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Understanding the Endocannabinoid System and CBD

Education Posted Apr 29 2020

The endocannabinoid system is an important part of the human body and plays a crucial role in regulating certain bodily functions. The endocannabinoid system not only responds to endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body, but also external cannabinoids, like those found in the cannabis plant. Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, researchers have found that introducing external cannabinoids to the body can help fight the symptoms of a wide range of disorders and diseases.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Researchers first discovered the cannabinoid receptor in 1988 in the brain of a rat. Many studies were done, and finally in 1995 researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system in humans. Specifically, they found two different yet significant cannabinoid receptors - CB1 and CB2. In recent years, research has been done utilizing advanced technology, studying how the endocannabinoid system reacts to external cannabinoids.

The endocannabinoid system, often referred to as the ECS, is composed of three separate parts. The first part is made up of endocannabinoids, which are lipid-based neurotransmitters. The second part is composed of the receptors located throughout your body that the endocannabinoids bind with. Lastly, the enzymes that assist your body with breaking down the endocannabinoids compose the third part of the ECS. However, to fully understand how the ECS operates, you must first understand homeostasis.'

What is Homeostasis?

NIDA flickr

Homeostasis is the process our body uses to self-regulate and maintain a balance in the various processes occurring all over our bodies and the ECS is crucial for homeostasis. Think of it like your home, homeostasis is the house you live in and the endocannabinoid system is like the different monitoring systems in your home. Homeostasis ensures that vital systems in the body remain stable no matter what's going on externally. Just like a carbon monoxide detector would alert you if CO levels were too high, your ECS alerts your body if any processes are malfunctioning. Is your body temperature too high? Are you drinking enough water? Is your body hungry? These triggers are the ECS letting you know that your body needs something. Homeostasis and the ECS also play a role in regulating your immune functions, memory, pain, motor controls, digestion and inflammation to name a few. Endocannabinoids are essential in the process of maintaining homeostasis.

Cannabinoid Receptors in the Human Body 

CB1 Receptor

The CB1 receptors are located in the body's central nervous system, brain, lungs, liver and kidneys. These receptors are involved in regulating pain, nausea, depression and more. THC and CB1 have a very similar molecule structure and therefore will generally bind together. In addition CB1 binds well with Anandamide, which mimics the psychoactive effects of THC.

CB2 Receptor

The CB2 receptor is found in the peripheral nervous system, which is comprised of the signaling nerves in your extremities, immune system, spleen and gastrointestinal system. This receptor is often involved with regulating your appetite, immune system, inflammation and pain management. It has the ability to bind with CBD and the endocannabinoid 2-AG.

Endocannabinoid System Research

While there are only two known ECS receptors as of 2019, researchers are continually doing research and are on the brink of discovering a third. This third receptor they believe would possibly bind and react with CBN.

Unique Bonding Between CB1 and CB2 Receptors

ECS receptors are as unique as a fingerprint, meaning no two receptors are alike between people. This means that each individual has a different level at which their receptors are "balanced." This is why everyone is affected differently by cannabis. Different receptors mean that every person will have a different experience even if they are consuming the same type of cannabis.

When cannabinoids like CBD and THC bond with receptors in the body, they can produce positive reactions. When reacting with ECS, cannabinoids can promote homeostasis - which in turn helps to keep your body regulated and feeling great.

Natural Endocannabinoids

Anandamide, also called the bliss molecule, is naturally produced by the body and can mimic the psychoactive effects of THC. Anandamide acts as the body's natural antidepressant. While Anandamide can mimic THC, it does not actually get you "high" because of an enzyme called FAAH. This enzyme works very quickly to break down anandamide and other endocannabinoids. However, THC takes much longer to break down, which is why it stays in your system for a longer period of time. in fact, CBD actually slow down the process of the FAAH enzyme, meaning that you may have a longer high when consuming CBD and THC paired together.

Endocannabinoids vs. Cannabinoids

It can sometimes be confusing understanding the difference between endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. The ECS is made of endocannabinoids which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors. Like we previously stated, endocannabinoids are the keys and cannabinoids are the locks. Both essential in the process of homeostasis - keeping your body regulated.

What are Phytocannabinoids?

Pixabay

Phyto means plant, and phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that have been isolated from plants. THC and CBD are the most well-known, however there are more than 80 phytocannabinoids that have been discovered within the cannabis plant. Cannabis also contains some other semi well-known phytocannabinoids, CBC, CBG and CBN. Research is still being done to determine how they react with the endocannabinoid system. Phytocannabinoids are external cannabinoids that react with the ECS receptors to create healing responses and reactions throughout the body.

CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

While CBD has the greatest affinity for the CB2 receptor, it doesn't necessarily bind with any receptor. CBD affects the way that other cannabinoids react with the receptors. CBD can actually enhance the naturally occurring levels of endocannabinoids in the body. This is why CBD can often enhance the positive effects of THC when consumed together. In fact, CBD can actually improve the functionality of cannabinoid receptors. When CBD reacts with the ECS receptors it can help maintain important bodily functions, which in turn helps keep and/or restore homeostasis within the body. This is why CBD is so helpful when helping treat negative symptoms of a variety of disorders. In addition, if there is a deficiency of cannabinoids in the body, CBD can actually help restore balance. CBD has many positive reactions that be directly linked to interacting with the ECS. To name a few:

  • CBD helps to regulate how the body responds to stress. If a person becomes stressed or anxious, the brain can send an excess of hormones that increase cortisol levels which cause a person to be stressed. CBD can help regulate these signals.
  • CBD is very effective in helping treat seizures. CBD can slow down nerve activity which helps prevent the brain from overloading - this in turn can help minimize seizure activity.

The Benefits of The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is complex and scientists still have much to learn. But research with cannabinoids like CBD and THC have taught us so much. It is an exciting time for cannabis research!

Do you use CBD or THC to help regulate something in your body? Would you consider trying CBD or THC in the future? We want to know! Tell us in the comments!

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