Health Impact and Usage Guide: Medical Cannabis, THC, Cannabidiol, and Hemp Part 3

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dr. Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Read Part 1 | Part 2

Medical Cannabis and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome: Pros and Cons

Flowers from medical cannabisThe use of medical cannabis, as with any drug, stimulates the adrenal glands because it interrupts homeostasis. The cannabis creates an environment where the liver detects toxins, which also involves energy expenditure from the adrenal glands. The more often cannabis is used, the more the adrenals are activated, which can lead to their decreased function or eventual exhaustion. This can worsen adrenal gland fatigue if it is already present.

Using this drug can cause a short-lived feeling of energy and absence of anxiety, pain, etc. THC, compared to other stimulants that are commonly used such as nicotine and caffeine, may actually cause less stress on the adrenals. As cannabis is used continually over a long time period, however, it can cause the user to become tired due to the strain put on adrenals. This restarts the cycle of drug-use to alter energy level or feelings.

In earlier stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), high cortisol is common as the body tries to fight stress. Since cortisol is made by adrenal glands, cannabis with high amounts of THC could cause increase already high cortisol levels, causing additional stress on the overworked adrenals of those affected by AFS. In adrenal fatigue, this internal cortisol can cause multiple organ resistance, which can include issues such as ovary and thyroid imbalance (by way of an ovarian-adrenal-thyroid (OAT) imbalance in females or adrenal-thyroid axis imbalance in males).

This thyroid piece of adrenal fatigue is also important to cannabis use, as research has shown that cannabis can decrease thyroid function in rat studies, some by 90%. Hypothyroidism, whether or not it is detected, is common in AFS, which could be made worse by high THC intake.

On the other hand, CBD has been found to have the opposite effect of THC on cortisol levels. CBD, higher in medical cannabis, can actually lower cortisol levels. Since the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal HPA axis modulates cortisol levels in response to the body’s need for the hormone, CBD proves beneficial to this system as well. In decreasing cortisol levels, CBD could, in turn, benefit insulin sensitivity, the immune system, bone strength and mineralization, fat loss, and more.

In early stages of AFS, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia are all common. The use of medical cannabis has been proven to be effective in reversing all of these symptoms. The removal of stressors and increasing sleep are two of the most important steps to take when trying to reverse AFS. Cannabis could provide temporary relief to some emotional stressors that take time to solve, such as problems with family, finances, relationships, or marriage. Medical cannabis could assist in falling asleep faster and providing a deeper, albeit dreamless, rest which could help with AFS recovery.

Medical cannabis can greatly affect metabolism because cortisol is tied to insulin function in the body. When adrenals are overworked, blood sugar levels can drop, leading to lightheadedness and dizziness. In this way, CBD could help those suffering from AFS by decreasing insulin levels. Insulin drives glucose from the blood into the cells. Decreasing insulin can help sustain a balanced blood sugar level and even out absorption of glucose into the cells. High THC consumption, on the other hand, could lead to blood sugar spikes.

Medical cannabis use may decrease thyroid activityCannabis could negatively affect heart function, as it can cause symptoms like heart palpitations and blood pressure changes, some of the same symptoms that are associated with adrenal fatigue. Changes in heart rate and rhythm are more likely associated with THC.

The use of cannabis on a long-term basis has been associated with adrenal fatigue and damage to the endocrine system. Cannabinoid receptors are abundant in the body, including in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands contain CB1 receptors, which is what THC binds with that causes cortisol and adrenaline release. Chronic or excessive stress, a central cause of AFS, may even result in a semi-permanent state of hypoglycemia and can cause adverse reactions to marijuana since problems with the control of cortisol and adrenaline are associated with this syndrome. Blood sugar levels should be monitored for those with AFS if cannabis is to be used.

In later stages of AFS, anti-inflammation mechanisms are lacking in the body due to the decreased output of cortisol by adrenals. Cannabis has effectively balanced all different kinds of body inflammation and could help fulfill this function.

Immune system function is suppressed with high levels of cortisol as the body tries to protect itself. The use of cannabis has been known to have a similar effect, which could lead to weakened state and increase the likelihood of infection. This adds to stress on the body and causes more fatigue.

Cannabis use could combat excess weight gain and inability to lose weight, which is common when the body is stressed and in AFS.

In the beginning phases of AFS, cannabis use could also help with offsetting high blood pressure. As AFS progresses, blood pressure drops and could be made worse with the use of cannabis.

Overall, medical cannabis with a high content of CBD and a lower level of THC would cause less physical stress and more benefit to someone suffering from AFS. Because CBD uses completely different receptors than THC, it can cause beneficial effects on anxiety, stress, and depression, which are some of the major causes of AFS and therefore play a huge role in recovery. CBD in cannabis is safer and does not possess the same addictive potential that THC does. CBD also works to balance hormones in the body. Since the adrenal glands are responsible for the production of over 50 hormones, this could be a major benefit to people with adrenal problems.

Because cannabis is a natural drug, it could also be a safer alternative for remedying AFS than pharmaceuticals. However, use of cannabis, especially long term, could lead to dependency or recovery failure if not first evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Cannabis and the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is made up of a neuroendocrine unit comprised of the heart, adrenals, thyroid, brain, autonomic nervous system, and gut or GI tract. The metabolic unit of the NEM is made up of the immune system, microbiome, pancreas, liver, and extra-cellular matrix.

When stress is experienced in the body, the NEM will use its arsenal of defenses to maintain homeostasis. However, prolonged stress disrupts the web of systems and organs, and sends a cascade of responses in motion from both neuroendocrine and metabolic units. These responses can be hormonal, cardionomic, neuroaffective, metabolic, detoxification, and inflammatory, among others.

The thyroid, pancreas and liver are components of the metabolic stress response, but medical cannabis may helpCannabis is a powerful drug in the sense that it affects nearly all organ systems in the body. Cannabis can cause a disruption in the entire endocrine system. The use of cannabis affects several glandular hormones, as discussed above. These include the adrenal glands and the production of cortisol, and the OAT axis in women and the adrenal-thyroid hormonal axis in men.

A reduction in thyroid function can change body temperature and determine the rate at which it can respond to stress. This decrease ultimately results in fatigue. This type of hormonal imbalance leads to adverse effects on the other systems and can result in exercise intolerance, infertility, loss of hair, afternoon slump, low libido, and more.

The thyroid, pancreas, and liver are all key components in this snowball response, the metabolic component of the NEM. The effects of cannabis on the thyroid are interconnected, as a decrease in thyroid function will decelerate metabolic pathways. The pancreas produces insulin, which regulates our body’s energy source, glucose. The liver clears all toxins from our body.

Disruption of the metabolic response presents early warning signals like craving sugar, central obesity, and dyslipidemia, common in stages 1 and 2 of adrenal fatigue. More advanced disruption symptoms can include weight gain and hypoglycemia.

Cannabis can disrupt thyroid function with chronic use. Increased metabolism, lower blood cholesterol, increased insulin sensitivity, improved metabolic rate, and decreased issues with type 2 diabetes and obesity levels are all seen among cannabis users as well.

As both hormonal and metabolic components of the NEM become involved in addressing stress, the central nervous system joins in, and symptoms like depression, mood swings, insomnia, anxiety, and brain fog begin to appear. This neuro-affect response is maintained by the brain, gut, and autonomic nervous system.

Medical cannabis, specifically THC, alters dopamine levels in the brain, which is associated with feeling good and “high.” Although users can experience relief from neuroaffective responses like depression or anxiety, brain structure could change as a result of using marijuana. This, in turn, could cause temporary or permanent changes to homeostasis. Cannabis is simultaneously effective in correcting neurological disorders and symptoms, as well as inflammation.

The body and NEM respond to interrupted homeostasis with inflammation. The immune system and cells, gut, and microbiome become involved in this response.

For example, the risk for candida, a type of yeast that is the most common culprit for fungal infections, increases with cannabis use. The immune system is a major player in this response, and it employs macrophages (a Greek word meaning ‘big eaters’) to assist in cleaning up after an infection by swallowing any type of unwanted or damaging cell in the body. These macrophages are not equipped to fight candida well, and THC promotes the growth of this yeast throughout certain areas of the body (such as the vagina and oral cavity). The body reacts with inflammation to these toxic types of cells, thus causing an even more intense reaction from the body. However, CBD was found to be especially effective in correcting candida infections. It was also effective against gut and colon inflammation, which play a large role in depression, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune conditions, and pain throughout the body. Thus, it could act to protect the immune system in regard to inflammation.

Use of medical cannabis has the potential to interfere with signaling and communication between cellsThe ability of the body to detox is essential for homeostasis, and being unable to do so can lead to congestion in the extracellular matrix. Cannabis has been found to be potentially detrimental to the liver, responsible for detoxifying the body. In those with a compromised liver, such as hepatitis C patients, cannabis was found to worsen fibrosis of the liver. Oftentimes in adrenal fatigue, the liver is found to be functioning below optimal levels. Therefore, it would be prudent to approach cannabis with caution if you are displaying signs of a congested liver and body. These signs can include, brain fog, generalized muscle aches or pains, and chemical sensitivities.

When cannabis utilizes the receptor sites that are designed for cell signaling and the transport of messages between cells, congestion can occur. This can result in the cells becoming overloaded. When detoxification is not able to occur, the immune system becomes compromised and can lead to premature cell death. This can cause symptoms of hypersensitivity, intolerance of medications and supplements, sensitivities to chemicals, and a number of paradoxical reactions that can be extremely difficult to normalize.

However, because the cannabinoid system is involved in so many other systems, there is a huge potential for cannabis to be used as a healing agent as well. If cannabinoids like THC and CBD can offer improvement in autoimmune conditions, obesity, neurological degenerative conditions, PTSD, obesity, mental and mood disorders, as well as many others, then perhaps the body is actually wired to accept cannabis as a medicine.

Research is still limited, as cannabis is not approved for medical use at the federal level, which is where most of the funding for studies is sourced. It appears that although cannabis could cause a disruption in the body, it also provides a plethora of holistic benefits. Compared to other types of medications, medical cannabis could prove to be one of the healthier options.

Read Part 1 | Part 2
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Flowere form of Medical cannabis




10 Comments

  • karen says:

    “cannabis…may actually assist the pancreas and liver in their function.” “cannabis has been found to be potentially detrimental to the liver.” I’m confused.

  • DeAnna says:

    There’s no citations of studies included. Can the author prove this?

  • Fran says:

    Hi Dr Lam,
    Would you recommend CBD for arthritis, and if so how many drops per day?
    Many thanks!

    • Dr.Lam says:

      CBD is very tricky because it does not work for everyone, and in fact, some get worse.

      Dr.Lam

  • Christopher says:

    Thanks for your information Dr. Lam.

  • David says:

    This article is as clear as mud – lots of apparent contradictions as it uses terms like cannabis, medical cannabis, thc and cbd interchangeably when referring to helpful and/or detrimental effects. Very confusing. I am looking for guidance in relation to long term advanced stages of AFS.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      If you are in advanced AFS, you should NOT consider medical cannibus of any kind unless under professional guidance because results can be unpredictable.

      Dr Lam

  • Liz says:

    Do you have a brand of CBD oil that you recommend? Will eating hemp seeds help also?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      CBD from hemp is a distilled product and is not the same as eating hemp seeds. I don’t have a particular brand to recommend.

      Dr Lam

  • ann mayo says:

    Shared this with my support group. A neighbor of mine makes this for us. Can you explain how it can be used for other health related issues internally! They liked your last post!