Full Spectrum CBD Oil: More Than the Sum of its Parts
FULL SPECTRUM CBD OIL: MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Not all CBD oils are the same. Some contain CBD alone, often extracted using toxic solvents. (Hazekamp 2018) Others, like ours, contain all the natural constituents of the hemp plant, extracted with non-toxic carbon dioxide.
The extraction method matters, not only because oils can hold onto and concentrate toxic solvents, but because a full spectrum CBD oil includes other natural compounds that work together with CBD to help balance the function of our nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. A “full spectrum” oil has a full spectrum of action throughout our bodies. The complex chemistry of plants mirrors our own, and there is evidence emerging that we respond well to this complexity.
People and Plants Are Not Machines
CBD is the molecule from hemp whose action we understand best, but it does not work alone. Research is beginning to show that full spectrum CBD oil may be more effective than those that contain CBD alone at reducing pain and inflammation. (Galily 2015) To begin to understand why, we need to take a step back and look at how science is coming to understand the intricate processes at play in our bodies.
Simple things are easy for science to understand, explain, and predict. If you drop a ball, gravity will pull it toward the center of the Earth, causing it to fall. Other factors do come into play – the speed and direction of the wind, the height and angle from which you drop the ball – but they are easy to factor in. You can come up with an equation that will reliably predict when and where the ball will fall.When we begin to look at more complex phenomena, like weather, simple models don’t work as well to explain what is happening. Edward Lorenz, who worked on early computer models of the atmosphere, discovered that very small changes in one part of a system could create very big changes in another part of the system. (1963) He would become famous for making the analogy that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world could create – or prevent – a tornado in a distant part of the planet. (Dizikies 2011)
Living things – plants, animals, humans, even viruses and bacteria – are incredibly complex systems. Biologists are discovering that complex living systems are self-organizing systems: they are constantly making minute adjustments to maintain balance. ( Buhner 2018, Kamal 2018, Kesić 2016)
In humans, a relatively recently discovered body system, the endocannabinoid system, helps to regulate that dynamic balance. (Hill 2010) A group of widely distributed receptors in the body, discovered because they respond to various compounds from the cannabis plant, respond to the influences of a wide variety of molecules. They act in concert, demonstrating an “entourage” effect, each changing making its own adjustments to the system. Chief among these molecules is anandamide, which has an overall calming effect on the body, but all the other molecules involved subtly shift anandamide’s impact. (Ben-Shabat 1998) The endocannabinoid system in turn influences our major communications systems – the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems – whose signals govern the function of every organ and tissue in the body. (Hill 2010)
What happens when that system is thrown out of balance? We experience anxiety, depression, inflammation, and pain. (Russo 2016) Given that ananadamide regulates the endocannabinoid system, in order to restore balance, we might look for a compound that regulates ananadamide. That is exactly what CBD does. (Russo 2008) Yet anandamide alone does not behave the same way that anandamide does when it is interacting with all the other chemicals that influence the endocannabinod system. (Ben-Shabat 1998) So, we need a more complex and elegant solution than a single outside compound can offer. This is where full spectrum CBD oils come in.
More Than The Sum of Its Parts
Just as old models of science view the world in terms of simple processes, conventional medicine has long approached health problems by trying to find a single molecule that will act on a single receptor site to have a predictable effect in the body. In complex systems, this tends to bring only short term change. Eventually, living systems, be they our bodies or the bacteria and viruses living in them, shift in ways that take into account the presence of the the new compound, and it loses its effectiveness. (Buhner 2018)
When studying the ways plants interact with our bodies, researchers often search for a single “active” constituent that can be isolated and used as a medicine with predictable results. In doing so, they often miss the much of the plant’s healing potential, which is the result not of any single compound, but of the plant’s entire chemistry interacting with a host of receptor sites throughout our bodies. Herbalist, Stephen Harrod Buhner, writes:
“Plants utilize a multi-component approach to disease treatment rather than monotherapy and there are good reasons for this. [ . . .] A crucial aspect of this is the importance of context – none of these constituents were developed by the plants in isolation.
They were generated while the plant was immersed in an ecological scenario to which it was interactively responding. The ‘active’ constituent is, in reality, the expression of a complicated chemical communication in which none of the other plant compounds are irrelevant.” (2018)
The suites of chemicals that plants generate to regulate their own biological processes have the potential to balance and modulate processes in human bodies too. They operate in subtle and complex ways, with very small concentrations of different compounds acting to increase the action of the “active” constituents in some places while damping it down in others to diminish side effects. (Buhner 2018, Kamal 2018, Yang 2014) Pharmacologists are just beginning to understand the complexity of how whole plant medicines influence us.
Cannabis – both in its unfertilized form, marijuana, and its fertilized form, hemp – has complex influences on our entire endocannabinoid system. The main difference between marijuana and hemp is that marijuana has a lot of THC, the compound mainly responsible for getting people high, and hemp has very little. Marijuana is anywhere from 7 – 30% THC. Hemp is less than 0.3% THC – not enough for even the most sensitive person to feel its effects. Yet even that little bit of THC in hemp interacts with the CBD and other compounds in the plant in complex ways that have outsized impacts. There are 120 cannabinoids and hundreds of other compounds in cannabis. ( Citti 2019) Mirroring and impacting the “entourage effect” of the endocannabinoids (Russo 2019), these compounds have a host of intricate synergistic responses to each other. (Kamal 2019)
THC and CBD are well relatively researched, but we are just beginning to understand most of the other constituents of cannabis. The results so far are encouraging and intriguing. For example, the monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes that give each strain of the plant its characteristic scent seem to work together with CBD and other compounds to help control inflammation. (Gallily 2018)
There have only been a few studies comparing full spectrum CBD oils to isolated CBD, but the results have been impressive. One study found that while isolated CBD hits a threshold where a higher dose will not increase its pain killing abilities, a full spectrum CBD oil never hits that kind of plateau, pain relief keeps increasing with dosage no matter how much you take in. (Gallily 2015) Another study found that children taking CBD for epilepsy could control their symptoms with a lower dose of a full spectrum CBD oil than the dose they needed of a CBD isolate, and that the CBD isolate was more likely to produce side effects such as sleepiness and digestive problems. (Pamplona 2018)
It will take science at least another generation to understand the complexity of the chemistry nature evolved in the cannabis plant and how our own bodies evolved to develop such powerful responses to that chemistry. Right now we can already observe that the whole is more than the sum of its parts without needing to know every interaction that occurs. We don’t need to understand all those intricacies to benefit from them though, if we trust nature’s genius to design our CBD oil.
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