The Endocannabinoid System

In our previous articles, we have often mentioned the endocannabinoid system. Now, it’s time to dive deeper into this topic. Let’s find out what this system is, its importance to our bodies and minds as well as how it is connected to CBD and THC.

In our previous articles, we have often mentioned the endocannabinoid system. Now, it’s time to dive deeper into this topic. It is common to hear about the key role the endocannabinoid system plays in activating CBD products. But how important is this system for our well-being in general? What do we know about it and what is there still to discover? Find the answers in this article. Let’s find out what this system is, its importance to our bodies and minds as well as how it is connected to CBD and THC.

1. What is the endocannabinoid system?

Firstly, it is necessary to go over some basic information about the endocannabinoid system and the history of research into it. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, is a network of components in the human body that plays an important role in our internal biological system. It is responsible for some physiologic functions as well as regulating and balancing homeostasis (the body’s response to certain triggers). For example, it affects the body temperature, appetite, metabolism, immune system changes, sleep, cellular communication and much more. The ECS also plays a role in the possible effects produced by cannabis. It is through this network that the active ingredients in the plant, known as cannabinoids, interact with the body’s biological system.

What is the historical background to this phenomenon? Back in 1988, a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine determined that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis. These receptors, called cannabinoid receptors, turned out to be the most abundant type of neurotransmitter receptor in the brain. This study marked the beginning of research on the endocannabinoid system that is continuing today. However, we would like to point out the importance of more studies being conducted, as there is still not enough scientifically proven knowledge about the endocannabinoid system.

2. The components of the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system is a complex network with a number of segments that have different roles and functions. In this section, we will explain the various parts of the endocannabinoid system, their main representatives and what their roles are.

The endocannabinoid system comprises three major actors that are responsible for setting the chemical balance of our body.

1. Cannabinoid receptors (such as CB1R, CB2R) — elements that, generally speaking, interpret and transmit information to the cells. They are 7-transmembrane receptors that mediate the central and peripheral action of cannabis sativa plant extracts. Let’s review the main cannabinoid receptors below.

CB1R or CB1 receptors are mainly located on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, but are also found in some peripheral organs and tissues, such as the spleen, leukocytes, endocrine glands, and parts of the reproductive, gastrointestinal and urinary tract. They are responsible for important functions such as coordination, movement, pain, anxiety, fear, appetite, memory, mood, energy and others.

CB2R or CB2 receptors, in turn, are mainly found in leukocytes in the tonsils and spleen. Immune cells also express CB1, although there are fewer of them than CB2. The CB2 receptors are responsible for regulating immune and inflammatory responses.

2. Endocannabinoids (such as AEA, 2-AG) — endogenous ligands, which are small lipid retrograde neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors and stimulate them. They are secreted in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. There are a number of endocannabinoids, but we will highlight the major ones we have already mentioned.

AEA or anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter found in the organs of animals and humans, especially the brain. It activates the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. It is also called the “bliss molecule” for its blissful effects.

2-AG, whose full name is 2-arachidonoylglyerol, is another key endocannabinoid. It was first detected in the intestines of dogs and was shown to be an endogenous ligand for cannabinoid receptors in 1995. It supports immune functions and binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

3. Enzymes (such as FAAH, MAGL) – biological molecules that significantly accelerate the rate of almost all chemical reactions that take place in cells. They are compounds that help break down endocannabinoids. Although enzymes can actually take many forms, only these two types are able to break down endocannabinoids.

FAAH is short for fatty acid amide hydrolase. It controls the content and biological activity of N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA) and other related bioactive lipids called endocannabinoids.

MAGL or monoacylglycerol acid lipase is characterised as the main enzyme responsible for the inactivation of the most abundant endocannabinoid in the brain, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

Once the endocannabinoids have succeeded in transmitting the messages via the receptors, their mission is completed. At this point, the enzymes spring into action.

So, how can the ECS affect a person’s body and mind? We will talk about it in the next section.

3. How does it function?

The endocannabinoid system influences a number of important processes in our bodies. The range of these is wide: from cognition, memory and mood to appetite and sensory functions. In addition to regulating these processes, it also influences the body’s physiological response to disease. The research shows that the endocannabinoid system can help regulate the following well-known functions: appetite and digestion, sleep, pain sensation, inflammation and other immune responses, mood, metabolism, learning, memory and reproductive system function.

Besides, if the ECS is out of balance, it can be associated with various disorders. Some scientists even suggest a medical theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). Conditions for which there is evidence that CECD may play a role include fibromyalgia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome.

These conditions are sometimes referred to as “functional states” or “central sensitivity syndromes”. They tend to be resistant to most treatments, which is why researchers are looking into cannabis-based treatments. These conditions are also usually associated with multiple systems, which makes sense when considering the areas that the ECS affects.

This research describes the possible outcomes of endocannabinoid deficiency, among which are migraines, inflammation, syndromes and multiple conditions.

4. The endocannabinoid system and CBD

While this subject is currently being studied in modern medicine, the results of the research are not so clear.

First of all, let’s talk about the elements known as phytocannabinoids. These are cannabinoids that can be extracted from cannabis plants. The two types of the most studied phytocannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Although both compounds are plant-based, they have a very similar chemical structure to endocannabinoids, which allows them to possibly interact with the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors.

However, CBD and THC interact differently with the ECS. THC primarily affects CB1 receptors located predominantly in the brain and nervous system, while CBD interacts more readily with CB2 receptors found in the body’s immune system. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it will not give you a high feeling, which makes it perfect for potential therapeutic use. However, this clinical study has demonstrated that the synergy of THC and CBD can have the highest potential for a range of therapeutic activities.

Besides THC and CBD, scientists have also identified around one hundred other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. But so far, not enough research has been done on their functioning and potential benefits.

What are the effects of these interactions between cannabinoids and receptors? Some studies point out the potential benefits of cannabinoids in the body as demonstrated through the treatment of various diseases such as those of energy metabolism, and disorders of the cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous systems. Another study suggests that phytocannabinoids may have anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research is needed to provide awareness on the endocannabinoid system functioning in general and phytocannabinoids’ interaction with it in particular.

Moreover, given that all mammals have endocannabinoids, some people also give special CBD oils or edibles to their pets to relieve pain symptoms, inflammation or anxiety. However, it is important to remember that more research is needed to identify the real benefits of CBD, as well as its actual interaction with the bodies and minds of living organisms.

Final thoughts

A topic such as the endocannabinoid system is complex, however, we have shown you the basic information about its structure, interactions of THC and CBD with it, and the potential therapeutic effects of phytocannabinoids. The ECS is far more crucial than anyone ever imagined, as it can help us keep our bodies healthy and all our important functions running smoothly. However, there’s still a lot to learn about it and new findings will bring us closer to the development of a cure for many serious conditions. Also, hopefully, new studies will raise more awareness and recognition of the CBD industry. As of now, we recommend that you consult your physician before you start taking CBD and carefully check the ingredients of the products to avoid any compounds that you might be allergic to. Additionally, be a watchful consumer and if you are going to buy CBD products, please only do so from trustworthy manufacturers. Don’t miss the updates on our blog and contact us if you have any questions about CBD or CBD-related topics.

Sources:

  1. How CBD Affects the Endocannabinoid System (https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/rehabilitation-therapy/how-cbd-affects-the-endocannabinoid-system)
  2. Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System (https://norml.org/marijuana/library/recent-medical-marijuana-research/introduction-to-the-endocannabinoid-system/)
  3. How the Endocannabinoid System was Discovered (https://www.labroots.com/trending/cannabis-sciences/8456/endocannabinoid-system-discovered)
  4. The Endocannabinoid System: Components, Actions, and Optimization (https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com/blogs/endocannabinoid-system-components/)
  5. The Science Behind the Entourage Effect (https://www.cannabistech.com/articles/what-is-the-entourage-effect-in-cannabis/)
  6. 3 Signs of an Unbalanced Endocannabinoid System (https://www.cannabis-mag.com/3-signes-dun-systeme-endocannabinoide-desequilibre/)
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