By now you’re surely aware of phytocannabinoids or CBD-rich hemp stock oil or other variations of the name these products bear. You may even stock them on your shelves, one of many retailers in the natural products industry who is pioneering a movement of bringing awareness to people’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and chipping away at the stigma associated with phytocannabinoids due to the relationships to cannabis. While the cannabis our industry supports is CBD-rich hemp and not the psychoactive marijuana, the ECS is not about promoting cannabis, but about promoting the proper functioning of the human body. Cannabis just happens to be a piece of the puzzle.
“While the discovery was due to the cannabis plant, this system has little to do with the psychoactive component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and more to do with compounds that our body makes as well as factors in food and medicinal plants,” explains Michael Murray, ND. “In fact, the occurrence of the ECS in nature predates that of cannabis.”
In fact, endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally in the body, regulate this system. These endocannabinoids were only discovered in the early 1990’s by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam and his colleagues. “After considerable efforts, we identified a novel compound, which was as potent as THC in binding to the receptor,” writes Mechoulam. “We named it anandamide, based on the Sanskrit name for happiness and the amide part of the new molecule. Later, we discovered a second, chemically related molecule, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) in the periphery, and a Japanese group found in the brain. Both anandamide and 2-AG are arachidonic acid derivatives” (1).
The endocannabinoid system is important, says John Hicks, MD, author of “The Medical Power of Cannabis” because it is designed to maintain homeostasis in our bodies (2). “It interconnects all systems, organs and tissues and responds to changes in the internal and external environment,” he writes. “Its whole purpose is to keep our bodies functioning at their best by adapting to change.”
The CB1 and CB2 receptors that cannabinoids attach to exist throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, playing various functions. For example, CB1 receptors exist in high density in the basal ganglia, helping to control unconscious muscle movements as well as planning and starting movements. There are also CB1 receptors in the amygdala, which influence emotions such as fear and anxiety as well as a high density of receptors in the hippocampus, involved with learning new information and memory integration. CB2 is active in the central nervous system and is present in peripheral tissues and organs, particularly, immune system cells (2).
While the body does produce cannabinoids, the ability to further support the endocannabinoid system can be profoundly beneficial. In a review, researchers George Kunos and Pal Pacher explain that modulation of the endocannabinoid system has “therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans, including obesity/metabolic syndrome, diabetes and diabetic complications, neurodegenerative, inflammatory, cardiovascular, liver, gastrointestinal, skin diseases, pain, psychiatric disorders, cachexia, cancer, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, among many others” (3).
Not only that, but people can also be deficient in endocannabinoids. “A lack of endocannabinoid activity is thought to be present in many debilitating ailments such as fibromyalgia, migraine, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, chronic fatigue, IBS and more,” says Murray. “The medical term for this condition was termed ‘clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome’ (CEDS) by Ethan Russo, M.D. in 2003. Whether CEDS is the result of poor diet, lack of exercise, drug abuse, environmental toxins or genetic factors, endocannabinoid deficits are associated with a reduced ability or inability to adapt to chronic stress. Prolonged exposure to stress depletes endocannabinoid tone, and this, in turn, has an adverse impact on a plethora of physiological processes.”
The research into cannabis and the endocannabinoid system has even culminated in the development of pharmaceutical drugs. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wrote a report recommending UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals Plc’s Epidiolex for approval as a prescription medication (4). The high-dose CBD medication was designed for the treatment of two forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, in patients aged 2 or older. If approved, this would be the first approved drug derived from cannabis, whereas previously approved drugs utilized synthetic cannabinoids.
Of course, the products on your shelves are not designed to treat any major diseases, but this research and the development of drugs derived from cannabis demonstrate phytocannabinoids’, amazing potential. Having access to phytocannabinoids optimizes human health. Emerald Health CEO Jim Springer makes the comparison of natural product retailers selling phytocannabinoid products to selling omega-3 fish oil, and the important role natural practitioners and retailers played in that. “Despite the preponderance of scientific evidence behind the endocannabinoid system, the industry and the professionals that are going to raise awareness are health food stores and alternative/complementary practitioners,” he states. “If you go to omega-3 fatty acids back in the day, none of the dietitians or doctors knew about this stuff despite thousands of studies on omega-3s.”
As more retailers become involved in selling phytocannabinoid products, increasing demand among consumers and raising the profile of the category, more and more companies will hop on board to further legitimize phytocannabinoids. A great example is Barlean’s, based in Ferndale, WA, which only recently entered the phytocannabinoid space launching at Natural Product Expo West 2018. Events like this are significant because brands such as Barlean’s offer name recognition and trust among your customers and fellow retailers who may not yet have joined in on the action.
“They may have customers that are going to see the Barlean’s brand and be more comfortable looking at CBD now if they haven’t purchased CBD in the past,” says Ola Lessard, VP consumer marketing & communications for the firm. “Our goal is to bring a lot of education as well, so that will help with retailers that just haven’t jumped on it or didn’t know enough and I think for those guys, having a company like Barlean’s that they know and trust and carry, it will be a way to enter the space if they haven’t felt comfortable doing that already.”
Clearly, the space is growing and with that growth comes the responsibility to educate your customers about the ECS, phytocannabinoids and to understand where the products stand legally so that you can be a reliable, responsible and informed retailer.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Staff on Whole Foods Magazine
Published: May 21, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News