular cannabis habit, the more likely you are to experience negative mental health outcomes.

And then, of course, is the argument that cannabis can cause psychosis in some people. This is not exactly the same Reefer Madness argument that has dominated since the late 1930s. Instead, modern genetic research suggests that cannabis consumption may contribute to psychiatric illness in those with a genetic predisposition, especially in those that heavily consume the plant. In teens and adolescents, regular cannabis consumption was correlated to an earlier onset of psychotic symptoms in those with a predisposition to this type of mental health trouble.

Finally, both cannabidiol (CBD) and medical cannabis consumption show potential in treating some forms of addiction, including alcohol, nicotine, and opioid addiction. Regular cannabis consumers, however, can also develop a dependency on the herb. For some, this dependency can cause symptoms of withdrawal after stopping the herb. For this reason, many health professionals are reluctant to offer cannabis as a mental health treatment.

Everything in Moderation

What Linehan describes in her Dialectical Model of Behavioral Therapy are a series of skills that an individual must learn in order to developmental and emotional resilience. While progressive mental health and medical professionals see cannabis medicines as tools that better enable patients to focus on these skills, the plant itself is not a cure-all for mental health problems. In fact, in some cases, overreliance on the herb may lead to greater problems, such as dependence on the plant in order to cope with stressful situations.

And yet, it is almost impossible to evaluate the subjective benefits of the herb. When consumed in moderation, the cannabis plant has a knack for providing sudden shifts in perspective and for opening mental doors that once seemed impossible. After a stressful day, a little cannabis may feel like a nudge in the right direction — a glimpse into another way of thinking that was suffocated by a sour mood. A time-out from a stagnate way of thinking can be an invaluable source of healing and self-compassion.

Scientists and medical professionals have yet to decide whether or not chronic and continuous cannabis consumption is an effective treatment for mental health issues. When consumed in moderation, with mindfulness, and with proper support, however, it’s difficult to deny that the plant holds real value and has the ability to affect lives in a positive way.

Ultimately, it’s up to the patient and their trusted medical professional to decide when the plant is helpful and when it has become an unhealthy diversion.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health issues, please reach out to Mental Health America or your local helpline.

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Borneol: The Terpene That Improves Your Heart and Gut Health

This terpene Borneol offers many health benefits, including improved digestion (via the stimulation of gastric juices) and better blood circulation.

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Borneol
PHOTO | Jesse Barney

Of the 20,000 aromatic molecules called terpenes found throughout nature, roughly 200 have been discovered in the cannabis herb. As an aggregate, the most common health efficacies offered by cannabis-derived terpenes are reduced systemic inflammation, anti-cancer properties, and analgesic (pain-killing) benefits. The terpene Borneol emits an odor involving scents of camphor, earth, and menthol; its scent is sometimes described as “herbal minty.” It is found in many plants other than cannabis, including camphor, mint, and rosemary. It is a natural insect repellent and is utilized industrially in the manufacture of perfumes and colognes.

Borneol is not extremely common in cannabis. Strains of cannabis offering more significant amounts of this terpene include Hazes and K-13.

The Details of Borneol

This terpene offers many health benefits, including improved digestion (via the stimulation of gastric juices) and better blood circulation. It also effectively treats bronchial symptoms to improve lung function and ease breathing (helpful for sufferers of bronchitis and asthma). Like many of its sibling terpenes, it has been found to reduce anxiety.

Borneol also assists in the healing of wounds. Historically, it has been incorporated into topical treatments for such applications, including the treatment of hemorrhoids. Combined with other terpenes that convey sedative qualities — such as myrcene and linalool — the terpene can effectively combat insomnia. It is also antibacterial and antiseptic.

Borneol exemplifies the dynamics of the entourage effect, a theory that cannabinoids and terpenes work together, synergistically, to offer particular therapeutic and medicinal benefits to humans via supplementation of the mammalian endocannabinoid system (ECS). Borneol amplifies the permeability of the blood/brain barrier, allowing other molecules and compounds to more efficiently bind with specialized receptors in the brain and central nervous system.

When isolated, it can act as an irritant to eyes, skin, and the respiratory system. As a good demonstration of the impact of accurate and strategic titration (dosing), at large doses, it is extremely toxic and harmful if swallowed. A “probable lethal dose” is 50-500 mg/kg of body weight, which equates to between only a teaspoon and an ounce for a 150-pound human.

The Research

Multiple studies have demonstrated the wide-ranging medicinal efficacy of the terpene, including its pronounced role as an anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, and cancer killer.

A 2017 study entitled “Terpenes from Forests and Human Health” and published in the journal Toxicological Research investigated how borneol reduced inflammation of the lungs. Concluded the researchers, “Borneol alleviated acute lung inflammation by reducing inflammatory infiltration, histopathological changes, and cytokine production.”

A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS ONE and entitled “Natural Borneol, a Monoterpenoid Compound, Potentiates Selenocystine-induced Apoptosis in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells” revealed the anti-cancer properties of this terpene.

The study’s researchers concluded, “Borneol effectively synergized with SeC to reduce cancer cell growth through the triggering apoptotic cell death. These results reveal that borneol strongly potentiates SeC-induced apoptosis in cancer cells by enhancement of cellular uptake. Borneol could be further developed as a chemosensitizer of SeC in treatment of human cancers.”

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