Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system was first discovered when scientists were working to understand the effects of marijuana on the human body
From the word endocannabinoid, we have two words “endo” which means endogenous and “cannabinoid” which stands for the compounds that interact with the system. From the two words, you realize that our bodies produce their own compounds that are similar to cannabis and these work within the endocannabinoid system to influence the different biological process in your body. Some of the cannabinoids produced naturally by the human body include the 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) and the anandamide.
There are still so many unknown details regarding this system, and that’s why scientists are yet to understand the full effects of marijuana or cannabinoids in the body. The limited information available already shows us just how crucial the entire system is.
The system is broken down into three key segments which help us understand how it works and the roles it plays. These are:
- Cannabinoid receptors
- Metabolic enzymes
Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of the cells. Their responsibility is to monitor the surrounding conditions outside the cell and transmitting the relevant information back into the cell to stimulate the appropriate cellular response.
There are many cannabinoid receptors, but only two of them are well studied, i.e. CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found in abundance in the human brain. They are also the receptors that interact with the THC component of cannabis resulting in the “high” feeling you get after smoking the drug. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are present outside the nervous system. They are found in plenty in the immune system.
Endocannabinoids are the compounds naturally produced by your body to attach onto the cannabinoid receptors and activating them in the process. These substances function similarly as the cannabinoid THC except they are secreted within the body.
Our bodies produce two main endocannabinoids referred to as 2-AG and anandamide. They are made like fat molecules with cell membranes, and the best part is that they are produced on demand. Your body will hence, make these endocannabinoids only when they are needed. No anandamide or 2-AG are made and stored to be used later on as is the case with most other biological molecules.
- Metabolic Enzymes
Metabolic enzymes within the endocannabinoid system are tasked with destroying endocannabinoid once they are used. The two metabolic enzymes found in this system include the FAAH for breaking down anandamide and MAGL that breaks down 2-AG. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids never stay in your body unless it is absolutely necessary.
Endocannabinoid System and Homeostasis
The primary function of the ECS is homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to your body trying to maintain the right conditions for optimal functions of all cells and tissues regardless of the conditions outside the body. This process helps in ensuring that there is just the right temperature, hormone levels, heart rate and overall chemical levels for you to operate in the best way possible.
When this balance is interfered with, your body stimulates the Endocannabinoid system which starts working to restore the balance. The system uses the cannabinoid receptors that are available in different tissues all over the body to restore this balance. The endocannabinoid system uses the CB1 and CB2 receptors to regulate various functions in the body. These include appetite, digestion, mood, motor control, immune functions, reproduction, memory, inflammation, pleasure, pain, etc.
What makes the ECS efficient is how precise it is. This system is not only activated when it is necessary, but it also targets just the right tissues. If, for instance, there is a problem with your immune system, your body will activate the ECS to interact with the system accordingly without interfering with your breathing, digestion or reproductive systems. As soon as the ECS has achieved the intended outcome, a couple of enzymes including the metabolic enzymes discussed above will be deployed to stop the ECS from reversing the achieved results or interacting with other systems before they eventually kill off the endocannabinoids.
The efficiency of ECS is what makes the difference when it is activated naturally and when you use cannabinoids such as THC and CBD to trigger it. The latter won’t stop the ECS once the desired results are achieved, but instead, it leads to one extreme, i.e. either too much or too little of something.
Endocannabinoid System and Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s defensive mechanism against infections. When there is tissue damage or if pathogens invade a tissue, your immunity reacts by swelling and producing fluid to fight off the “germs.” Unfortunately, your body could in some cases generate chronic inflammation which is extremely dangerous. This may be as a result of an auto-immune disorder that attacks healthy cells leading to severe medical conditions.
Scientists are pointing out to the possibility of the ECS to help in controlling inflammation in the body. Endocannabinoids can be used to regulate the immune cells so that they do not cause too much unnecessary inflammation that is harmful to your tissues.
More studies are required to understand how Endocannabinoids can be used for this purposefully.
How do plant Cannabinoids Interact with ECS?
The endocannabinoid system is the reason why plant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD affect different processes in your body. For example, consumption of THC gets you high because the compound activates CB1 receptor found in your brain.
Another issue with plant cannabinoids is that they usually cause different effects once consumed. This can be explained by the fact that plant-based cannabinoids interact with different types of receptors in the brain leading to the numerous effects that users experience.
CBD is commonly used to treat a condition such as anxiety and depression. How does it work to achieve this? One of the effects of ingesting CBD is that it alters the endocannabinoid tone. This refers to the levels of endocannabinoids found in your brain. CBD will inhibit the functions of FAAH enzyme which is responsible for breaking down anandamide. With the enzyme rendered ineffective, more anandamide will be left in your system, and this is useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
The information available on the Endocannabinoid system is very little. Boosting appetite, mood, motor functions, homeostasis, and other benefits are just but a tip of the iceberg. There is still a lot to be discovered, and hence the full potential of the system when it comes to medicinal purposes is yet to come to light. Hopefully, the above information brings you a step closer towards understanding what the endocannabinoid system is all about and how your favorite herb interacts with it to deliver the much-needed results.