THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
The Endocannabinoid system was only discovered in the last 40 years. In a government-funded study in 1988 at the St. Louis University School of Medicine Allyn Howlett and William Devane determined that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis. These receptors, named cannabinoid receptors turned out to be the most abundant type of neurotransmitter receptor in the brain. The discovery of these receptors resulted in the uncovering of naturally occurring neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids.
In 1992, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Lumir Hanus along with American researcher Dr. William Devane discovered the endocannabinoid anandamide. In the pursuit of unearthing the metabolic pathways of phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, scientists came across an unknown molecular signaling system within the body that is involved in regulating a broad range of biological functions. This system was named the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The discovery and study of this biological system were greatly slowed due to the fact that Cannabis has been a schedule 1 substance in the US since 1937 (due originally to the Marijuana Tax Act). Funding eventually did come as the US Government invested in scientific studies of Cannabis and it’s effects on the human body in the late 1980s. This funding which was initially meant to substantiate and prove it’s harmful and delirious effects actually ended up with the discovery of a whole new biological system.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS for short) is a biological system found in humans and animals. It plays a major role in regulating physiological and neurological processes that help to keep our bodies in balance, which is also known as homeostasis. When an imbalance is detected within our body, it synthesizes endocannabinoids that interact with the cannabinoid receptors. This stimulates a chemical response that works to return the physiological process back to homeostasis.
There are two major receptors in your ECS: CB1 and CB2
CB1 receptors are found mainly in our central nervous system (the spinal cord and brain). Their activation is associated with cerebral and behavioral effects, and they play a direct role in memory and cognition, emotion, motor control, appetite stimulation, and perception of pain. THC has a natural affinity for the CB1 receptor, which explains why we might experience euphoric mood changes or cognitive impairment when we consume it. But THC is just a supplement for our body’s own “bliss” molecule, called anandamide, the endogenous cannabinoid that interestingly binds to CB1 just like THC does.
FUNCTIONS THAT CB1 REGULATES:
Brain - Regenerative, neuroprotective, helps regulate neurotransmissions
Thyroid Gland - Regulates hormonal activity, regulates communication with the brain
Adrenal Gland - Regulates stress and energy metabolism
Liver - Reduces inflammation, regenerative, combat fatty liver disease
CB2 receptors are located mostly in the peripheral nervous system and are especially associated with the immune system and inflammation response. Because they’re most concentrated in our body’s periphery, their stimulation doesn’t result in any heady euphoria or intoxication. Activating the CB2 can relax the body, help it repair itself and reduce the sensation of pain without impairing cognition.
FUNCTIONS THAT CB2 REGULATES:
Immune System - Modulates immune reaction, anti-inflammatory
GI Tract & Gut Microbiota - Reduces gut motility, helps keep natural gut flora balanced
In some cases, there is a deficiency in ECS signaling. This condition is known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency. There are a number of reasons as to why this condition occurs. They can be our body not synthesizing enough endocannabinoids, our bodies not producing enough cannabinoid receptors, an abundance of enzymes that break down cannabinoids, or outside sources such as foods and medications that decrease ECS signaling. Cannabinoids outside of the body (phytocannabinoids) are found in the highest concentration in the Cannabis plant and can be used to supplement this deficiency.
In the human body, there are more Endocannabinoid receptors than any other receptor including serotonin or dopamine. By stimulating and supporting your endocannabinoid system one can find relief from a multitude of illnesses and conditions.
THC and CBD are two Cannabinoids that have been discovered to date, and each has its own set of potential medical benefits. Your body makes use of these cannabinoids through receptors found all over the body in your ECS. Cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) are being studied for the potential to reduce stress, protect the brain, fight cancer, improve digestive health, regulate the immune system, reduce pain, and reduce inflammation just to name a few.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of Cannabis’ psychological effects. It acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body. THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors that are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. This is where Cannabis gets it’s “high” from.
THC isn’t just about getting you stoned though, it actually has a variety uses medicinally and has been shown to help treat depression, PTSD, epilepsy, and eating disorders among others. THC can be used in syrups, edibles, oils used via tinctures, drops, in medicines, and topicals including lotions and balms used for anti-inflammation. THC and cannabis can also be used on animals like dogs for pain relief and calming anxiety.
Cannabidiol is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of Cannabis. Unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it's not intoxicating so there are no “stoned” feelings associated with it. CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, sleep issues, inflammation, and chronic pain management. Because it has become legal with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in the US, CBD products have risen up everywhere. We suggest that you please use caution and do your research when purchasing any CBD products, especially online.
Cannabis terpenes are aromatic molecules that give the plant its smell. Recent research has shown that they could potentially influence the effects of cannabinoids. Terpenes are found in the fragrant oils produced in the sticky resin glands of the Cannabis flower. These glands also secrete THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Cannabinoids themselves are odorless so the terpenes create all of the different scents of Cannabis. Terpenes are not just in Cannabis, they can be found all throughout nature, in some of the most widely used herbs and plants.
Cannabis terpenes work by binding with receptors in the human body – scent receptors in the nose and cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system.
Some terpenes bind with the same receptors that cannabinoids bind to and can sometimes effect chemical activity in the receptors. That means they could influence how the body interacts with cannabinoids in various ways. Different terpenes have different effects on the body’s cannabinoid receptors. One study has found that some terpenes can affect the amount of THC which is absorbed into the body. Other terpenes may increase the feeling of focus but not all terpenes produce effects that can be felt.
Today our knowledge of the complexity, importance, and roles of the Endocannabinoid System has greatly increased but is still growing and new information is being discovered all the time.