In a study in 1988 at the St. Louis University School of Medicine Dr. Allyn Howlett and Dr. William Devane determined that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis (CB1 to be specific). 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. Devane along with Dr. Lumir Hanus, discovered the endocannabinoid anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit word ānanda, meaning bliss, happiness, or pleasure. Now that it was shown our brains produce its own cannabinoids, the long association of humans with cannabis made sense. In the pursuit of unearthing the metabolic pathways of phytocannabinoids (found in plants) and endocannabinoids (found in mammals), they 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 had been a Schedule 1 substance in the US since 1937 (due originally to the Marijuana Tax Act). Funding eventually came as the US Government invested in scientific studies of Cannabis and its effects on the human body in the late 1980s. This funding which was initially meant to substantiate and prove its harmful and delirious effects actually ended up with the discovery of a whole new biological system.
WHAT IS THE ECS?
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 body back to homeostasis.
For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation.
RESEARCH HAS LINKED THE ECS TO THE FOLLOWING PROCESSES:
Appetite and Digestion
Other Immune System Responses
Learning and Memory
Cardiovascular System Function
Bone Remodeling and Growth
Reproductive System Function
Skin and Nerve Function
There are two major receptors in your ECS: CB1 and CB2
These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.
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.
CB1 helps regulate the following functions:
Brain, Thyroid Gland, Adrenal Gland, Liver
Ex. Endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain.
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, 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.
CB2 helps regulate the following functions:
Immune System, GI Tract & Gut Microbiota
Ex. Endocannabinoids may bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
DEFICIENCIES IN YOUR ECS
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 bodies not synthesizing enough endocannabinoids, 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 concentrations 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.