Gut Health and CBD: The Microbiome Cannabinoid Connection

Have you ever had a 'gut feeling' about something? How about butterflies in your stomach? If so, then you've had direct experience with the power of your microbiome.

Human beings possess over 100 trillion microbes - outnumbering our human cells ten to one.

Collectively, these microbes have as much as 200 times more genetic code than our own DNA. All in all, these flora may weigh up to five pounds! In other words, our microbiome (the total of all microbes in/on our bodies) is unbelievably vital for our health and well-being.

 

Genetics of bacteria in the microbiome

 

Although people often refer to this collection of 'good and bad' bacteria as the 'second brain,' some say it is so crucial that it is the first brain.

Scientists are now discovering exciting new connections between cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) and these bacteria - some even call cannabinoids the bridge between the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and our microbiome.

Studies show the microbes influence endocannabinoid levels through a variety of mechanisms, such as affecting the enzymes responsible for endocannabinoid metabolism (i.e. FAAH), or altering levels of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).

CBD, THC, and Gut Health

CBD derives many of its therapeutic benefits from indirect activity at the CB1 receptor (increasing its ability to receive molecules like anandamide). Activation of the CB1 receptor by endogenous cannabinoids improves nutrient absorption, reduces excess stomach acid and queasiness, and can stimulate the appetite.

Among other locations in the body, CB1 receptors are found on submucosal and myenteric neurons (neurons that grow in the intestines) - showing that CBD and other cannabinoids affect intestinal motility (the movement of the digestive system and its contents).

In a study of rats fed a high-fat diet, either with or without THC, the rats on the high-fat plus THC diet did not experience weight gain (the rats with no THC gained significant weight).

Researchers found that THC seemed to increase the presence of Akkermansia municiphila, a bacterial strain that enhances fat and glucose metabolism.

Scientists theorize that cannabinoids enhance microbial diversity - although currently, they are not sure exactly how.

The Many Roles of the Microbiome for Health

The strong likelihood that cannabinoids like CBD increase the balance of good bacteria has far-reaching implications for our health. Our gut flora is responsible for digesting food and extracting the nutrients contained therein.

Additionally, these little critters are central in generating immunity, as well as synthesizing various vitamins and neurotransmitters, such as

  • B vitamins (energy, metabolism, detoxification)
  • Vitamin K (bone and heart health)
  • Serotonin (mood, appetite, memory, libido, emotion, social behavior)
  • Dopamine (motivation, pleasure, motor functions)
  • Norepinephrine (blood flow, heart rate, 'fight-or-flight' response)
  • GABA (a primary calming neurotransmitter)
  • Short-chain fatty acids (such as butyrate - great for overall gut health)

What's more, the health of our microbiome has a direct correlation with the production of various hormones such as melatonin (serotonin is the building block of melatonin, and the gut makes 90% of our serotonin!), and estrogen - as well as stress and thyroid hormones (cortisol, T3/T4).

Microbes in the Mouth

You may think of bacteria in your mouth as an unwanted scenario, but our mouths contain, on average, up to 300 strains of bacteria at any given time. Systemic illness often has its roots in oral health, as an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in our mouths can penetrate the bloodstream and spread to every corner of the body.

If CBD and other cannabinoids can contribute to healthy bacteria balance in the gut, it stands to reason that they may have the same effect on oral health. CBD is potentially a game-changer for many people who struggle with cavities and other dental problems - this is probably why Colgate is acquiring a new brand of CBD toothpaste.

 

Taking CBD for oral health



Researchers investigated the difference in bacterial populations between those with or without cavities, leading to the discovery of a potent oral bacteria dubbed A12. A12 promotes oral health in several ways, such as:

  • Producing hydrogen peroxide that kills plaque/halitosis causing germs (primarily Streptococcus mutans, a strain that metabolizes sugars into damaging lactic acid)
  • Generating ammonia (pH 11) that alkalizes the mouth and neutralizes enamel-destroying acids
  • Disrupting biofilms of harmful germs (biofilms are necessary for bacteria to survive, grow, and communicate)

Additionally, healthy oral bacteria stimulate saliva production (sweeping away food particles and sugars), as well as enzyme synthesis to aid in the breakdown of food. Scientists expect targeted oral probiotics for dental health to become wide-spread in the coming years.

The Gut-Brain Axis

 

CBD and the Gut Brain Axis

 

Experts agree that the microbiome affects both cognitive and emotional behavior. While the exact mechanism for this connection is not clearly understood, many theorize the vagus nerve is responsible. Vagus means ‘wanderer’ in Latin, as it is the longest nerve in the body, bringing information from the gut and inner organs to the brain.

This could mean that taking CBD impacts cognition and emotions directly by altering endocannabinoid levels, but also has indirect activity by stimulating a better balance of internal bacteria.

Scientists gave rats the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus and observed positive changes to their GABA receptors, as well as a reduction in stress hormones and anxious behavior.

When they removed the vagus nerve from the rats and conducted the same experiment, the probiotic failed to cause any effect - indicating the vagus nerve is indeed the means with which bacteria affect the mind.

Jeroen Raes, a microbiologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, collected a group of over 1,000 people who had been assessed as having a 'normal' microbiome. Of these, 173 had been diagnosed with 'poor quality of life.'

What he found was that when compared to the rest of the group, these unhappy individuals were missing two key microbes - Coprococcus and Dialister. Delving deeper, they discovered that Coprococcus has a marked connection to dopamine production - a vital neurotransmitter often implicated in clinical cases of the blues.

In the future, experts expect to see a surge in the use of ‘psychobiotics,’ which are beneficial bacteria targeted to treat psychological disturbances.

The Problem with Antibiotics and Antibacterial Everything

Unfortunately, we live in a germaphobic society, and many people are under the false impression that using things like antibacterial soaps or hand sanitizing gels, sprays, and wipes eliminates harmful germs - end of story.

It's easy to think this way when microbes are only viewable under a microscope - 'out of sight, out of mind' they say. The reality is microscopic bacteria are everywhere - and it's virtually impossible to eliminate them.

The trick is to maintain a healthy balance - a healthy human body has, on average, 85% good bacteria and 15% harmful bacteria. The issue with using antibacterial products is that you eliminate both good and bad bacteria, while a small portion of the unfriendly germs survive, mutate, and ultimately become superbugs.

 

CBD and antibiotics


Antibiotics (translating to 'anti-life’) are the most harmful offenders in this context, and are increasingly being overused to treat issues such as the common cold (in addition to being added into animal feeds/directly injected in conventional agriculture settings).

Many people are under the impression that taking a probiotic supplement after an antibiotic regimen will restore the health of your microbiome, but this isn't necessarily the case.

Brett Finlay, microbiologist from the University of British Columbia who specializes in the microbiome and probiotics, and author of Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Children from an Oversanitized World has this to say:

"When I think about all the hype with probiotics, I must admit, I have mixed feelings, they sometimes work for some things, but there's an awful lot of hype that's really unwarranted, so it's really a mixed bag."



Erin Elinav, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Tel Aviv, conducted two studies to determine what happens when people take probiotics. Do they stick around and colonize the gut, or are they eliminated? Elinav conducted the first study on healthy individuals, and the second on people who had recently been sick and taken antibiotics.

In the healthy group, Elinav found that about 50% of the people successfully integrated the probiotics into their existing microbiome. Yet, the other half had microbes that were hostile to these newcomers, causing the probiotics to pass right through them with no effect.

In the group that had recently taken antibiotics, the results were even more concerning. Probiotic consumption seemed to slow the individual's recovery to their healthy pre-antibiotic configuration.

The theory is that the supplemented probiotics outnumbered the recently devastated good bacteria populations, causing unhealthy competition and a six-month (or longer) recovery period. Inversely, those who did not take probiotic supplements after antibiotics recovered within about three weeks.

Complicating matters even further is the wide variety of probiotic supplements and strains available - many of them not even existing naturally in the human gut.

 

CBD and gut health

 

Balancing Gut Health with Cannabinoids

When your goal is to re-establish the presence of good bacteria in your body and reduce the number of harmful microbes, a multi-pronged approach will be the only way to go.

The vital first step is cutting out refined sugars and processed foods, as these substances are like steroids for unwanted inhabitants in your body. Next, you'll want to eat ample fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, since these foods are rich in prebiotic fibers.

Prebiotic Fiber vs. Regular Fiber

There are two primary types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibers do not dissolve in water, and do not undergo fermentation by gut microbes. On the other hand, soluble fibers are water soluble, and dramatically boost the activity of gut-friendly bacteria.

Various foods have different ratios of soluble to insoluble fiber – wheat, for example, is 90% insoluble fiber, whereas oats are about 50/50.

Prebiotics are food for your good bacteria - an absolute must, and even more important than probiotics overall. You can have probiotics from taking prebiotics, but you can't get prebiotics from taking probiotics - making prebiotics the more essential of the two to focus on getting.

Probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus are thought to increase CB2 receptors in the gut, and this study shows enhanced Lactobacillus growth with the addition of prebiotics.

Lactobacillus acidophilus is a microbe that occurs naturally in the human body, meaning that your best bet to increase your CB2 receptors is ensuring that you feed these endogenous bacteria with prebiotic fibers.

If you had to choose between prebiotics or probiotics for the most bang for your buck, prebiotics are the clear choice. Without prebiotics, probiotic bacteria having nothing to feed and grow on.

 

Prebiotic Fibers and CBD



Excellent food sources of prebiotic fibers include:

  • Dandelion greens
  • Chicory
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Oats
  • Apples
  • Cacao
  • Hemp/Chia/Flaxseeds
  • Jicama
  • Seaweed
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Yams
  • Coconut meat

In addition to having lots of fiber, cruciferous veggies (think kale, broccoli, chard, and brussels sprouts) contain indole-3-carbinol. This molecule metabolizes into diindolylmethane (a molecule that exerts benefits via CB2 receptors).

Fermented foods are another great option, as they are teeming with microorganisms that may help to populate your body with friendly bacteria. To quote prominent Cannabis researcher Ethan Russo, M.D.:

"Proper dietary choices encompassing prebiotic vegetables and fermented foods may play important roles in future therapeutics targeting the ECS."


While the exact mechanisms remain unclear, what we do know is that CBD oil enhances the availability of our body's endogenous cannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide and 2-AG have therapeutic effects on a variety of receptors that exist throughout the gut, such as:

  • TRPV1 (famous for being the target of capsaicin, the active alkaloid in cayenne, this receptor plays a role in physical sensation, body temperature, as well as protecting the gut from a variety of stressors)
  • PPAR (involved in fat metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and dopamine release) 
  • GPR55 and GPR119


These receptors influence many different gut-related processes (too many to list here), but what this proves is that CBD and other cannabinoids directly affect virtually every aspect of gut health, digestion, and metabolism.

 

CBD and cannabinoid receptors



While further research will undoubtedly shed light on the exact ways in which CBD and other cannabinoids influence gut health, what's clear is that taking CBD oil is a great way to enhance the well-being of our 'second brain.'

Considering the host of challenges presented to our bodies when living in modern society, this microbiome-enhancing benefit of CBD is desperately needed - and welcomed with open arms.

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