What is the Endocannabinoid System?

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Interesting fact: If you do a PubMed search for scientific journal articles published in the last 20 years containing the word “cannabis” you would get 8,637 results. Add the word “cannabinoid,” and the results increase to 20,991 articles. Obviously, there is no shortage of information and research out there regarding cannabis and it’s medicinal benefits.

Cannabis has been used to treat conditions such as Cancer, Arthritis, Epilepsy, Anxiety/Depression, Skin Conditions, and the list goes on and on. CBD, or cannabidiol, one of the major cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant is getting a lot of press lately as an anti-inflammatory, anti-spazmotic, anti-tumor, anti-depressant, anti-oxidant, and probably a number of similar “anti’s.” This leads the rational, skeptical, inquisitive person (like myself) to ask: How is this plant capable of doing all of that? It sounds too good to be true, and honestly, a little far-fetched.

 The very first stop you need to take on your road to understanding the miracle of medical cannabis is to learn about the Endocannabinoid System. Unless you’ve had your pulse on the medical cannabis field for the past 10 years, you probably have never heard of this, yet it is literally one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of our time.

All mammals share an endocannabinoid system. It is a regulatory system which works throughout the body, managing immune and nervous system function, and general homeostasis. It is made up of cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis in a number of ways. One example is autophagy, the process which regulates “cell death” is moderated by the endocannabinoid system. This has a powerful impact on the cell’s ability to recognize healthy cells and keep them alive, or to recognize “bad” ones like cancer, and self-destruct. Obviously, the death of cancer cells is going to promote homeostasis in a very good way. When our endocannabinoid system is running optimally, it serves this function beautifully.

Endocannabinoid system can be thought of as a master communicator between different types of cells in the body.

For example, at the site of an injury, cannabinoids can act upon the nerve cells to prevent the over-firing of an inflammatory response. Cannabinoids also have a calming influence upon immune cells. The result of this communication amongst the three various types of cells is a reduction in pain and inflammation.

As a network of receptors found throughout the body in the nervous system, immune system, and various organs, the endocannabinoid system works as a bridge between the mind and the body. As well as promoting cellular homeostasis, the endocannabinoid system functions to balance a person’s relationship with external stimulus (the outside world). It is very clear that the administration of cannabinoids promote positive behaviors such as sharing, openness to new ideas, and creativity. Cannabinoids mediate neurogenesis, neural plasticity, and learning, thereby aiding in a person’s ability to move beyond limiting or stuck belief patterns which were based on past experiences. We are all keenly aware of the importance of maintaining mental health in this fast-paced world we live in today.

In light of the over 20,000 PubMed articles related to cannabis, we are still at the tip of the iceberg learning about how cannabis works with our bodies, and how the complex endocannabanoid system functions. What we do know is the endocannabinoid receptors are found embedded in cell membranes throughout the body. Researchers have identified two distinct cannabinoid receptors: CB1, located throughout the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; and CB2, predominantly found in the immune system and its associated structures. Many tissues contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and there is speculated to be a third receptor, which we have not yet discovered.

Our body produces it’s own endocannabinoids (endo=within). The two most famous of these are anandamide (the bliss molecule) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)

Anandamide, named after the sanskrit word for bliss, is a very important molecule which produces heightened happiness. It’s functions also include memory, appetite regulation, higher thought processes, and movement control. It also plays a role in fertility, pain, and cancer cell proliferation. Anandamide is our body’s natural anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety. It is also, like all neruotransmitters, very fragile, and breaks down fast. Although the process is complex, CBD binds to CB1 receptors and effects the enzymes responsible for the break-down of anandamide. This explains why CBD acts as a mediator of THC (the compound responsible for the “high”), lessening the psychoactive effects.

2-AG is a member of a group of molecules that derive from arachidonic acid or two other 20-carbon essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as EPA and DGLA. These molecules, known as eicosanoids, are all oxidized versions of these 20-carbon (containing 20 carbon atoms per molecule) EFAs, and play a complex and important role in various bodily processes including immunity and inflammation.

Phytocannabinoids (like CBD) influence and stimulate the cannabinoid receptors. Cannabis sativa is the plant with the most phytocannabinoids, but there are also other plants which contain these substances. Black pepper, echinacea, truffles, clove, and many other herbs and spices have been discovered to contain phytocannabinoids. Cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that protect the leaves and flowers from ultraviolet radiation. They neutralize the harmful free radicals generated by the sun’s UV rays, protecting the plant’s cells. Antioxidants found in plants have long been used in supplements to combat the damage of free radicals.

Pharmaceutical companies have isolated cannabinoids and synthesized them. It is my belief, however, that a full-spectrum cannabinoid profile is more beneficial than the isolated synthetic compounds.  Nature is intelligent and the cannabis plant contains an array of phytocannabinoids to work in a beautiful synergistic way with the body. A good amount of scientific study is currently underway to learn more about this.  We are truly living in exciting times when we are still discovering new systems in our bodies and ways to support our personal balance and health.

By Brenna Moore

2 Responses

  1. Nicjy
    | Reply

    Thanks Brenna. I’m learning more about CBD – and this is great info! Much love to you!

  2. Gale Simpson
    | Reply

    Thank you people desperately need accurate information that nobody no preparations want anybody to know especially the drug companies plants especially cannabis was around for thousands of years until 15 years ago because of the profits money money money we need to do something to help people and not treated with chemicals that kill you

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