As a gym-goer and scientific writer, I’m always circumspect of nutritional supplements or medications that claim to be a panacea or that they will help you pack on ten pounds of solid muscle in two weeks. 

However,

if you look at the claims behind medical marijuana and the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis, there is no shortage of evidence to support them. [1]

Truthfully, if I had to pick two of the most booming niches in “natural” medicine right now, it would be keto and cannabis.

In fact, at the time of this writing (November 2018), a search on PubMed for scientific journal articles published in the past two decades and containing the word “cannabis” produced over 8,600 results; when you add the term “cannabinoid,” that number shoots up to over 21,000 articles!

(Interestingly, the number drops to 367 if you search for “cannabis ketosis”.)

In other words:

On average for the last 20 years, nearly three scientific papers relating to cannabis and cannabinoids have been published every single day!

Seems pretty amazing, right?

When you consider all the different conditions that cannabis is suggested to treat, it’s actually not that crazy to think that scientists and research institutions are actively researching this potent plant.

Unfortunately, the skepticism among mainstream consumers and society as a whole remains high when it comes to the potential benefits of cannabis-related products, like CBD oil.

How can one plant species have so many positive impacts on human health and longevity, with seemingly no harmful side effects? 

As scientists dig for the answers to these questions, they discovered an unknown physiological system that appears to be the core unit of the healing, health, and longevity of every human (and almost every animal, even tiny nematodes):

  • the ECS (endocannabinoid system)

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The ECS, short for endogenous cannabinoid system, is appropriately named after the cannabis plant that ultimately led to its discovery. The ECS is ostensibly the most essential physiological system for the foundation and maintenance of human well-being.

The substances that interact with the ECS are known as cannabinoids and come in two varieties:

  • endocannabinoids
  • phytocannabinoids

For example,

cannabidiol (CBD) is an intensively researched and promising phytocannabinoid derived from cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is another one of the 113+ phytocannabinoids found in cannabis.

On the contrary,

your body naturally produces cannabinoids, which are endocannabinoids (short for endogenous cannabinoids). The two most researched of these substances are 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide. [2]

These endocannabinoids are made as necessary from arachidonic acid derivatives in cell membranes, producing a local effect before enzymes break them down.

What makes the ECS so integral to human health is that serves as an interface with many other bodily systems. Endocannabinoids receptors are present in vital organs, the brain, glands, connective tissue, and even immune cells.

Within each part of the body, the ECS works to accomplish one specific goal:

  • Homeostasis

The Endocannabinoid System for Homeostasis

If you recall from grade-school biology class, homeostasis is how your body maintains fixed internal conditions when faced with external changes. The simplest example of this your body sweating when it’s hot outside. Your body naturally stays around 98 degrees Fahrenheit internally and sweat is how it dissipates heat to keep you cool.

The ECS promotes homeostasis at every level of life, from the subcellular level to the organismal level (and likely even at the community level by influencing our relationship with the external environment).

Here’s one example:

When you experience an injury, like an ankle sprain, cannabinoids work to reduce the secretion of chemical activators from tissue surrounding your ankle, thereby stabilizing your neurons and inhibiting excessive firing; this then calms proximal immune cells to block the release of inflammatory signaling molecules.

That’s three distinct mechanisms of action across three distinct types of cells for one purpose: attenuate your pain and alleviate the structural damage induced by the ankle sprain.  

The ECS, with its intricate actions throughout your nervous system, immune system, and virtually every organ, is the bona fide intersection of your mind and body.

What Are Cannabinoid Receptors?

Researchers have characterized two distinct cannabinoid receptors:

CB1 receptors are primarily found throughout the nervous system, organs, gonads, and connective tissue; CB2 receptors are primarily found throughout the immune system and its associated components.

Moreover, many tissues have both cannabinoid receptors, all with their own unique actions. Scientists postulate that we have a third cannabinoid receptor, but this remains to be elucidated.

It’s important to note that the feelings of euphoria (or the “high”) you may experience after consuming THC arises via activation of CB1 receptors.

CBD, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid as it binds primarily with CB2 receptors and has a much lower binding potential for CB1 receptors.

In many ways, this makes CBD the most practical and safe cannabinoid in cannabis since it doesn’t alter your state of consciousness. 

What Are the Evidence-Based Benefits of CBD?

Clinical and preclinical research (both cell culture and animal studies) has discovered a multitude of potential therapeutic health benefits from using CBD, including [4]

  • Anti-inflammation and free radical scavenging 
  • Neuroprotection/neurogenesis
  • Antiepileptic properties
  • Fight pain (analgesic properties)
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance learning and memory

And these are just the benefits of CBD that we are aware of!

Naturally, this makes one wonder if there is potential for synergy between CBD oil and ketosis since they both seem to have similar benefits? If you haven’t read up on the benefits of the keto diet, be sure to check out: How to Use the Keto Diet for Weight Loss – The Complete Guide

CBD Oil and Ketosis: A Synergistic Healing Connection?

The available literature on CBD oil and ketosis is quite small, but there this doesn’t mean the two don’t have a synergistic potential.

For starters,

research suggests that consuming fat in conjunction with oral CBD helps improve the bioavailability.[5]

Both CBD and THC in cannabis actually have quite low bioavailability, right around 20% even when they are smoked (which tends to produce higher bioavailability than oral ingestion).

Normally, CBD is about 10-12% bioavailable when taken orally; consuming it with sesame oil (a fat source) increases it to 15-20%.

While smoking CBD does enhance the bioavailability, the negative effects of cannabinoid smoke are essentially offset by the benefits. As such, your best bet is finding CBD oil or CBD edibles (for keto, be sure to make sure any edibles are low enough in carbs).

Some CBD/keto advocates have even gone so far as to make CBD fat bombs, which is quite a creative idea; one that never crossed my mind until doing some reading about the possible connection between CBD oil and ketosis.

Another thing to consider is that CBD and THC are lipophilic and they readily bind to fats, which can prolong their effects in the body. Hence, CBD oil and keto seems like a natural pairing, as it’s possible that the high fat intake would slow the rate of absorption of CBD and lead to a longer lasting effect.

Unfortunately, there is essentially no research available at the time of this writing that specifically targets CBD oil and ketosis. Nevertheless, CBD oil and keto is a niche topic of interest with a variety of anecdotes found across Internet forums.

People who actively consume CBD oil on keto generally report positive effects and claim it has improved their well-being. As always, we need to approach individual experiences with some skepticism since it doesn’t necessarily tell us the underlying truth about CBD oil and ketosis.

The good news is that cannabidiol is undoubtedly beneficial for a myriad of health aspects; even if you don’t follow the keto diet, CBD oil is a beneficial supplement to look into (and it’s now legal in all 50 U.S. states, unlike marijuana).

The Connection between the ECS, Cannabis, Keto and Your Well-being

The scientific and clinical research behind cannabis and the ECS continues to grow, and one thing remains patently clear: a properly functioning ECS is the basis of good health and longevity.

From the time of your conception to nursing and maturation, to fighting off pathogens and healing wounds, the ECS helps you adapt and survive in the fast-paced and ever-changing world we live in.

Moreover, research demonstrates that even nominal doses of CBD from cannabis actually stimulate your body to produce additional endocannabinoids and construct more cannabinoid receptors.

Hence, many newbie CBD users don’t notice much benefit, but by their third or fourth dose they have more cannabinoid receptors and respond more intensely.

Naturally, the best strategy is to use modest, routine doses of CBD to stimulate your ECS and its restorative properties.

If you follow the keto diet, using CBD oil in conjunction with fatty foods may prolong and enhance the effects. (Remember, this is just a supposition until more research is conducted on the topic of CBD oil and ketosis.)

Having this rudimentary understanding of the ECS and how phytocannabinoids interact with it is only scratching the surface of the complex and intricate physiological underpinnings that govern the benefits of CBD in humans.

Rest assured, clinical trials and research in the coming years will help us better understand just how important CBD and the ECS are for our well-being, and whether or not they form any synergy with the keto diet.

References

[1] Russo, E., Mathre, M. L., Byrne, A., Velin, R., Bach, P. J., Sanchez-Ramos, J., & Kirlin, K. A. (2002). Chronic cannabis use in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program: An examination of benefits and adverse effects of legal clinical cannabisJournal of Cannabis Therapeutics2(1), 3-57.
[2] Di Marzo, V., Bifulco, M., & De Petrocellis, L. (2004). The endocannabinoid system and its therapeutic exploitation. Nature reviews Drug discovery, 3(9), 771.
[3] Piomelli, D. (2003). The molecular logic of endocannabinoid signaling. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4(11), 873.
[4] Baker, D., Pryce, G., Giovannoni, G., & Thompson, A. J. (2003). The therapeutic potential of cannabisThe Lancet Neurology2(5), 291-298.
[5] Sharma, P., Murthy, P., & Bharath, M. S. (2012). Chemistry, metabolism, and toxicology of cannabis: clinical implicationsIranian journal of psychiatry7(4), 149.

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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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