One of the most exciting things about the cannabis plant is the way it interacts with our body's internal systems. It turns out that as we learn more and more about the cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) produced by the cannabis plant, we also learn more and more about our own body structure, the cannabinoids we create (endocannabinoids) and their functions.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
We all have an endocannabinoid system (EKR system), the role of which is to regulate our body, to maintain balance or to help maintain homeostasis (the ability of living organisms to adapt to a changing environment, the set of physiological processes that ensure the stability of the body's internal state). Peak performance is achieved when internal homeostasis is achieved, unlike when the body is deficient in the endocannabinoid system.
What does the endocannabinoid system do?
Because of the need for internal balance, the endocannabinoid system functions to maintain homeostasis in fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including humans. Pain, stress, appetite, energy, cardiovascular function, reproduction, and sleep are just some of the processes in which the EKR is involved.
What are endocannabinoids?
The human endocannabinoid system consists of three main components : cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids and the enzymes that break them down. This system is present throughout the body - on the immune cells of our bloodstream, our entire nervous system, the entire axis of the spinal cord, and virtually every cell in the brain. We even have cannabinoid receptors in our skin .
How was the endocannabinoid system discovered?
The body naturally produces endocannabinoids, the two most common being anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Anandamide was discovered in the 1990s, so much research is still needed to fully understand it, anandamide is rooted in the Sanskrit word “ananda” which means eternal happiness or bliss.
Anandamide and 2-AG are produced on demand and seek out the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors influence motor and cognitive functions, while CB2 receptors play a more critical role in protecting neurons. While these two receptors are the most studied, there are others that cannabinoids can bind to, such as the TRPV proteins responsible for the body's sense of temperature.
Although CB and TRPV receptors are the main players in the EKR, there are at least three other receptors that can be considered cannabinoid receptors: GPR55, GPR18, and GPR119.
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system, where they regulate many functions of the brain, other neurotransmitters (stimulus transmitters, specialized chemical messenger molecules whose task is to carry messages from one nerve cell to another, or to muscle or gland cells), such as serotonin, the release of dopamine and glutamate.
Think of neurotransmitters as people at an intersection: The EKR acts as a traffic light, allowing them to cross at strictly controlled intervals and numbers.
CB2 receptors are mostly found on immune cells that circulate throughout the body and brain via the bloodstream. These receptors are also found on the neurons of some selected brain regions and are involved in pain relief, inflammation reduction and nerve cell protection.
How does CBD help the endocannabinoid system?
Since our body originally uses "in-house" endocannabinoids to regulate many functions, our body has a lot of potential places where phytocannabinoids can be activated. In addition to the known and potential cannabinoid receptors mentioned above, phytocannabinoids bind to many other targets. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) binds to at least 12 sites in the brain.
The genes encoding CB1 and CB2 receptors are CNR1 and CNR2. These genes are of particular interest to scientists because, when mutated, they can result in different responses to the body's endogenous cannabinoids, which can affect health and disease states.
Some changes in CNR1 are associated with obesity and psychiatric disorders , such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addiction. It is believed that further investigation of these genetic variants may lead to the prevention and treatment of many diseases that are based on EKR dysfunction. Much more research is needed to fully understand the role of EKR in health and how genetic variability in the system contributes to disease.
Although EKRs have a lot in common, each one is unique: the rate of production and breakdown of anandamide and 2-AG can vary greatly, as can the levels of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies.