The Full Spectrum - Cannabinoids and Our Human Experience
We’ve avoided talking about CBD much online. Not because we’re not interested in it or even that we’re unaware of its benefits - quite the opposite we’ve been sticking our toe in the water with the fascinating compounds that emerge from the hemp plant since we first stocked frozen hemp juice from a progressive grower in Monaghan nearly 10 years ago. But the public perception of what it means for a store to sell let alone recommend or educate its community regarding the consumption of ANY FORM of hemp related things...we just felt icky and self conscious about it. Judging ourselves before allowing others to judge us. Not a logical move perhaps, but in these uncertain times…
Even now, with CBD products littering the high street, most of them straddle an uncomfortable legal fence, with the EU ruling that all hemp products containing CBD be subject to the Novel Foods Directive - an archane and frankly racist bit of legislation that prevents any food that hasn’t been sold in the EU for the past 30 years consistently step through so many legal hoops that an Olympic gymnast would be proud, and such an athlete certainly wouldn’t be able to afford the VAST sums of money involved in vaulting through said hoops. But then who listens to the EU any more eh? Well, Ireland does, but we also don’t want to kill vibrant trade, so in some fairly arbitrary moves, An Garda Siochana called to and shut down some of the shadier operations selling CBD products last year. Funny cos we all felt pretty good about some of the shops being targeted - they looked like ‘legal high’ stores, and that’s not what we see ourselves as in the Healthfood trade - but does the government agree…? Honestly we’re still waiting to find out.
Back to the point at hand though. The rich bounty of uses that the hemp plant has given mankind over the centuries is VAST, indeed. Human cultures have for millenia been lucky enough to have the magic of the hemp plant assisting in the most important parts of societal development - from building houses using the stalk fibres to insulate walls and bring warmth to homes in europe in medieval times, to providing lamp fuel for the early “pioneers” in the west in America, to making heavy cord ropes that enabled all sorts of industrial advances - even the American Constitution was drafted on hemp paper. The narrowing of the window of uses for hemp is a recent thing, nearly in living memory, and its reputation as the ultimate icon for cultural and counter culture movements are monkeys on its back that import invisible weight into the room whenever we try to have a conversation about its usefulness as a plant medicine.
It was only in the 70’s that researchers in Israel first made the discovery of these “cannabinoid receptors” - little sockets that fitted with the metabolites of cannabis, and this drove the hunt for a cannabinoid that the body produced. Because, much as with our opiate receptor system (that was discovered to bind with endorphins our body produces in response to stress, exercise, food and sex) researchers found it hard to accept that humans synthesised a receptor system for a substance that we didn’t produce. And bingo they found it! The very first “endocannabinoid” (endo standing for endogenous) they found was Anandamide - it seemed to have tissue relaxant effect in the pig and mouse tissues that they exposed it to. Hence the name coming from the sanskrit, ‘ananda’, meaning bliss. Although exerting a comparable effect to cannabis on the brain, anandamide was found to be broken down much faster in our system leading to a very short-lived ‘high’. Anandamide has since been found to be a key component found in cocoa, which combined with its activity on the opioid receptors and theobromine content which has a stimulant effect on the brain to caffeine without the jitters….well it’s just surprising the authorities haven’t come for our chocolate stash...yet 😳
All that said the endocannabinoid system remains a VERY undiscovered country. With the early results in the 1970’s demonstrating profound anti-convulsive effects from consumption of CBD by epileptics, cannabis was beginning to be the recipient of some serious medical attention just as the war on drugs began to start in ernest, and so most laboratories, scared of the consequences both personally and professionally, simply shut down their research. But lately the tides has turned in a big way. So much so that in 2018, the very first approval was granted by the FDA for a ‘plant-based’ medicine known as Epidiolex
And the tendrils of research into the myriad effects of the various constituents of the hemp plant have spread out to encompass a wide range of applications from athletic performance, to pain relief and even, yes wait for it, anti-COVID potential. Surface cleaners are on the market folks that are laced with cannabis...who’d have thunk it. But for now they have yet to hit our shelves. Watch this space.
For now it’s all about the inside body benefits. And there are SO many to choose from. When we started stocking CBD we were SO cautious (and still are) of brands that came in with those awful leaflets that pushed their product as the panacea the world had forgotten about. Not the cheapest panacea either. At between €30 and €250 per bottle we felt like apologising to the floods of elderly folk, sold on the promise of a better night’s sleep, as they innocently asked for the strongest one we had...we talked to them about hydration, about magnesium, about lemon balm, about valerian if it was the right thing...many many things came before we went to the wee bottles of CBD.
And when we had to explain why we weren’t just ruthlessly selling them the priciest plant medicines from the top shelves, we explained to them what we understand of the endocannabinoid receptor system - in its form and function it is a notoriously vague and wanderly wagon. We like to think of it as the dirt track that runs parallel to the motorway that is our central and peripheral nervous system - with receptor sites on most cells in most types of tissues in our body that, when triggered, produce profound changes at a cellular level, regulating inflammation, managing immune response, enhancing or damping cellular metabolism...but the kicker is that just like that dirt road that you can’t follow on google maps, the endocannabinoid system is unpredictable in its triggers and responses. For one human, their disrupted sleep pattern settles to a flawless rhythm on night one with a small dose, whereas for their neighbour, all they can do is listen to the snoring through the walls as for nights on end CBD does SFA to their damaged sleep patterns.
Personally I have a long history with hemp, and honestly with cannabis. Suffice to say that my early 20’s are a blur and I truly regret not understanding the plant I was playing with more than I did. Plants are powerful teachers. And when CBD came back into my life it was in a vastly different form. I was never closed to its opportunities, and I started trying the samples as they came, having remarkably far ranging effects from brand to brand. And as I looked deeper I found that this notion of CBD as the thing in the bottle that we’re paying for, is quite the misnomer...
CBD is just one of a host of cannabinoids that come all packaged up in the ‘CBD’ oils that we sell. CBDV, CBG, CBC, CBCV...it’s a long list. Well there’s about 8 that have been discovered. So far….and we may only be at the tip of the iceberg. That’s one of my issues with “modern” science - it gets so arrogant, proclaiming current knowledge as if we’ve learnt all there is to know - when the fact is that there are thought to be up to 200 actives within the hemp plant of which we measure around 10. More exciting still, the whole range of active compounds that we refer to as ‘terpenes’ may be as if not more relevant from a health promotion standpoint than the cannabinoids are in themselves!!
Terpenes like beta-caryophyllene are really fascinating, providing dramatic reductions in neuronal inflammation in studies - one of the reasons the NFL has sponsored some major studies into the potential applications for CBD in their athletes. The NFL has some rather hefty outstanding lawsuits for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) which means they have to start looking after the brains of their players just to save themselves money...but whatever the motivation, it looks like this practice can and will really save lives.
So for us when we look at a CBD oil, we’re really as much if not more interested in these terpene compounds - not just “how much CBD did they squeeze into the tiny bottle”, it’s the spectrum of the active compounds we’re interested in. Is it BALANCED, just like in nature? Or is it going down the super reductive pharmaceutical route, that seeks to maximally concentrate the active compound that has had the most study research, in essence trying to ‘beat’ nature at its own game. Interestingly, most progressive hemp oil extractors are now talking about the spectrum, the CBG, the terpenes - and it’s encouraging to see an industry move in an organic direction, towards and with nature, not away from and against it.