Cannabis is a plant, that is used for a variety of anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving purposes. However, very little is known about how cannabis interacts with the endocrine system. While some research shows that THC suppresses hormone secretion from the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, not many definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Human research is difficult to navigate because each patient will have a different reaction depending on many varying factors including diet, chemical exposure, endocannabinoid system (ECS), and general health. In addition to affecting vital sex hormones, evidence suggests that chronic cannabis use may also affect the adrenal, prolactin, thyroid, and growth hormones.
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system is the communication department of your body. It's made up of the pancreas, sex organs, hypothalamus, as well as pineal, thyroid, and adrenal glands, which communicate to other parts of the body by making hormones, the messengers of the endocrine system. These hormones regulate immunity, influence mood, proliferate growth, adjust metabolism, and even assist fertility. Some of the hormones you've probably heard of are fertility hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, prolactin), thyroid, cortisol, and insulin.
The ECS has an integrated role within the endocrine system. Endocannabinoids influence mood, hunger, and energy, among other things, by interacting with hormones. Cannabis can influence the ECS by enhancing or altering its receptors, commonly known as CB1 and CB2, that can bind to hormones but are also an essential regulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is one of the main endocrine system conductors that sends critical messages, by the use of hormones, to the body. These different processes of cannabis, found both in rat and human studies, affect the body by suppressing or engaging with hormones or the glands that secrete them and, ultimately, the multifaceted endocrine system.
The adrenal hormones are the main puppeteers of stress, energy, adrenaline, and blood pressure. They are a topic of interest in a healthy body, especially when they can be influenced by endocannabinoids found in cannabis. The adrenal glands also secrete a small amount of sex hormones, but not nearly enough to rival those produced in the reproductive organs. Cannabis suppresses adrenal activity, according to the 2009 study in the German journal Psychopharmacology study on the effects of cannabinoids on humans.
The suppression of the adrenal glands lowers blood sugar, which may raise cortisol in the short-term. Ongoing adrenal suppression can interfere with blood sugar regulation, raising cholesterol, and suppressing the immune system.
Prolactin is the hormone most people know as the breast-milk-producing hormone, though it has many other functions in the body, especially related to fertility. Prolactin increases with stress and age and affects most tissues in the body, such as skin and hair. High amounts of prolactin contribute to infertility and lowered sexual desire. If in fact, THC has been recorded to suppress pituitary hormones, one of which is prolactin.
High prolactin levels enhance stress in women as well as estrogen dominance, aggression, anxiety, depression, infertility, and osteoporosis, according to studies in the American Journal of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. While lowered prolactin reduces the risk of breast and testicular cancer. In addition to reducing stress, less prolactin allows for more dopamine, which provides for feelings of elation and happiness. Though keeping prolactin low seems desirable, suppressing pituitary hormones such as prolactin and other reproductive hormones can negatively affect fertility and postpartum.
It is unclear exactly how cannabis affects the thyroid. Research shows that cannabinoids can have beneficial effects for those with Graves' disease and Hashimoto's disease but can also lower thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which regulates thyroid function. The thyroid is a very sensitive yet powerful gland that controls hormones that regulates mood, digestion, metabolism, and brain function. Cannabis suppresses pituitary hormones, which could cause changes in thyroid function, the consequences of which have yet to be determined by researchers.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
The human growth hormone (HGH) is one of the many hormones released via the pituitary gland, which is heavily influenced by the endocannabinoid system and CB1 receptors, those which are affected by THC consumption. The suppression of HGH is beneficial to suppress growth proliferation of a cancerous cell. This is one reason why cannabis is a wonderful prescription for cancer patients. On the other hand, they are crucial for female fertility and the support of the delicate female cycle. Also, as their name suggests, they're very important for growth and development both physically and mentally. For underdeveloped children, suppressing these hormones is not a wise decision.
Endocannabinoids play a crucial role in the endocrine system between hormone-producing organs and glands to the hormones themselves. Because the endocrine system is so complex and not enough controlled human research has been conducted, it's still not fully understood how cannabis exactly affects hormones and its impact on health.