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The Endocannabinoid System in Pets ..

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The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) functions the same way in people as it does in dogs, cats and other animals. As a matter of fact, ALL mammals have an Endocannabinoid System. This includes horses, rabbits, monkeys, dolphins and elephants to name a few. A large amount of research is currently being undertaken around the world to find out how exactly the ECS might be utilized in the treatment of different chronic diseases.

In Dogs and Cats Explained

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) (see: What is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work? A beginner’s guide, republished with permission from Sensi Seeds) functions the same way in huumans as it does in dogs, cats and other animals. As a matter of fact, science tell us that ALL mammals have an Endocannabinoid System. This includes horses, rabbits, monkeys, dolphins and elephants to name a few. A large amount of research is currently being undertaken to find out how exactly the endocannabinoid system might be utilized in the treatment of different chronic diseases.

The endocannabinoid system in cats and dogs is part of what maintains the natural balance in the body and it is usually stimulated by endocannabinoids which are produced by the body. However, the endocannabinoid system can also be stimulated by external cannabinoids, including Cannabidiol (CBD) – the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis sativa.

The reason cannabis can treat so many different conditions is that the endocannabinoid system is spread throughout the body and responsible for the correct functioning of so many different parts and aspects of it.

Scientists understand the basic functioning of the endocannabinoid system, but researchers are uncovering more new exciting therapeutic uses of the system daily.

What Are Cannabinoid Receptors?

Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of cells and they monitor the conditions outside of the cell. They transmit what they detect to the inside of the cell and that triggers the appropriate cellular response.

There are several types of cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system in cats and dogs, but the two major ones are known as CB1 and CB2.

CB1 Cannabinoid Receptors

CB1 receptors are found throughout the body but are more concentrated in the spinal cord and the brain than anywhere else. CB1 receptors in the brain are found in the regions of the brain that control certain behaviours. For example, CB1 receptors have been found in the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for regulating appetite. There are also CB1 receptors in the region of the brain that is related to emotions and memory, which is called the amygdala. CB1 receptors that are believed to able to control pain have also been identified in the nerve endings.

Benefits of activating the CB1 receptor include:

  • Relieving depression ​1​ ;
  • Increasing myelin formation ​2​ ;
  • Decreasing intestinal permeability (Leaky Gut Syndrome) ​3​ ;
  • Lowering blood pressure ​4​ ;
  • Lowering anxiety ​5​ ;
  • Reducing fear and paranoia ​5​ ;
  • Increasing BDNF (Wikipedia) levels ​5​
  • Increasing PPARy (Wikipedia) expression ​6​ ;
  • Reducing GPR55 (Wikipedia) signalling ​7​ ;
  • Lowering prolactin ​8​ ;

While these are desirable effects for most people, CB1 receptor activation does not come without risks. These risks include:

  • Lowered thyroid hormones​9​ (PDF);
  • Reduced ability of the circadian timekeeper (SCN) (Wikipedia) to entrain to daylight ​10​ ;
  • Decreased cognitive function (through decreasing acetylcholine, LTP, cAMP, and glutamate) ​11​ ;
  • Increased anxiety for an individual going through alcohol withdrawal ​5​ ;
  • Constipation ​12​;
  • Increased liver fat ​13​ ;
  • Increased food intake ​14​ ;
  • Less burning of fat for energy ​15​ ;
  • Neurological symptoms such as depersonalization, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and impairments in attention and memory ​16​ ;

Please note that these are most often side effects associated with chronic consumption of a potent CB1 receptor agonist such as THC, and not with a non-psychoactive substance such as CBD.

CB2 Cannabinoid Receptors

CB2 receptors are found mainly in the nervous system and in the immune system. The activation of CB2 receptors has been shown to regulate inflammation, a property that is believed to be responsible for many of the known therapeutic effects of CBD.

CB2 receptors occur most commonly in the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and immune cells such as mast cells, monocytes, macrophages, B and T cells, and microglia; only a small number exist in the brain.

Changes in CB2 receptor function is synonymous with virtually every type of huuman disease; be it cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, and autoimmune. It even plays a role in liver and kidney function, bone and skin health, cancer, and even pain-related illnesses ​17​ .

How Do Cannabinoids Work with My Pets Endocannabinoid System?

Cannabinoids are compounds that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. There have been 113 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plant to date. The two most abundant cannabinoids are THC and CBD.

Endocannabinoids are molecules that are produced naturally within the body. It is these molecules that bind with the cannabinoid receptors and activate them. The body only creates endocannabinoids and when they are needed.

When introduced into the body, plant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD stimulate the cannabinoid receptors in the same way as the body’s own endocannabinoids do. This in turn triggers some of the same reactions such as reducing inflammation, blocking pain, slowing cell growth and relieving muscle spasms.

Different Functions of the Endocannabinoid System

We still don’t know the full extent of how the endocannabinoid system works in regulating certain functions of the body. The system has been recognized for playing an important role in modulating the brain, the immune system and the endocrine system.

It’s now believed that the endocannabinoid system in cats and dogs also influences activity in the gastrointestinal tract and affects the areas of the central nervous system that are responsible for appetite. The ECS also appears to play an important role in the regulating hormones that are related to the body’s response to stress and to the reproductive system.

Science now theorize that the primary function of the endocannabinoid system is to control a vital function of the body that is known as homeostasis, which is the maintenance of the stable internal conditions that all living things need to survive. If that is true, then the endocannabinoid system plays a huge and vital role in regulating many bodily functions in our pets.

The endocannabinoid system is there to respond to stimulation by the body’s own endocannabinoids, but the cannabinoid receptors can also be stimulated by cannabinoids from external sources, including cannabidiol (CBD). Initial research of the benefits of medicinal cannabis was focused on the psychoactive cannabinoid THC which binds to the CBD1 receptors triggering activity. Subsequent research has shown that the non-psychoactive CBD stimulates activity in both CB1 and CB2 receptors by triggering the release of the body’s natural endocannabinoids. This increases the effect throughout the entire body. Research by the National Institutes of Health has shown that CBD can slow the natural breakdown of endocannabinoids which acts to prolong the therapeutic effect.

CBD can also have beneficial effects outside of the endocannabinoid system that would indicate that it could be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions. According to recent studies CBD can inhibit a gene that is known to be responsible for certain types cancers. It has also been discovered that CBD can bind to the receptor that is responsible for controlling pain and inflammation.

Medical research into the effects of CBD is still ongoing, but the list of diseases that it could provide a treatment for is continually growing. As well as being used to treat inflammation, reduce pain and treat gastrointestinal disorders, research is being carried out into the possible use of CBD to treat heart disease, mood disorders, diabetes, asthma, glaucoma, stroke and much more.

And What About our Masters?

Despite a mounting body of evidence on the positive effects and potential applications of CBD in dogs, the field of cannabis-related medical research is still new as you would have surmised by now. Mainstream parties are finally accepting that a previously demonised substance actually poses a wide range of therapeutic applications. As such, there are few in vivo studies of CBD on cats; however, there is a wealth of anecdotal and preliminary reports that support its therapeutic action.

Among the conditions CBD can help alleviate in cats are:

  • Aggression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Lack of energy
  • Inflammation
  • Infections

There are also more serious health conditions where cat owners have reported seeing good results when administering CBD oils. These include common feline diseases such as arthritis, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma, which are conditions where inflammation is often the root cause. CBD is largely known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, helping to fight both the root causes and symptoms of various conditions.

Among huumans, CBD is used for treating seizures, such as those experienced by patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. There is evidence that CBD is also effective for reducing seizures in cats.

Articles and Videos

Research, notes, references and publications on this topic is expanding daily. We list a few selected sources for your explorations into the realm of the natural

  • The Endocannabinoid System (WikiPedia);
  • The Endocannabinoid System (Project CBD);
  • Beginners Guide to the Endocannabinoid Systems (Leaf Science);
  • The Endocannabinoid Systems – An Overview (Medical Marijuana);
  • What is the Endocannabinoid Systems and What is Its Role? (Leafly);
  • What do dogs, cats and humans have in common with Cannabis? (Healing Without the High);
  • The role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of endocrine function and in the control of energy balance in humans. (PubMed) ;
  • How Does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid Systems? (CBD Oil Review);
  • Spatial distribution of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) in normal canine central and peripheral nervous system. (PLoS ONE Open Access Research);
  • The use of cannabinoids in animal and therapeutic implications for veterinary medicine: a review (VetMed);
  • Is CBD Safe for Dogs? (Journal of the American Medical Association);
  • The endocannabinoid system in canine Steroid-Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis and Intraspinal Spirocercosis (PubMed);

The Endocannabinoid System

Visualization of the endocannabinoid signaling system

References and Research

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    Gomez O, Sanchez-Rodriguez A, Le M, Sanchez-Caro C, Molina-Holgado F, Molina-Holgado E. Cannabinoid receptor agonists modulate oligodendrocyte differentiation by activating PI3K/Akt and the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1520-1532. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01414.x
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