What is anandamide, why is it important, and how does using marijuana affect it?

Q:

What is anandamide, why is it important, and how does using marijuana affect it? I’m trying to get a better understanding of how marijuana affects the brain before committing to it to treat my arthritis.

A:

Anandamide (AEA) is a naturally occurring endocannabinoid. Our bodies can produce AEA on demand and when produced, it activates the CB1 receptors. It’s similar to the chemical make-up of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which also attaches to the CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are involved in regulating our mood, appetite, memory, sleep, and pain perception. If AEA levels are low, then it is possible that our body’s ability to maintain homeostasis or balance may be compromised. According to research by Dr. Ethan Russo, a dysfunctional or imbalanced endocannabinoid system (ECS) may be the cause for certain pain conditions that have been resistant to treatment.

When the body’s natural ability to produce AEA is compromised, using cannabis may help with a person’s pain perception, mood, and sleep. There are now thought to be more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. THC is the most well-known and studied cannabinoid. While many may associate THC or cannabis with detrimental effects on the brain, more recent research demonstrates there is no association with structural brain changes in adults who used cannabis as an adolescent.

There are many ways to use cannabis for arthritis. Treatment will depend on the location and severity of the arthritis. Topicals can be effective for arthritis in the hands, wrists, neck, feet, and shoulders. Some have found relief with a topical in their back, hips, and knees as well. A topical does not penetrate into the bloodstream and there are no systemic effects. Using cannabis topically will have the least risk and is unlikely to produce any side effects. In cases where the arthritis is more severe or in multiple places, a tincture may provide more generalized, longer lasting relief. Tinctures can provide more options with regards to ratios and different cannabinoid profiles.

There are many cannabinoids to choose from when seeking arthritis relief. Thanks to improved extraction techniques and plant genetics, we now have access to CBG and CBDa, THCa and Delta-8 THC. These are lesser known cannabinoids, however, they are showing promise with reducing inflammation and pain and are generally well tolerated.

Cannabis can offer many options when it comes to relieving symptoms from arthritis. If you are considering exploring cannabis and you have concerns about how it may affect you, it is best to work with a knowledgeable cannabis practitioner that can help you determine the right route and cannabinoid profile for you.

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Written by Eloise Theisen

Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC, is a dedicated and patient-focused nurse. For over 17 years, she has specialized in aging, cancer, chronic pain, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, and various autoimmune and neurological diseases. The founder of Radicle Health, she started her career at John Muir Medical Center caring for patients suffering from cancer, terminal illnesses, respiratory failure/complaints, drug overdoses, acute alcohol ingestion, gastrointestinal bleeds, traumatic brain injury, and multiple traumas.

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