Dr. Aimée Shunney-The Naturopathic Doctor
Welcome to part two of a four-part series, where we are learning more about hemp CBD by talking to some of the experts at CV Sciences™, makers of PlusCBD Oil™, the #1 brand of hemp CBD supplements in the natural products industry. In a CBD market that can be extremely difficult to navigate, CV Sciences stands out for its transparency and its commitment to creating high-quality CBD products. This company and its PlusCBD Oil brand have become leaders in educating the public and furthering scientific knowledge about this remarkable substance. In addition to its extensive quality control testing, CV Sciences is the first hemp CBD company to invest in the scientific research necessary to receive a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. It sees an exciting and evolving future, where we will continue to learn more about hemp CBD’s amazing benefits and is investing in making that future happen.
Meet Dr. Aimée Shunney, naturopathic physician, has been in private practice for nearly 20 years, currently at Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine in Santa Cruz, CA. She blends conventional medical diagnosis and treatment with the use of natural therapeutics like dietary and lifestyle counseling, nutritional supplements, and herbal medicine. She specializes in women’s health, bioidentical hormone balancing, and functional digestive issues. She has been an educator and medical advisor to CV Sciences since 2015.
How did you become interested in naturopathic medicine?
It found me while I was looking for something else entirely… I have a BA in psychology, and after I finished college, I went to work for several organizations that were meant to support children and teens coping with mental health and/or behavioral challenges. The vast majority of them had experienced abuse personally or witnessed a loved one being hurt, and many came from unstable homes surrounded by drugs and alcohol. It was heartbreaking. These kids had the deck stacked against them—and the system charged with keeping them safe and helping them become healthy adults (the system I was now a part of) had a very specific formula for doing so: heavy-duty medication cocktails and talk therapy. I left after 3 years, exhausted, discouraged, and frankly, outraged with the limited tools these kids had to get well. I was convinced that there must be a better way to support a person’s journey to health, and I hoped that I could find a “Holistic Counseling” program that embraced these ideas.
Turns out that I was ahead of my time! Those types of degrees are abundant now, but at the time, they were nowhere to be found. Fortunately for me, I found something even better. While researching, I discovered naturopathic medicine (something I had never heard of) in a book. It was exactly what I was looking for—the best of the modern medical model alongside rigorous training in nutrition, lifestyle medicine, and natural therapies. It made so much sense to me; a system that honors the connection between mind and body (and nature), and encourages collaboration and an exchange of ideas between doctor and patient. Finally, a path to healing!
As a naturopathic physician, you combine western medical science and evidence-based natural therapies. Why is it important to consider natural therapies in addition to western medicine?
Conventional western medicine treats diseases and symptoms. Natural therapies can do that, too—think 5HTP or St. John’s Wort instead of an antidepressant, or turmeric instead of an anti-inflammatory drug. Natural therapies are far less likely to cause side effects and are often free of chemicals, additives, and other ingredients that can cause health problems—so if the 5HTP works for your depression, fantastic! But here’s the other thing about systems that use natural therapies—naturopathic medicine, for example—their philosophy is different. When practicing holistically, doctors want to alleviate symptoms, but we also want to get at the cause of the imbalance. The 5HTP might help your symptoms, but could your diet/sedentary lifestyle/social media addiction be causing them? Is there an underlying gut issue we need to address? Are you chronically inflamed? Are you in a toxic relationship? Adopting this more holistic style of addressing health concerns will lead to real and lasting change far beyond symptom relief.
How did you first learn about the benefits of CBD?
Four years ago, I was encouraged to look into CBD by some dear friends who also happen to be industry colleagues. At the time, cannabis medicine wasn’t on my radar at all but … my friends were persistent, and because I respect them so very much, I started reading and looking at research and needless to say, I was intrigued. So like any good doctor, the first thing I did was try it on my husband. And it worked! When I met him, he had been a long-time-middle-of-the-night insomniac, and CBD helped him sleep through the night again. It also allowed me to get back to sleep easier, something I had not done well since my son was born, and over time, I also found it improved my ability to react less to stressful situations. At that point, I was so excited—I just had to share CBD with my patients. I wanted them to benefit as much as we had!
In what ways have you seen CBD change the lives of your patients?
I started using CBD with patients in late 2015. Across the board, I have seen better sleep, less anxiety, and improved mood. Some patients have even been able to get off or reduce their antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. I’m always thrilled when that happens. Patients have used it successfully for migraines, menstrual cramps, mouth ulcers, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and bursitis. Here again, some have been able to eliminate or decrease pain medications. Topical application has helped not only aches and pains, but also skin irritation and inflammation including eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and lichen sclerosis. I have also seen it help greatly with seizures. And gut issues! Honestly, the list just goes on…. Perhaps the MOST useful application, however, is the creation of “stress resilience.” Time and time again, patients tell me that their stress hasn’t changed, but their response to it has. They say that they have less emotional response to stress and that they’re better able to cope with what life brings them. Who can’t use more of that?
What led you to become an advisor for CV Sciences?
Relationships. Those same colleagues I mentioned earlier work at CV Sciences. I knew that if these particular people were involved with the company, it would be a business run with integrity and an eye towards exceptional quality products. CV Sciences has more than lived up to my expectations in that regard. There is a lot of work to be done to keep hemp CBD accessible to the public, to keep the industry honest and clean, and to define best practices. These folks are leading the way!
It seems like CBD can be used for a huge number of different health and wellness issues. Why do you think it works for so many different types of health concerns?
One word: the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In the late 80s, scientists discovered that we have cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in every organ system of our body. In fact, the CB1 receptor is the most densely distributed receptor type in the human brain! Soon after, they discovered that we make our own cannabis-like compounds, endocannabinoids, and enzymes to produce and degrade them. Put all those elements together, and we have a “new” physiologic system called the ECS (not to mention the rationale behind our 8,000+ year love affair with cannabis). The ECS helps us respond to stress by modulating endocrine function, regulating fight or flight, and mounting a healthy immune response.
As it turns out, CBD has an affinity for balancing and supporting the ECS by virtue of its actions on CB1 and CB2 receptors, and various other receptors that modulate serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and other inflammatory chemicals. This is why CBD has so many potential applications.
One of your specialties is women’s health. How can CBD benefit women in particular?
GREAT question! Stress hormones and sex hormones come from the same place: cholesterol, which is made into pregnenelone. At that point, there is a fork in the road. Pregnenelone can change into DHEA and then testosterone or estrogen, or it can transform into progesterone and then cortisol. When there is demand for cortisol to manage stress, the body prioritizes that pathway, and we get less estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. This is called the “pregnenelone steal,” and it can manifest as depression, fatigue, anxiety, hair loss, facial and body hair growth, poor memory and brain fog, low libido, irregular periods, and infertility to name a few examples. You might think that giving more pregnenelone, or more of the low hormones would help these symptoms—and they might, at least short-term—but if we want to fix the underlying balance, we have to address the stress response. As it turns out, the ECS is a gatekeeper for our stress response, helping constrain the magnitude of stress hormones like cortisol that are produced in response to stress. The ECS, when functioning well, also helps us recover from stress faster. Since CBD can help balance the ECS, it can be very useful to balance hormone production in women. I have used it in my practice as part of an integrative treatment plan for PMS, menstrual migraines, post-partum depression, PCOS, painful and irregular periods, and low libido. Likewise, I’ve seen it help with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms like poor sleep, mood swings, anxiety, and hot flashes.
What’s the most exciting part of teaching people about CBD?
It’s exciting to share information about something that is so safe, fast-acting, and effective, and it’s incredibly gratifying when someone is helped and their life is made better. But there’s also this element of discovery, and resistance—and redemption! It’s like we’ve discovered this beautiful ancient relic that’s been hidden away under a dust cloth in the back office of a museum, and we’re cleaning it off, and shining it up, and bringing it out into the light of day for everyone to learn about, and benefit from. It feels so good to play my tiny part in bringing CBD and cannabis medicine back to center stage.