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The Endocannibinoid System and Human Health

Science, for the most part, stays in the background and doesn't strive for publicity. And this is the way it should be - except perhaps when it comes to flaunting the graces of such a natural wonder as the Endocannibinoid System.

First identified in the mid-nineties in humans and then subsequently, in all animals studied, the Endocannibinoid System has as its base numerous receptor sites. These sites, found to a large degree in the brain and to a lesser degree in all other major organs - receive endocannabinoids (molecules produced within our bodies, hense the word 'endo') through a lock and key reaction. Once the molecule is locked into place on the receptor chemical messages are sent out to the body and a cascade of healing and moderating mechanisms, such as pain and inflammation control, begin.

Research into endocannibinoids and their effects is ongoing but is recently picking up speed. A chemical grouping as large as 100 different (but closely related) molecules seem to moderate organ and cell function, keeping interactions in check or in homeostasis. More simply put, endocannibinoids move body systems towards equilibrium.

Cannibinoids are known to stimulate the manufacturing of cells, as well as the destruction of dying or dead cells - most important in killing off certain types cancer cells.

Cannibinoids also seem to provide a bridge between the gut and the brain and are a huge moderator of depressive states in humans.

And when the Endocannibinoid System - the great equilizer - starts to falter for any one of a variety of reasons including: poor nutrition, poor response to stress (genetic, environmental or chemically induced) the body signals the brain to find more internal storage.  When this is not possible from the inside, we must depend on sources from the outside - our food and nutrition.

Strangely enough, the only known dietary source of these molecules is from the three cannabis species, echinacea and mulberry. Industrial hemp - the THC-free version of  marijuana - is loaded with cannibionoids (also a veritable storehouse of other great nutritious molecules).

Science, having identified the Endocannibinoid System, is now busy identifying cures or controls for a long list of diseases - things ancient civilizations believed but had no way of proving.

From the beginning of recorded time the effects of the most commonly known cannibinoid, THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) were well known: to ward off nausea, increase appetite of cancer patients and provide pain relief.

Recently, the use of the second best known cannibinoid, CBD (or cannibidiol), is showing great promise in brain-related illnesses and, in particular, with treating seizures, convulsions and Alzheimer's disease. Products such as Noah's Ark or Charlotte's Web - teas made from the leaves and flowers of particular strains of hemp and rich in a number of cannibinoids - are gaining huge press in treating childhood seizures.

CBD is showing promise in boosting immune systems, reducing arterial clots and a big one, treating depression. This latter ailment was something the ancients knew how to treat using teas made from hemp, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that most of the antidepressants on the market today try to mimic the effect of cannibinoids but often fail miserably.

The Endocannibinoid System is a fascinating study and I encourage readers to hone your knowledge of it by starting with a review of something called the Cannibinoid Entourage Effect.

The Power of Hemp

Hemp, a troublesome ditch weed or a cornucopia of nutrition, medicine and structural fibers? The answer - all of the above.

Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is in fact a weed species originating in Asia with strong archaeological evidence of cultivation and extensive utilization going back more than 5,000 years. If its Latin name makes you think of marijuana, that’s because it’s the same plant, except it has had the THC (hallucinogen) bred out of it. In fact, with some directed tinkering from ancient farmers, the same plant has been coaxed to produce highly nutritious seed for flour or oil, fiber, or to be a veritable medicinal warehouse.

Up to the turn of the twentieth century the economy of entire communities worldwide depended on hemp. Wars were fought over access to its long, resilient fibers so important in the manufacturing of rope, sails and even Navy uniforms.  Hemp was the basis of a global textiles industry and found in work clothes and fine garments alike. At one point, around the end of the first world war, by-products from the hemp plant accounted for more than 80% of all prescribed medications available at the time. But that all ended in 1937.

That was the year that US government - cajoled or bullied by a cabal of industrialists lead by the likes of William Randolph Hurst and the DuPont and Morgan families who sought to minimize hemp’s natural competitive edge over wood fiber, cotton, etc. - linked hemp to “dreaded” marijuana. In a matter of months, hemp industries around the world died out.

Now, 69 years later, industrial hemp (bred to have less than 0.3% THC) is making a comeback reintroducing the marvels and power of this humble plant.

Nutritionally, hemp is likely the best source of plant-based protein providing upwards of 70% by weight when properly processed. Hemp is rich in essential fatty acids, in particular, Omega 6 and Omega 3 in a 4 to 1 ratio which is nearly perfect for cell health and regeneration. In terms of edible fiber, soluble and non-soluble alike, hemp is a winner. It is loaded with antioxidants and has the distinction of being low in carbohydrates.

Medically, cannabinoids (including canibidiaol and up to 100 more) are showing huge promise in the treatment of childhood seizures, autism, epilepsy, some cancers, psychological maladies such and depression, Alzheimer’s and the list goes on. The ancients knew many of this lowly plant’s benefits – eating the seeds, baking with flour milled from its seeds, oil production, making tinctures from leaves and flowers, and constructing rope, house building materials and textiles. While they may not have labelled the various maladies as we have, they also knew how to reduce the effects using hemp and even found cures for some others.

The discovery in the mid-nineties of the existence of something called the endocannabinoid system in animals revolutionized the understanding of the myriad of curative effects hemp provides. Science has identified cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body recognizing that each one of us manufactures our own cannabinoids and that these molecules moderate essentially every cell function, helping us to reach hemostasis (a process which causes bleeding to stop). And we know also, that our cannabinoid production is tied directly to nutrition and diet. When the cannabinoid system becomes depleted due to poor nutrition, lifestyle or other negative influences of a fast paced, developing world, illness is the result.

The ancients knew and science is now reinforcing the fact that hemp and human physiology go back a long way. Hemp is powerful and deserves the mantle of a super food.

In the event that you too are as fascinated with the power of the lowly hemp plant join me on April 20th, 2016 for one of two free lectures on hemp history, nutrition, medicine and, yes, processing of nutritious hemp products.

Silver Hills Bakery

30971 Peardonville Road                                                                             Abbotsford BC

11:00 & 17:00

The Science of Composting

Farmers are an innovative bunch, cottoning onto gifts that mother nature sends their way. For as long as humans have been farming and later on, when backyard gardening became pleasurable, composting has served as an important means to improve soil organic content, provide fertilization and water conservation, and to kill off soil pathogens. We have used this biological decomposition process for millennia but did not truly understand how it works, until now.

Composting is an aerobic process – in this case, microbes burning a carbon energy source in the presence of oxygen – and using most any organic matter including food waste, manure, leaves, grass clippings, and in more recent times, municipal bio solids. The result, compost - a light, spongy, soil-like material, carbon dioxide, water and heat, lots of it.

In addition to oxygen, the decomposing microbes need nitrogen, water, carbon, and a source of energy, usually in the form of sugars. Oxygen is provided by turning or aerating the pile. Water is added for moisture, but not for wetness. Nitrogen sources include vegetable and fruit scraps, lawn and landscape trimmings, and manure from grass eaters. Sources of carbon include shredded newspaper and cardboard, leaves, straw and wood shavings. And depending on the source of waste, the bacterial and fungal species are specific to the waste type.

Ancient farmers knew that composting has four distinct stages – we now know these are related to microbiological and temperature phases termed mesophilic, thermophilic, cooling, and maturation. These phases can complete in as little as two months (for a well-managed backyard pile or high-end commercial facility) or up to a year for an ignored backyard pile.  During the four phases of the composting cycle the types of microbes change in succession much like a maturing forest.

The simple beauty of composing is that decomposition of organic wastes will occur no matter how experienced you are or the size of pile or bin you use. As a general rule, the larger the pile the quicker it will heat and maintain high temperatures (typically 55° - 71° C). When forming the pile, it is best to thoroughly mix, not layer, the materials. The pile will reach high temperatures at the core and since the center will cool, the pile should be turned twice a month to ensure continued heating and complete decomposition. A pile 1.5 meters high (or bin 1 cubic meter in size) is large enough to generate sufficient heat for decomposition, yet small enough to allow air movement into the center of the pile.

Recently, a landmark study titled Changes in Bacterial and Fungal Communities across Compost Recipes, Preparation Methods, and Composting Times put a lot of the unknowns about compositing to rest. The year long experiment, based out of a municipal compost facility in Vermont, studied three different compost recipes from four different compost techniques, including vermiculture – worm composting. In order to identify the various microbial players, historically a very difficult proposition in an environment where increasingly high temperatures killed off microbes, this group conducted DNA-gene sequence identification on all microbes and, in particular, bacteria and fungal species. The result was the first ever identification of assisting microbe communities, their preferred host types (wood, manure or grasses), in each of the four composting phases.

To check out this particular study visit:

Changes in bacterial and fungal communities across compost recipes, preparation methods, and composting times

The Marvels of the Blood-Brain Barrier

Have you survived, or are you presently suffering from the “three week” head cold that is currently spreading like wild fire? This writer had it and even in a fevered state, like any good scientist, continued to ask questions. The “cold” related questions: why, with the sinus headache, constantly draining phlegm cough - things directly associated with the head - did the effects not spread to the brain tissue, mere millimetres away from all this infected goop? The answer, found after a minute of searching the web, is the Blood-Brain Barrier or BBB.

 

The human brain, like those of most animals with a spinal cord (which is essentially an extension of the brain) requires a stable environment, lots of oxygen and protection from the chemical chaos going on in the blood flowing through the circulatory system. It can’t function effectively when assaulted by hormone messages, changes in ion concentration, vibration, etc. So, the brain and spinal column, supported within the boney confines of the skull and spine, float in cerebral spinal fluid more commonly described as CSF. This straw colored fluid, very similar in composition to plasma, serves as shock absorber, nutrition highway, waste removal system and a pretty fine barrier to the rest of the body.

 

In fact, CSF effectively isolates the brain and spinal cord from the rest of the body, including systemic blood flow. It might seem impossible to believe that very little of the blood circulating around your body actually comes in direct contact with your brain. So, how then could all the blood rushing past fingers pressed to your carotid artery on the side of your neck not flow directly to the brain? Welcome to the marvels of the BBB.

Just above your jaw line leading up to the base of the skull, the carotid artery funnels down into an intricate network of smaller vessels and in a distance of less than a centimeter is fed through a maze of capillaries, the smallest blood vessel. Just outside the capillary wall, specialized endothelial and glial cells are aggregated so tightly that only the smallest things can get through: oxygen, carbon dioxide, glucose and substances like nicotine and alcohol, but not much else. That pesky cold virus can’t get through, neither can most bacteria and parasites. Opiates can get through but 95 % of prescription drugs cannot, including cancer fighting molecules used to fight brain tumors.

To put things in perspective about how truly effective the BBB really is, consider the approximately 5.5 litres of blood that fill our circulatory system. Each minute this amount is pumped throughout the body carrying oxygen and nutrients. Of the oxygen present in blood hemoglobin, 20 % goes to the brain, an organ that makes up less than 2% of body mass. And all of this blood and oxygen - that we may have envisioned flowing directly to the brain - is actually all diffused and filtered through the BBB. Quickly and most effectively. A natural engineering marvel.

 

For the most part the BBB functions effectively throughout our lives, however, there are things that can cause short and perhaps even long term disruptions. Exposure to microwaves, radiation, chronic high blood pressure, strokes and, yes, Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to have adverse effects on the filtration capabilities of the BBB.

 

As always, where we provide a suggestion or two for readers to further research the topics discussed in this column, this week proved difficult to find one that was not all scientific gobbledygook and the best we could find on the Blood-Brain Barrier is:

Differentiation of blood-brain barrier endothelial cells

Disinfection – Making Our Water Safe

In this modern age, in thriving communities, in developed countries, so many things in our lives are taken for granted.  Case in point: safe and abundant drinking water.

Safe and dare I say, abundant drinking water is generally considered the responsibility of municipalities and/or regional authorities, which in turn hold to quality and heath standards set at the provincial, federal and, increasingly, international levels. At a minimum, every civic authority must access, supply, remove sediment (clarify), disinfect, filter, and distribute drinking water to thirsty constituents and supply water for fire protection. Additionally, they are often held responsible to provide water for industry, agriculture and in some cases, surrounding communities.

Supply and distribution, accomplished to varying degrees since Roman times, are perhaps the easiest aspects of the drinking water equation – achieved by good old fashioned engineering. However, insuring that drinking water is clean and free of dangerous microbes is relatively new. In particular, disinfection, the act of effectively killing and rendering harmless dangerous microbes, was only accomplished on a grand scale just over one hundred years ago in Sweden with the identification of the element, Chlorine and its interesting cleansing properties, cities in Europe and then soon after, North America, started introducing it into water supplies. The effects on human health have been nothing less than phenomenal.  Deaths in the range of 250 per one hundred thousand due to typhoid, cholera, E coli and a number of the usual suspects, dropped off precipitously.

In order to be deemed acceptable to world standards and tight municipal budgetary constraints, water disinfection, only one part of a water cleansing strategy, must kill or neutralize essentially all pathogens in the water. 98% or greater kill rates are common targets. Disinfection needs to be automatic, easily and inexpensively maintained, relatively safe and above all, effective. An ideal system treats all the water for drinking, fire prevention, industrial and agricultural needs, and provides residual (long term) disinfection. So far the only disinfection methodology that comes even close to meeting these criteria is Chlorine, more commonly known as bleach.

Disinfection, including boiling of water, the increasingly popular ultra violet (UV) treatment, ozone treatment, and the most popular, chlorination, all work on microbial “baddies” including bacterial, viral, protozoan, etc., by disruption and destruction of their outer protective coatings. In the case of Chlorine, it is believed to create blister-like holes which allow the chemical to get inside the cell disrupting DNA formation, energy production and in relatively short order, killing the target microbes. It can take upwards of ½ hour of Chlorine exposure to achieve this “kill” effect.

Unfortunately, Chlorine with all its great disinfection capabilities, does not kill all microbes, particularly, those with tough outer skins such as cryptosporidium, and “baddies” like it that form spores and hard capsules. These microbes need to be filtered out by screens or by reverse osmosis.

And finally, if chlorination’s effectiveness against microbes is so good, the question has to be asked, “What is it doing to human cells once we drink it?” And the answer, thankfully, is that human cells are seldom found as single cells, like microbes, but as grouped cells, such as tissues and the sheer numbers of cells tend to provide protection. It is also important to recognise that the concentrations of Chlorine required to kill a single microbe cell are well within the safe limits for human health.  The only significant issue that research points out is the taste of bleach in our cups.

To better understand the effectiveness of Chlorine as a disinfectant in our water systems check out:

How does chlorine added to drinking water kill bacteria and other harmful organisms? Why doesn't it harm us?