The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was discovered in the mid 1990s by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a pioneer in the field of cannabis research. He was the one of the first to achieve the total synthesis of the most important cannabinoids: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). According to scientists, it is believed that the ECS evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago. Neurons, neural pathways, along with other cells where these enzymes, molecules and one or both CB1 and CB2 receptors are all occurring from the Endocannabinoid System.
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System, known as “the body’s own cannabinoid system” consists of cannabinoid receptors located in the brain, central and peripheral nervous systems. The ECS has a role in several physiological processes that include mood, anxiety, pain-sensation, appetite, memory, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, atherosclerosis, stroke, hypertension, obesity, glaucoma, or osteoporosis.
The Endocannabinoid System also has a role in mediating the psychoactive effects of cannabis. The ECS is believed to be the origin of the runner’s high and other similar aspects that are related to motivation and reward center in the human brain.
Neurons (brain cells) communicate between them and the rest of the body through neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers. They work to regulate and coordinate multiple processes, including thought and motor function. Neurotransmitters are discharged from a neuron (presynaptic cell) and make their way over a small gap (synapse), then bind to endogenous receptors that are situated on a nearby neuron (postsynaptic cell), allowing for the message to be passed along.
Apparently, the ECS communicates its messages differently. When the receiving neuron is activated, cannabinoids are created on the spot from lipid precursors (fat cells) that are already a part of that neuron. After that, they make their way from the respective cell and travel backward to the receiving neuron, attaching to cannabinoid receptors.
As long as they can safely attach to presynaptic cells, cannabinoids can be in control of what goes on when those activated cells. Usually, cannabinoids work to partially inhibit presynaptic neurons, limiting how much neurotransmitter gets released, influencing how messages are sent, received and then processed by cells.
There are two main cannabinoid receptors that are part of the ECS: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are usually found in the brain and they interact with THC. These receptors cause the intoxication that’s associated with recreational cannabis use. CB1 receptors have an important role in modulating and moderating the perception of pain. For example, when we ingest THC, it works to reduce the intensity and pain of an injury. Since CB1 receptors cannot be found in the part of the brain that deals with heart rate and respiration, there is no risk of lethal dosage for THC.
CB2 receptors are usually found in the immune system and especially in the spleen. These CB receptors deal with CBD and its anti-inflammatory properties. CBD supplements have anti-spasmodic qualities and moderate the harmful and intoxicating effects of THC. CBD works to actually knocks THC off the CB1 receptors, reducing its mind-altering effects.
Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids
Endocannabinoids are the substances that are naturally produced by the body to stimulate cannabinoid receptors. So far, two molecules are known to stimulate receptors: anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). CBD and 2-AG are two cannabinoids involved in the regulation of immune system functions, mood, pain management and appetite. Some enzymes such as fatty acid amide hydrolase or monoacylglycerol lipase can degrade these endocannabinoids
Phytocannabinoids are plant substances that interact with the cannabinoid receptors, and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are the most famous ones thanks to their health benefits. Cannabinoids are high in antioxidants and protect against the harmful effects of harmful free radicals and UV rays, shielding cells and protecting against aging, skin issues and cancer.
THC and the Endocannabinoid System
When consuming marijuana for recreational purposes, THC takes the Endocannabinoid System by storm, rapidly attaching to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body, interfering with how the body does its job of facilitating neural communication, which can upset the balance of the whole system. Due to the fact that cannabinoid receptors are present where the body’s systems intersect, CBD and THC can affect the body in multiple ways. While THC may reduce reaction times, decrease cognitive ability and increase anxiety, CBD works to reduce the mind-altering effects of THC.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
CBD, as mentioned previously, reduces the mind-altering effects of THC. This is why after taking a high dose of THC, ingesting CBD can reduce the high by knocking off THC from CB1 receptors. CBD does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the Endocannabinoid System, but actually wards off cannabinoids and endocannabinoids from interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CBD also prevents the breakdown of endocannabinoids, which helps promote homeostasis. This ensures your body seeks an optimal functioning level from a psychological and physiological standpoint and starts controlling metabolic functions, nutrient transport, energy storage or modulate insulin sensitivity.
Endocannabinoid System Functions
A 2006 review of the Endocannabinoid System as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy established that the ECS impacts the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, respiratory system, metabolism, the GI system, the musculoskeletal system and other areas of the body. Thanks to its far reach, the ECS can potentially help treat pain, anxiety, inflammation, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, stroke, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, addiction, glaucoma and cancer.
Research has shown that small doses of cannabinoids can signal the body and tell it to produce more endocannabinoids and create more cannabinoid receptors. Some scientists even believe that small and regular doses of cannabis might works as a stimulant to our central physiologic healing system.
Cannabinoids can mediate neurogenesis, learning and neuronal plasticity, which improve a person’s open-mindedness and ability to see beyond limiting patterns in behavior and thought from previous experiences. Changing how we deal with these patterns is of crucial importance to our health in this rapidly changing environment.
What’s more, the Endocannabinoid System plays a role in conditions such as obesity, diabetes or atherosclerosis, showing cardiovascular properties. Increased endocannabinoid signaling was found to produce sleep-inducing effects, decreasing wakefulness and increasing REM sleep.
The ultimate goal of the ECS is to promote homeostasis, which ensures there’s an ideal, stable environment within your system, despite fluctuations from the external environment. The Endocannabinoid System achieves this thanks to cannabinoid receptors that are located at every intersection of the body’s internal systems, facilitating communication and coordination between cells.
Interacting with the Endocannabinoid System
Since THC is psychoactive and alters the mind, it’s best you try to avoid it, unless it’s for recreational purposes.
So, if you want a safe, legal, natural and cost-effective way to stimulate your body’s ability to self-heal and promote homeostasis and general well-being, then CBD just may be your best option.
Cannabidiol extracted from industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states and contains no THC, so it won’t mess with your mind. Additionally, it can be ordered without a prescription, does not show up on drug tests and has no side effects.
Now you know that there’s a system in our bodies that is not only purposely designed to mediate the effects of cannabinoids, but also works to naturally produce endocannabinoids. Research is still ongoing in regards to the Endocannabinoid System and the numerous ways in which it interacts with THC and CBD.
Cannabis, and CBD especially, could prove to be useful remedies in the treatment of various diseases and conditions, representing a window of care and support in our toxic environment. It’s true that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of cannabis, THC and CBD, but the evidence so far is pretty extensive and constantly growing in favor of CBD.