What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of our neck below the larynx (voicebox) and the thyroid cartilage (known as Adam’s apple). It’s wrapped around the trachea (windpipe).
It is part of the endocrine system, which is comprised of glands that create, store, and release hormones into the body. The endocrine system uses these hormones to regulate many bodily processes, growth, development, organ functions, and much more. The endocrine system, and thyroid gland, are regulated by our very own endocannabinoid system (ECS)!
Mainly using iodine converted from food, the thyroid gland secretes three hormones: thyroxine/T4, triiodothyronine/T3, and calcitonin.
T3/T4 heavily regulates metabolism, which heavily affects all organ functions. Metabolism controls how fast or slow our cells and organs transform nutrients from our food into energy and the amount of oxygen cells use.
Our thyroid largely impacts and helps regulate:
- Brain, heart, liver, and kidney function
- Bone and muscle health
- The central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body temperature, growth, development
- How calcium is metabolized and protein synthesis
- Body weight
- Menstrual cycle
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
- Skin, hair, and eye health
- Gastrointestinal health
- And even more!
Who controls the thyroid?
The thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland. The thyroid produces T3/T4 hormones. The pituitary senses the T3/T4 levels in the blood, responding accordingly.
If there are low levels of T3/T4, the pituitary sends TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to the thyroid. This stimulates the thyroid to produce more T4/T3 hormones.
If there are high T4/T3 levels in the blood, it does not send the TSH. This is why hyperthyroid patients often have low TSH and hypothyroid patients often have high TSH.
How does it all work?
My favorite analogy is to think of the thyroid gland as central air/heat, and the pituitary gland as the thermostat.
T4/T3 hormones are like heat. When the heat gets back to the thermostat (the thyroid hormone levels rise), it turns the thermostat off (TSH decreases).
As the room cools (the thyroid hormone levels drop), the thermostat turns back on (TSH increases), and the furnace produces more heat (thyroid hormones).
There’s also another person in the endocrine system who controls the thermostat. The hypothalamus regulates the pituitary. The hypothalamus gland is in the brain. It produces TSH Releasing Hormone (TRH). TRH tells the pituitary gland to tell the thyroid gland to release TSH.
So if the thyroid gland produces too much T3/T4 (hyperthyroidism), the TSH will usually be lower than normal. Why? Because the pituitary gland senses the excess hormones and is not sending TSH. If it produces too little T3/T4 (hypothyroidism), the TSH will usually be higher because the pituitary is sending more TSH.
What causes thyroid disorders?
Every condition is different, especially depending on what’s causing the hyper/hypothyroidism. The cause could be a number of issues, including autoimmune disease, thyroid nodules, iodine deficiency, inflammation, cancer, stress, trauma, toxic environments or products, poor nutrition, and much more.
The thyroid blood levels vary depending on each body, but the general, most common symptoms for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism include:
- Extreme weight gain or loss
- Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation
- Hair loss
- Dry skin or excessive sweating
- Irregular body temperatures and the inability to tolerate heat or cold
- Irregular heartbeat, tremors
- Mood swings, anxiety, depression
- Irregular, heavy, or painful menstrual cycles
- Low libido, reproductive issues
- Mild to severe muscle, joint, nerve pain
- Easily broken bones and injured muscles
- Neck swelling, a hoarse or scratchy throat
- Severe fatigue
- Brain fog, poor memory, and concentration
Cannabinoids and thyroid health
There are CB1 receptors located in the thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus glands! This suggests the ECS plays a large role in the glands’ communication and productivity. These healthily-functioning glands are vital factors in a balanced endocrine system.
There are also CB1 receptors in the adrenal glands. Adrenal fatigue is common with thyroid disorders. The adrenal glands can get overworked from fluctuating hormones and other issues caused by thyroid imbalance.
Studies show phytocannabinoids have been shown to both suppress thyroid overactivity, and promote hormone release in thyroid underactivity. This makes sense considering the nature of the endocannabinoid system.
D9-THC activates the CB1 receptors. On the thyroid, CB1 receptors are shown to regulate T3 and T4 hormone release. One study showed THC inhibited thyroid hormone activity. There was a 30% decrease in T3/T4 release 4 hours after administering THC.
Research reveals that CBD and THC activate axons between the thyroid gland and CNS. An axon is a nerve fiber that carries information away from one cell to another. This suggests phytocannabinoids can activate proper communication between the brain and thyroid. This could be so helpful for metabolism issues and nutrient absorption.
Phytocannabinoids activate the CB2 receptors. The CB2 receptors are mainly found in immune cells, but also in neurons and other cells making up the central nervous system. Many thyroid conditions are caused by autoimmune disorders, which is a common reason people use cannabis. More and more studies also support that many autoimmune disorders relate to endocannabinoid deficiency.
Studies show enhanced CB1 and CB2 receptor levels correlated with thyroid gland malignancy. Enhanced CB2 expression levels were also associated with clinicopathological characteristics related to patients’ therapeutic management. These results support evidence that CB receptors (especially CB2 receptor) may be effective when it comes to thyroid malignancy and suppressing tumor progression.
Cannabinoids and their role with inflammation. Many use cannabis for thyroiditis, which is inflammation of the thyroid gland itself. It’s also used to treat inflammation being caused elsewhere in the body. This inflammation could either be a result or cause of the thyroid disease.
Phytocannabinoids are regularly used to treat the various symptoms also commonly caused by thyroid disorders. Gastrointestinal issues, nausea, migraines, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, arthritis, and more are all reasons people look to cannabis for relief. These symptoms usually coincide with thyroid dysfunction as well.
Other important tips about thyroid management
- Proper nutrition and the quality of our food greatly affects thyroid function. Think of it as the electricity needed to power the central air system, and how too little or too much of something can throw that off.
- Iodine intake. The body does not produce iodine on its own, and we often don’t eat enough of it in the day since many food sources aren’t exceptionally high in it. This is why iodine is often added to salt.
- Important nutrients for thyroid function: iodine, selenium, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2.
Always consult a licensed healthcare physician if suspecting or dealing with thyroid conditions. Do not take new supplements or try to treat a thyroid condition without professional care or advice. Each body varies and often needs different treatment.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.