What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD)?
To understand what endocannabinoid deficiency looks like, first, you need to have a grasp of how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) itself works. The ECS is a system of checks and balances present in the overwhelming majority of our cells and body systems. Its function is to preserve homeostasis, and it makes up many of the specific mechanisms which our bodies use to regulate themselves. When these mechanisms of the ECS falter or change, it can throw the entire system out of whack.
When you are driving, you check the speedometer to know how fast you are going. If you are going over the speed limit, then you apply the brake and slow down. First the speedometer lets you know that you are going too fast and then you hit the brake to slow down: notice the two distinct steps in that process.
Similarly, the ECS plays a secondary, behind-the-scenes role in many body systems like the speedometer does in a car: It’s difficult to observe the activity of the endocannabinoid system, because it is only evident by the activity of the cell or tissue in which it resides just like an outside observer is not able to read your speedometer but would notice your car slowing down.
Now imagine that your speedometer is broken. It reads that you are moving at 40 MPH: but in reality, your speed is 80 MPH. If the speed limit is 60 MPH, then a reasonable response to the malfunctioning speedometer would be to accelerate up to the speed limit. If this causes an accident, police, and insurance would likely assume you were being reckless and speeding - that the problem lies within you and nowhere else. In reality, you only disobeyed the speed limit because your speedometer did not serve its purpose.
This is the nature of endocannabinoid deficiency. The ECS governs the rate of thousands of different processes, and it has an array of different moving parts that allow it to function properly. Just one of the mechanisms of the ECS failing to work properly can cause an entire disease to present itself such as fibromyalgia.
In fibromyalgia, nerves become hyperactive and send pain signals to the brain as a response to stimuli that are not actually painful. Simple things like turning the page of a book or kneeling in bed become impossibly painful. This is partially a result of reduced endocannabinoid signaling between nerve cells, as though the “speedometer” has stopped working, or the nerve cells have lost the ability to react to it.
Because doctors have not been taught to check if the “cellular speedometer” needs repair, many conditions like fibromyalgia have not been met with effective treatments because their underlying cause is being completely overlooked.
The evidence is overwhelming that endocannabinoid deficiency is at least partially causal in the development of chronic diseases, from fibromyalgia to Alzheimer’s to arthritis, which remains unexplained and largely untreated by modern medicine.
Homeostasis and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system is a vast signaling network that permits feedback circuits between cells and tissues. Cannabinoid receptors are inhibitory in nature meaning their activation decreases the activity of the cell in which they reside. The various endocannabinoids have differing levels of efficacy in activating cannabinoid receptors, so the precise mixture of endocannabinoids being released allows for the circuit to become finely tuned.
Endocannabinoid tone refers to the constant, low-level release of endocannabinoids that produces a consistent level of inhibition in order to keep cellular activity within the healthy range of homeostasis for that cell’s given function. In recent years, biologists have learned that the endocannabinoid system determines the baseline activity for a vast number of our cellular systems.
When your endocannabinoid tone changes, the activity of the systems under its control will also change. However, if you and your doctors are not aware that your endocannabinoid system has become altered, then the resulting condition will appear to have no specific cause.
What Does “Idiopathic” Mean?
A condition is considered idiopathic when doctors cannot determine its specific root cause. Because an idiopathic disorder has no known cause, we generally are unable to effectively treat it because we do not really know what is wrong. The three best examples out of the hundreds of common idiopathic conditions are migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
All three of these conditions involve hypersensitivity (to light, touch, certain foods, certain activities etc.), increased rates of comorbidity (one condition most likely presents along with or as a result of another condition), and mood disorders like anxiety/depression (these conditions have often been viewed as psychosomatic resulting from psychological origin).
Sensory hypersensitivity, the presence of more than one condition, and mood disorders are commonly observed in varying ratios with hundreds of different conditions for which there is no known cause or cure. Migraines, fibromyalgia, and IBS simply make a good model set of conditions to demonstrate these characteristics. This is incredibly useful information because all three of these disease processes are highly controlled by the endocannabinoid system.
It makes sense then that the vast majority of doctors are not likely to even consider the endocannabinoid system as a potential origin of a disease. It also makes (less) sense that they would become frustrated to the point of implicating psychological “operator error” as having a causal relationship with conditions of this nature.
As more research is completed, it is becoming apparent that the endocannabinoid system is entrenched in the origin of not hundreds, but thousands of unique disease states that until now have eluded researchers and medical professionals. Hopefully, this research will make the word “idiopathic” obsolete within the next decade, and in so doing will improve the lives of millions of people living with conditions that magically appeared out of nowhere to cause detriment and tribulation with impunity. We just have to look in the right places.