Saturday, April 20, 2013

Enocannabinoids, Omega 3s, And Crime

A few days ago I ran into an interesting paper on omega 3 fatty acids, endocannabinoids and crime. I had been meaning to blog it and so here it is.
Recent findings suggest that some criminal and aggressive behaviors are closely correlated with low serum omega-3 levels, which are linked to lower levels of altruism, honesty, and self-discipline. (13) These effects may be related to alterations in serotonin turnover, which controls impulsivity and aggression-hostility behaviors. (13)

There's solid data indicating that optimal omega-3 intake at all ages is a promising avenue for subduing aggression and hostility. (20), (21) For example, 1.5 grams of omega-3 supplementation (containing 840 mg EPA and 700 mg of DHA) in autistic children with severe tantrums, aggression, or self-injurious behavior produced significant improvements compared with placebo, without adverse effects. (22) And stressed but otherwise healthy volunteers given 1,500 mg/day of DHA reported a significantly improved rate of stress reduction compared to a no-treatment group, suggesting an adaptogenic role for omega-3s (adaptogens help the body respond to imposed stress in a variety of ways). (23)
Very interesting but what does this have to do with endocannabinoids? The body needs Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in oder to synthesize the body's own cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are synthesized from essential fatty acids – specifically from the Omega-6 fatty acid -aracidonic acid (AA). Since essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized in our bodies, we need AA in our diet to synthesize the eCB anandamide. Dietary supplementation with AA increases levels of anandamide and another eCB, 2-acyl-glycerol (2-AG)...
And that is not all.
Approximately 8% of the brain's weight is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids (3)--the building block for an estimated 100 billion neurons. (4) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) play a host of vital roles in neuronal structure and function, protecting them from oxidative damage, inflammation, and the cumulative destruction inflicted by other chronic insults. (5), (6)

Embedded in the omega-3-rich neuronal membrane are numerous proteins and complex molecules required for electrochemical transmission and signal reception. (4) Scientists have recently shown that the precise balance of fatty acids in brain cells helps determine whether a given nerve cell will be protected against injury or inflammation, or whether it will instead succumb to the injury. (7)

Omega-3s accumulate in the human brain during fetal development. The amount of the omega-3 DHA has been closely tied to intelligence and cognitive performance in infancy and childhood. (8) But the omega-3 content of brain cell membranes involved in essential memory-processing areas diminishes with advancing age and in certain chronic brain disorders. (9)

These findings have led scientists to suspect a role for omega-3 deterioration in development of typical age-related cognitive decline such as that seen in Alzheimer's and chronic disease. (10)
So could our diets be implicated in our dis ease?
Over the course of human evolution there has been a dramatic change in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats consumed in the diet. This change, perhaps more than any other dietary factor, has contributed to the epidemic of modern disease.

Throughout 4-5 million years of hominid evolution, diets were abundant in seafood and other sources of omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA & DHA), but relatively low in omega-6 seed oils.

Anthropological research suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. It also indicates that both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers were free of the modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that are the primary causes of death and morbidity today.

At the onset of the industrial revolution (about 140 years ago), there was a marked shift in the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in the diet. Consumption of n-6 fats increased at the expense of n-3 fats. This change was due to both the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry and the increased use of cereal grains as feed for domestic livestock (which in turn altered the fatty acid profile of meat that humans consumed).
Which leads me to ask - is the consumption of cannabis (other than for medical use) caused by poor diets?

So what is a good way to balance the omega 3s vs the omega 6s? Hemp oil.
A noteworthy feature of hemp seed oil is the ratio between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Most experts agree, reports Elson Haas, M.D., in his book "Staying Healthy with Nutrition," that the best ratio of dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ranges from 2:1 to 4:1. In hemp seed oil, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 3:1, or maybe slightly less, depending on the plant variety, notes Leson. This favorable ratio helps to compensate, at least partially, for the general overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids in the typical American diet.
Here is a look at the American diet today with respect to omega 3s and 6s.
...before trans fats and processed foods were added to our diets, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats was about 4:1—a ratio associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality rate in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.1

Today, one study found that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats consumed was closer to 16:1.1 Other researchers say that the typical American diet contains 11-30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats.2 And in a study of asthmatic patients, a 10:1 ratio was associated with adverse consequences.1

So it’s clear that, to stay healthy, we need to balance our consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. One expert suggests a 1:1 ratio—and never more than 2:1.(3)
What I find interesting is that we may have a generation or three dependent on cannabis due to dietary deficiencies. And those deficiencies may not be reversible. The only thing to do about it - other than changing the laws to stop arresting people - is to pay better attention to child nutrition starting with prenatal care. It is no good just seeing that mothers have enough to eat. We have to make sure (as best as we can without a police state) that they are eating the right stuff.

Here is another good resource on the subject which translates some of the medical talk into more easily understood words.


  1. My Ex is a retired Professor of Sociology, and she sent me this. We are still great friends!