‘Inflammaging,’ the Endocannabinoid System, and How CBD May Help

Article originally published on Leafly.com

As we age, our cells’ ability to communicate with each other becomes impaired. Thus, the ability of the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system to respond to problems and stay healthy can become compromised. In susceptible individuals, this can lead to chronic and debilitating diseases of the brain and nervous system. Today we’ll examine how cannabinoids such as CBD may promote wellness against inflammatory aging, or “inflammaging.”

What Is Inflammaging?

Inflammaging is the accumulation of low-grade inflammation throughout certain parts of the body. For example, it has been demonstrated that compared to their younger counterparts, older individuals have increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (non-antibody proteins secreted by cells) that promote systemic inflammation within the body.

In response, the body activates a system to increase cortisol (an anti-inflammatory hormone). The problem, though, is that a continuous activation of these systems can lead to blood sugar imbalance and diabetes, immune system suppression, weight gain and obesity, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and even fertility problems. Moreover, although you’d expect that an immune system continuously operating on a higher level would be more effective, it’s actually detrimental. Instead, the low-grade continuous activation actually hinders the immune system’s ability to respond effectively to injuries or infection.

The Endocannabinoid System and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Enter the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its overriding purpose is to regulate physiological functions and restore homeostasis (or a steady state) in cells and organs. Some of the most powerful evidence we have linking ECS to overall health comes from studies where scientists have blocked the two major endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes (fatty acid amide hydrolase [FAAH] and monoacylglycerol lipase [MAGL]). In a series of elegant studies, genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of FAAH and/or MAGL led to decreases in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, lower amyloid-beta levels (implicated in Parkinson’s), and improvements in long-term synaptic plasticity (the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time in response to increases or decreases in their activity), spatial learning, and memory. Clear and predictable symptomatic relief from spasticity has also been also been noted in patients with multiple sclerosis.

CBD (cannabidiol), the cannabinoid devoid of psychotoxic effects, has attracted the interest of many neuroscientists because it may beneficially mitigate neurodegenerative pathways—a direct link to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. One of the mechanisms could involve selective activation of the nuclear receptor known as PPAR-gamma. In fact, recent studies in nerve cells have demonstrated that CBD increased the clearance rate of some amyloid precursor proteins (APP), which is known to form aggregates of amyloid beta in the brain as the basis of Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, old proteins that would normally be disposed of and recycled can build up and cause cellular dysfunction. Also, some of these studies in both cells and animal models have shown that these neurons increased their survival rates by restoring the delicate balance and homeostasis of which proteins get “tagged” as being damaged for further remodeling and repair. (Think of it as worn out tires or brake pads in your car that need replacing after certain amount of wear, or the wild bushes in your garden that need pruning from time to time.)

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