CBD, FAAH, and the Woman Who Can't Feel Pain
We all saw the headline.
It was even on NPR with a full afternoon discussion.
The piece was on a woman who never feels pain or anxiety.
Her name is Jo Cameron and she's 71.
This can obviously be dangerous as she's burned herself before and didn't realize it.
Scientists have tracked down a gene mutation that accounts for this rare issue.
With the opioid crisis raging and the anxiety epidemic coming full bore (see benzo review), many people's ears perked up.
Ours sure did.
We immediately wanted to know what gene and what pathway.
We're basically researching CBD effects in the body 2-3 hours a day so we should recognize some of the actors at play.
When I googled the resulting gene, my jaw dropped.
Oh...do we know this actor all too well!
It's right smack in the endocannabinoid system and its relationship to CBD is amazing.
There's a ton of research on CBD's effect on both anxiety and pain.
Now we may know why thanks to this lovely lady!
Let's walk through the entire layout and most importantly, touch base on how CBD directly plays a part.
We'll cover these areas:
- What is the gene for the woman who never feels pain or anxiety
- A quick intro to the endocannabinoid system
- How does CBD affect FAAH
- How does CBD affect Anandamide
- Best CBD for pain and anxiety
Let's get into it.
What is the gene for the woman who never feels pain or anxiety
The mutation that caused this ability to not feel pain or anxiety occurred in the gene FAAH and pseudogene or backup copy called FAAH-OUT.
There are other instances of mutation for this gene but her specific mutation was just on a piece of it.
Again, this is really uncommon and people rarely survive into old age with such a mutation.
Pain's important when you break your leg!
This woman has had multiple broken bones and never knew there was a problem.
What does that gene do?
We thought you would never ask.
A quick pit stop is needed to the endocannabinoid system to get the lay of the land.
A quick intro to the endocannabinoid system
Everyone has one. All animals also share this system with us.
Sorry insects...you were too early to the party.
The estimated evolutionary date is about 600 million years.
Research (only in the last 2-3 decades) is showing that this system helps to balance other key systems:
- Nervous system - neurotransmitters, mood (such as anxiety), sensation (such as pain)
- Endocrine system - hormones which impact both pain and anxiety perception
- Immune system - inflammatory response key to delivering pain sensation with effects on anxiety
The intersection of these three systems drive much of what can go wrong in the body and brain.
We all have a network of chemicals called cannabinoids which are the actors on this endocannabinoid stage.
The most prevalent ones are:
- FAAH (technically an enzyme)
Did you catch that last one!
Yes...FAAH like the gene in question.
The endocannabinoid system operates like most others in our body where there are opposing forces trying to find balance.
Push-pull. Gas pedal - brake pedal.
The endocannabinoid system is no different.
FAAH is a brake pedal.
It breaks down excessive Anandamide and other substances.
By the way, Anandamide is called our "bliss" molecule and it's named after the Hindu Goddess of bliss, Anand.
It has many roles in the body, some of which directly affect anxiety and pain.
In simplistic terms, the more Anandamide you have, the less anxiety and pain you have.
Now, why can't we have a ton of Anandamide all the time!
FAAH breaks down Anandamide when signals trigger that it's too high.
Why on earth would evolution do this?
Do we really need to feel pain and anxiety?
Most people with the rare mutation mentioned above do not survive past their 20's.
The woman has literally set her arm on fire and only realized it was burning from the smell.
Pain's important when needed.
Anxiety or anxiousness is as well.
It protects us from risky or reckless behavior.
It's always about balance.
Keep in mind that Anandamide and FAAH affect 100's if not 1000's of different systems and chemical balancing acts across the body.
Anandamide figures strongly in the brain where the circuitry for anxiety and pain are powerful.
This is very interesting but what does it mean for the millions of people dealing with chronic pain and anxiety?
Here's why we geeked out.
How does CBD affect FAAH and Anandamide
Outside of our own internal cannabinoids, there are those found in the cannabis plant.
The two big ones are THC and CBD.
THC is the psychoactive chemical that creates a "high".
CBD does not create a high and is not habit-forming.
There are issues with THC that need to be researched:
- THC can be habit-forming
- THC can normalize (need more to have the same effect)
- THC can thicken the Amygdala thus making a person more prone to anxiety/depression later
- THC can affect sperm quality and numbers
- THC by itself can actually cause anxiety
We're not anti-pot but people need to understand the pros and cons.
We also did a full review of CBD versus cannabis for anxiety here.
The question at hand...how does CBD affect FAAH levels?
From pretty impressive studies on CBD's effect for schizophrenia and psychosis:
Biochemical studies indicate that cannabidiol may enhance endogenous anandamide signaling indirectly, by inhibiting the intracellular degradation of anandamide catalyzed by the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH)
To translate, the positive effects of CBD as an antipsychotic appeared to revolve around increasing Anandamide levels.
It does this by...reducing FAAH signaling!
Remember that Anandamide and FAAH are in a tug of war across multiple chemical transactions in the body.
In people with chronic pain and anxiety, it may be that their Anandamide levels are exhausted.
Studies indeed reflect this relationship:
Central anandamide deficiency predicts stress-induced anxiety: behavioral reversal through endocannabinoid augmentation
Here's where it gets interesting.
In that study, by blocking FAAH in "stressed" mice, they could reduce anxiety-like behavior:
Acute pharmacological inhibition of the anandamide-degrading enzyme, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), reverses the stress-induced anxiety state in a cannabinoid receptor-dependent manner.
However, this "blocking" of FAAH did not affect mice who were not stressed!
This speaks to the beauty of the endocannabinoid system.
Remember...it's about balance!
THC mimics anandamide but it hits too hard and for too long (hence the high) so the body starts to push back.
Longer term, this leads to REDUCED anandamide function due to tolerance.
In terms of common anti-anxiety medications, they only go one direction.
No push-pull. Only push!
For example, you can take a higher and higher dose of a common benzodiazepine and you'll get more and more sedated accordingly.
Take enough and it's actually an anesthetic agent.
Take more and it will stop all bodily functions!
The endocannabinoid system is like a system of checks and balances on each other and more importantly, other important chemicals.
For example, GABA, which is the key to anxiety, sleep, and pain.
Check out this comprehensive guide to how CBD works for anxiety here.
What about pain?
Same story and the woman who can't feel pain or anxiety is a key tie-in there.
Peripheral cannabinoid receptors exert a powerful inhibitory control over pain initiation
The usual suspects are at work with pain as well:
These results suggest that anandamide-mediated signaling at peripheral CB₁ receptors controls the access of pain-related inputs to the CNS. Brain-impenetrant FAAH inhibitors, which strengthen this gating mechanism, might offer a new approach to pain therapy.
FAAH inhibitor...like CBD!
It's actually pretty frustrating to us after seeing all the buzz about this woman who can't feel pain or anxiety.
The basic mechanisms are all there in research.
We can affect these circuits NOW!!
The polar opposite of this woman with no pain or anxiety are the millions of people with chronic pain and spiraling anxiety.
The article started by saying...
"Her extremely rare insensitivity to pain is caused by a mutation in a gene previously thought to be useless in the body,"
FAAH is useless???
Really? After just the snippet of research (out of dozens) that we showed above?
We have a huge review of how the endocannabinoid system may be the key to most modern diseases (autoimmune, mental health, cancer, etc).
So...how can we take advantage of this information?
What's the best CBD
Best CBD for pain and anxiety based on FAAH study
This is where things get tricky.
The CBD market is still the Wild West with lots of Billy the Kid's running around.
Here are the basic requirements:
- Organically grown in the US at an FDA registered farm
- 3rd party tested
- THC free (THC can actually cause anxiety)
- Heavy metal-free
- Bacteria free
- Mold free
We literally used anxiety and pain as our roadmap for how to craft IndigoNaturals.
Check our story here for all the Anandamide-less details!
Also, everyone out there is slinging "full-spectrum" CBD based on…
Well...there's not much research so we're not sure other than it's much cheaper to produce.
Here's the problem that they either don't know or forget to mention…
40-60% of the population has allergy or histamine issues and all that plant material might have the wrong response!
The stats go higher for women and even higher for women over age 40.
Hmm...so does anxiety and pain (thanks perimenopause).
That's why we focus on CBD Isolate only.
The research (like above) is based on CBD by itself.
In the Wild West of CBD, we have to stick to the stagecoach caravan of actual NIH research.
Check out CBD and histamines here.
After researching the sobering comparison of CBD and anxiety medications here, it's an exciting time in terms of feeling better.
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.