What do marijuana and PEMFs have in common?
Marijuana has become legal recreationally in many states in America and throughout Canada. Many people land pro and con about the risks and benefits of recreational marijuana. However, the medical uses of marijuana [cannabis] are increasingly recognized and accepted and as a result medical marijuana is now legally available in a very controlled fashion in an increasing number of states as well. As the science and understanding of the actions and effects of marijuana have exploded, it is now known to act throughout the body on tissue and cell receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The research described below is now showing us that PEMFs, in addition to all the other actions of PEMFs, act on the ECS too. This is what marijuana and PEMFs have in common. So, some of the common actions of marijuana/cannabis are also seen with PEMFs.
Why is the endocannabinoid system (ECS) important to your health?
In the 1940s marijuana/cannabis plants were discovered to have receptors called cannabinoids, which helped the plants ward off predatory insects while attracting pollinators, as well as helping them survive the harsh environmental conditions including frost, heat and dehydration. From 1988 on, researchers began to discover cannabinoid receptors in animals. They also found that these receptors outnumbered all other receptors in the animal brains. Since these receptors were inside the body, they came to be called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are found in all animals except insects. These receptors are found throughout animal bodies, with the locations being unique to each species.
What this research indicates is that the ECS may be activated or enhanced both by acting internally on endocannabinoid receptors already active in the body and also through the intake or application of cannabinoids from without the body, including cannabis and hemp derived CBD. Cannabis/marijuana contains both THC and CBD, the most active components, among many other compounds.
Hemp plants contain more CBD, and cannabis plants contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a compound that causes the ‘high’ that people associate with cannabis use. Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally. The benefits of CBD do not depend on whether it is cannabis-derived CBD or hemp-derived CBD. Common side effects, such as an upset stomach, feeling tired, or feeling on edge, remain the same. This is because the chemical make-up of CBD does not depend on which plant it comes from. It is generally thought the THC acts mostly on the nervous system, whereas the CBD also acts more commonly on the rest of the body.
Types of cannabinoid receptors
The receptor is like a lock. The lock has to be opened or activated, usually by a molecule, to create its actions. There are 2 basic types endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Cb1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and spinal cord. CB2 receptors are everywhere else throughout the body.
The 1st receptor activating molecule was discovered in 1992 and called anandamide (AEA), and Ananda being the Sanskrit root word for bliss. Years later another important activating molecule called 2-AG was found that activated both CB1 and CB2 receptors. There are many other endocannabinoids with lower levels of activity, primarily acting to boost the activity of the main endocannabinoids.
The body produces endocannabinoids as needed. Lipid molecules normally in the cell membrane are converted into the endocannabinoid receptors.
What is the function of endocannabinoids?
The ECS helps maintain functional balance in the body (homeostasis). So, the ECS is vital to maintaining health at all levels. This includes actions on sleep, mood, memory, appetite, physical activity, pain perception, and even immune function. An adequately functioning ECS helps us to be energetic, focused and healthy. A dysfunctional ECS, whether it’s due to problems with producing ECS receptors or their proper functioning, many problems begin to surface.
Specific endocannabinoid functions (From Wikipedia)
Memory – THC may impair short-term memory; extinction of old memories; neural growth in the hippocampus involved in declarative and spatial memories; inhibit neuronal excitability.
Appetite – CB1 receptors increase appetite; leptin levels in the blood correlate with endocannabinoids, with lower levels increasing appetite; endocannabinoids affect taste perception; increased neural signaling when sweets are taken.
Energy balance and metabolism – homeostatic role for energy storage and nutrient transport; modulates insulin sensitivity; resulting benefits for obesity, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Stress response – increased endocannabinoids after repeated stress reduce the adrenal stress response, particularly to non-threatening stimuli
Anxiety – reduce aggression, anxiety reduction, reduce excessive arousal.
Immune system – stimulate macrophages, neutrophils, bone marrow cells, B cell migration and regulate IgM levels.
Female reproduction – affects timing of embryo implantation; likelihood of miscarriage increases if uterine AEA is too high or too low; exogenous cannabinoids may decrease likelihood of pregnancy if natural AEA levels are too high and can increase likelihood of pregnancy if natural AEA levels are too low.
Autonomic nervous system – CB 1 receptors are in the muscle neurons of organs; reduced noradrenaline from sympathetic nervous system nerves; inhibit bowel neuronal activity – helping with excessive bowel motility.
Analgesia – cannabinoids suppress pain in the spinal cord; one mechanism for analgesia by acetaminophen; ECS involved in placebo responses.
Temperature regulation – affects temperature regulation by causing vasodilatation. Capsaicin, which causes sweating, is similar to endocannabinoids.
Sleep – increased ECS activity in the central nervous system is sleep inducing; increases slow wave and REM sleep; increases adenosine which promotes sleep and suppresses arousal; ECS activity is circadian, with higher levels with light.
Physical exercise – higher ECS levels during physical activity generate exercise-induced euphoria, the so-called “runner’s high”; cannabinoids cross the blood brain barrier.
Got Qualifying conditions for state approved medical marijuana programs
Every state that supports the use of medical marijuana has different conditions for which it can be recommended. In Maryland, the following are the qualifying conditions.
- Chronic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe pain
- Severe nausea
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms
- Wasting syndrome
Many of these conditions have been shown to be benefited by PEMFs, whether through other mechanisms or through the ECS.
People with a number of different conditions have deficient cannabinoid number or function. Common ones include aero bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraines. Nervous system inflammatory conditions are being studied to see if cannabinoids can help slow or stop them. (Saito) These include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington’s disease. Even depression and PTSD are thought to have an endocannabinoid deficiency aspect. Some cancers have higher levels of cannabinoid receptors, meaning that they are seeking more of the activating molecules, AEA and 2-AG. Research shows that supplying the body with cannabinoids or stimulating their production cannot only help with symptom management in individuals with cancer, such as pain, sleep, anxiety and nausea, but can also help with the side effects of chemotherapy and directly attack cancer cells. (Hermanson)
In terms of the brain, the ECS also has a very important role in memory. The development of plaque in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s may be caused by blocking endocannabinoids in the brain. (Stanford news) Also, one of the best-known effects of cannabis is to help with fear anxiety and depression. Inhibiting CB1 receptors in mice causes them to have increased anxiety and fear behaviors as well as physiological stress levels. (Jenniches)
The ECS helps energy production, storage and expenditure and may be useful to deal with metabolic disorders, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance that go along with these conditions have been associated with overactivity of the endocannabinoid system. In obese patients with type-2 diabetes, a CB1 blocking drug has been found to help decrease blood glucose levels and lower inflammation beyond what weight loss alone could do. (Hollander; Scheen) On the other hand CB1 blockade can cause significant psychiatric problems.
PEMFs and ECS activation
In my book Power Tools for Health, published in 2018, (Pawluk) I outline 25 mechanisms of actions of PEMFs, with no mention of the ECS. The research on PEMFs goes back into the late 1960s. The 1st book I published in 1998, Magnetic Field Therapy in Eastern Europe: a review of 30 years of research, had no mention of endocannabinoid receptors. As a result, there is very little research yet on the impact of PEMFs on the endocannabinoid system. Since the ECS is so important and extensive in the human body, it is hard to imagine that PEMFs don’t have some effect on these ECS receptors.
I was encouraged when I saw the paper “Repetitive high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation reverses depressive-like behaviors and protein expression at hippocampal synapses in chronic unpredictable stress-treated rats by enhancing endocannabinoid signaling.” (Xue) This research article tells us that PEMFs certainly have an effect on the ECS receptors in the brain. If that’s true, they will almost certainly have impact on ECS receptors and actions throughout the body. This makes a lot of biologic sense given the vast range of actions of PEMFs on human function and physiology. This means that PEMFs can have actions on many different types of receptors, not just in the ECS, and with a lot of overlap of action among them.
A specific form of PEMFs, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is FDA approved for the management of treatment resistant depression. In addition, TMS is being studied for a large range of different types of neurological and other health conditions. This study was done to evaluate the impact of rTMS on the ECS of the brain related to the management of depression. Chronic stress in both humans and in animals increases the risk of depression. Much of the effects of chronic stress impacts the hippocampus of the brain. The hippocampus regulates emotion and susceptibility to chronic stress through its connections with the amygdala and limbic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Previous research has definitely shown the involvement of the ECS in depression. The major findings of this study were as follows: (1) rTMS improved depression-like behaviors induced by chronic stress; (2) the expression of various ECS enhancing receptors increased in the hippocampus following rTMS treatment; on the other hand, the amount of enzymes that break down endocannabinoids decreased after rTMS treatment, thus showing a dual action of rTMS; (3) rTMS elevated the amount of CB1 in hippocampal astrocytes and neurons. These data together indicate that the activation of the ECS in the hippocampus is involved in the antidepressant effects of rTMS treatment.
In addition to rTMS affecting the ECS, another study found that longer term use of lower intensity PEMFs also affect the ECS, especially neural brain cells. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Glutamate-induced neural overstimulation (excitotoxicity) is a common cause of many neurological diseases. The role of PEMF in glutamate-induced excitotoxicity was evaluated in relation to the ECS. (Li) PEMF exposure of mouse hippocampus neural cells (HT22 cells) in cultures was a 15 Hz, 9.6 Gauss peak magnetic field for 4 hours in 2 protocols plus 20 and 24 hours of glutamate treatment, and, in another protocol, PEMF was for 4 hours followed 10 hours later by another 4 hours plus 24 hours of glutamate treatment. The most significant effects were seen in the extended PEMF exposure of a total of 8 hours.
The PEMF stimulation improved the life span of mouse hippocampus neural cells (HT22 cells) and reduced cell death after induction of excitotoxicity. A CB1 receptor specific inhibitor suppressed the protective effects of PEMF exposure. AEA and 2-AG were elevated following PEMF exposure, showing that the neuroprotective effects of the PEMF were related to modulation of the ECS. These results suggest that PEMF exposure leads to neuroprotective effects against excitotoxicity by acting on the ECS. The ECS can regulate glutamatergic synaptic transmission and neural plasticity. Activation of ECS signaling inhibits excitotoxicity and therefore plays an important role in neuroprotection against ischemic stroke or traumatic brain injury.
The encouraging aspect of these studies using different intensities of PEMFs is the strong probability that PEMFs applied anywhere in the body are likely to have impacts on ECS receptors anywhere in the body. There is also a strong probability that PEMFs can work synergistically with the intake of cannabinoids, whether cannabis/marijuana or hemp derived CBD. This could also mean that dosing with cannabis and/or hemp CBD may be able to be reduced when combined with PEMFs. It could also mean that PEMFs may be able to reduce the side effects of cannabis/CBD when used in combination.
While the above studies specifically focused on rTMS and the brain and depression and neural cell excitotoxicity, we have other examples of PEMFs acting not only on other parts of the body but also in many other conditions, as shown in the Power Tools for Health book.
- Hermanson DJ, Marnett LJ. Cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and cancer. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2011;30(3-4):599-612. doi:10.1007/s10555-011-9318-8
- Hollander P. Endocannabinoid blockade for improving glycemic control and lipids in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Med. 2007 Feb;120(2 Suppl 1):S18-28; discussion S29-32.
- Li X, Xu H, Lei T, et al. A Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Protects against Glutamate-Induced Excitotoxicity by Modulating the Endocannabinoid System in HT22 Cells.
- Jenniches I, Ternes S, Albayram O, et al. Anxiety, Stress, and Fear Response in Mice With Reduced Endocannabinoid Levels. Biol Psychiatry. 2016 May 15;79(10):858-868.
- Saito VM, Rezende RM, Teixeira AL. Cannabinoid modulation of neuroinflammatory disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2012;10(2):159-166.
- Pawluk W and Layne CJ. Power Tools for Health: how magnetic fields (PEMFs) help you. Publ. Friesen Press, 2017.
- Scheen AJ. CB1 receptor blockade and its impact on cardiometabolic risk factors: overview of the RIO programme with rimonabant. J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May;20 Suppl 1:139-46.
- Stanford news: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2014/06/blocking-brain_s-internal-marijuana-may-trigger-early-alzheimers.html
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocannabinoid_system#cite_note-Elphick2001-27.
- Xue SS, Xue F, Ma QR, Wang SQ, Wang Y, Tan QR, Wang HN, Zhou CH, Peng ZW. Repetitive high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation reverses depressive-like behaviors and protein expression at hippocampal synapses in chronic unpredictable stress-treated rats by enhancing endocannabinoid signaling. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2019 Sep;184:172738.