Inside of every person and on us, lives a huge population of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. Cumulative, microbiota includes as much cells as the human body and has encoded 100 times more genetic material than the human genome. Our gut alone hosts up to 1000 different types of bacteria. Scientific research show, that gut microbiome is healthier when cannabinoids are used.
With this knowledge science also discovered, that microbiome is key to human health and affects everything from our mood to our metabolism. Gut microbiome plays a huge part in health conditions. Disturbances of this system, also known as the gastrointestinal system or digestive tract, were connected to obesity, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and many other health issues.
Gut microbiome or microbiota are microorganisms including bacteria and archaea, that live in the digestive tract of vertebrates (including people) and insects. In humans, gut is the main location of microbiota. Gut microbiome has a wide effect, including the effects of colonization, pathogen resistance, maintaining the gut epithelium, digestion of dietary and pharmaceutical compounds, control over immune functions, and even on behavior, through the gut-brain axis.
Human gut is a diverse environment of microorganisms with a concentration of 1012 bacteria/ml, which means that microbiota with its genetic content beats the human genome by more than 100 times. These bacteria affect human health in multiple ways. They synthetize key vitamins, spread energy harvested from food, strengthen the gut barrier, and develop and regulate the immune system. When balanced they live in a symbiotic relationship with us and help with stimulation and regulation of the immune system, degradation of potentially toxic food, synthesis of important vitamins and amino acids, and strengthen the gut barrier. The gut barrier enables the absorption of nutrients and prevents the entry to pathogenic molecules and bacteria.
Gut microbiome also plays an important role in obesity development. People who are overweight show a decreased diversity of microorganisms in their gut. Unbalanced gut microbiome was also connected to mood swings, neurological conditions such as autism, anxiety, and depression. Healthy microbiome showed improvements in better brain development, cognition, behavior, and achieving balanced mental health.
How it all functions is still a subject of ongoing research. The main discoveries in this field were widely publicized in mainstream media in recent years. However, a very important part connected to human health and microbiome almost wasn’t mentioned (except in the science field). That is the role of the endocannabinoid system. Similarly, to gut microbiome and its bacteria, endocannabinoid system also builds and maintains human health. Its effects result through various systems and organs. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are spread through the entire body and also include the central and peripheral nervous system. You can read more about the endocannabinoid system here.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
The endocannabinoid system is a powerful body system, which helps with regulation of mood, emotions, pain, appetite, and stress response. It also includes cannabinoids, which are naturally made in our bodies (endocannabinoids), cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. It spreads through the brain, organs, connecting tissue, glands, immune cells, and gut. Endocannabinoid system plays a key part in maintaining gut microbiome balance and regulation of vital functions of the microbiome. Cannabinoid receptors in our gut help in regulating and supporting homeostasis, with functions such as movements through gut, digestion, inflammatory response, and even immune response.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Current theories suggest that endocannabinoid system serves as a bridge between bacteria and human body, including our brain, where it transports data both ways, in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. At least this is how it is supposed to be. However, chronic imbalances of gut microbiome (dysbiosis) can harm our physical and mental health.
In the most basic form, people and animals affect the life in our gut through our diets, including the consumption of so-called food with probiotics, which help with gut health. Living organisms in microbiome help with food degradation and enable better nutrient availability for our bodies. We offer them a living environment and they help us absorb nutrition from food in our digestive tract.
This is exceptional by itself. However, it is imperfect as well. Breakthrough research showed that we do not affect our gut microbiome only with physical activity and pharmaceutical products, but also with the use of cannabis. All through the path of the endocannabinoid system.
CANNABIS FOR GUT HEALTH
Gut microbiome and its interaction with the endocannabinoid system were first researched in 2010. A team from Belgium showed, that overweight mice change the endocannabinoid system expression in fat tissue, with the change of microbiome (with the use of probiotics, food, that helps with the growth of good bacteria). This also implies to lipid metabolism and creation of fat cells.
Even more evidence was found in 2015, when Canadian researchers used a daily THC routine on mice, which were on a high fat diet. Gut microbiome in these mice improved after 3-4 weeks and was much more similar to the animals that were on a healthy, balanced diet.
Few studies on cannabis and microbiome relationship were conducted on humans. In 2017 researchers found main differences between 19 lifetime users and 20 non-users of cannabis. Cannabis users had bacteria populations connected with higher calory input, however, a lower body mass index. Limitation of this research was the role of varied diets, that can have a large effect.
In 2018 researchers used the archived anal samples to assess the microbiome in HIV positive individuals. They found that the use of cannabis is connected to decreased levels of two types of bacteria, connected to obesity.
METABOLISM AND DIET
Scientists are still trying to understand the details. Evidence is piling up and point to the fact that the endocannabinoid system works directly and bidirectionally with gut bacteria. Consequently, it affects the activity and the outlook of microbiome and simultaneously helps with the transport of messages to the body and brain. Furthermore, gut health could be improved with the use of plant cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, as well as through internal body endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG). Its release is triggered already with consumption of certain food and exercise.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, medical cannabis expert claims, that unhealthy gut microorganisms can be harmful to the endocannabinoid system. A 2020 mice study concludes that gut microbiome dysbiosis pushes the endocannabinoid system out of balance and consequently triggers depressive behavior in mice.
A BREAKTROUGH STUDY
Just like the state of our microbiome is not only dependent on our diets, bacteria moving through our gut do not serve only for food degradation. They also help with epithelium barrier regulation, which is a critical protective layer of the long narrow “hose” interior, called the gut. This is partly done via endocannabinoid system interaction. Connected to a 2012 study, this is especially due to CB1 cannabinoid receptors.
Professor and researcher Keith Sharkey of University of Calgary claims, that the epithelium barrier plays an extremely important role in maintaining general health and protects us from disease. He has been studying the gut for decades and currently more detailed the microbiome and endocannabinoid system as well.
GUT IS THE KEY
Interaction between the endocannabinoid system and our microbiome is still a much unexplored territory. We would like to conclude with a statement of researcher Keith Sharkey:
“There are many unanswered questions left, which are exciting as their consequences have a great potential of importance to health. Daily I am noticing new facts in literature that connect gut and heart, gut and lungs, gut and kidneys. So I would not be surprised to see the role of endocannabinoid system in many of these connections. And we are just scratching the surface.”
G. D. C
21. 06. 2022