This post is a part of a Q&A series featuring medical experts who are a part of the Gofire Community. Today, we talk to Dr. Ben Cowin (DC, MS, ATC, CAFS) the owner of Denver-based Action Spine and Sports Medicine. He is a national expert in high performance for competitive athletes and active executives. He specializes in consulting for plant-based medicine companies, helping them develop clinically relevant products.

Dr. Cowin brings more than 19 years of experience in sports chiropractic, dry needling, neuro-musculoskeletal rehabilitation and concussion recovery. He is also an expert on the endocannabinoid system and its relation to plant-based medicine, so we asked him a series of questions about how exactly plant-based medicine affects the brain.

Gofire: Can you give a brief summary of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?

Dr. Cowin: The endocannabinoid system is a highly complex, highly integrated system within the human body and all living mammals. Its job is to maintain balance and homeostasis throughout the entire body. It is highly integrated with every other system in the human body (musculoskeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine) and is self-regulating.

Gofire: Explain how the ECS is “self-regulating.”

Dr. Cowin: It regulates homeostasis in the body as a retrograde transmitter. This means that it adapts to the neurological signal after the signal  has been sent. If the signal from the nervous system is consistently too strong, in theory it should downregulate the signal and vice versa. The body does not readily have endocannabinoids available; it has to make them as they’re needed. So, if the endocannabinoid system is constantly out of balance, the body can’t provide enough regulators to balance the system and keep the rest of the body in a consistent state.

Gofire: How can plant-based medicine help to regulate the ECS?

Dr. Cowin: Supplementation with phytocannabinoids (plant-based medicine) can help the body regulate the ECS. It’s important to note that the body already makes endocannabinoids. So, all we are trying to do is supplement the body with plant-based medicine to ensure that the body has what it needs consistently.

Gofire: How does plant-based medicine influence the brain?

Dr. Cowin: There are a host of ways that plant-based medicine, especially cannabinoids, influence the brain. Directly, cannabinoids stimulate the CB1 receptors, which are found in the brain and spinal cord. These receptors react to cannabinoids and help the brain to achieve homeostasis in specific areas. Plant-based medicine also regulates things like metabolism and the inflammatory response, so we also see a massive benefit from the antioxidant side of things. Controlling the oxidative stress within the brain tissue allows for a healthier environment.

In addition, by supplementing with CBD and THC we get further regulation of the CB1 receptors. THC activates the receptor and CBD fine tunes the output of the receptor. CBD allows the system to appropriately self-regulate and properly find balance in the signaling of that part of the brain.

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, phytocannabinoids have been found to improve the digestive lining and permeability in chronic gastrointestinal diseases. There is a communication pathway between the brain and the gut called the gut brain axis. In essence, the integrity of the gut and the health of the gut have a direct link to the brain and how it functions.

Gofire: Can you describe the gut brain axis a bit more in depth?

Dr. Cowin: We have still not fully uncovered the relationship of the gut and brain-based injuries/conditions. But, we do understand that through the gut brain axis, if we have a leaky gut (bacteria passing into the bloodstream through gaps in the intestinal walls), we will also have a leaky blood brain barrier. We also know that a leaky blood brain barrier leads to a chronic state of inflammation, which exacerbates every form of neurological condition. So, by addressing the integrity of the gut lining, and increasing the efficiency of the gut will, in turn, improve function of the brain.

Gofire: So, can using plant-based medicine as a tool to heal the gut also help people find relief from symptoms due to neurological disorders?

Dr. Cowin: In the case of neurological diseases such as migraines, epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism, supplementing with CBD can  potentially influence serotonin levels in the body by not only binding and activating receptors, but also by balancing the gut environment and improving malabsorption. Improving the condition of the gut will result in balancing the brain and the inflammation associated with the condition. By decreasing the inflammation, patients suffering from neurological disorders will see a reduction in associated symptoms.

As healthcare professionals continue to research the relationship between plant-based medicine and the endocannabinoid system, Gofire is here to provide a platform for you to dose plant-based medicine in a safe and effective way. Use the Gofire App to find products in your area that are highest rated for conditions you seek to treat. In addition, see third-party lab tests of products on the App so you can know exactly what you’re putting into your body. Then, record how each dose made you feel — so you don’t have to guess anymore.