Intro to the Endocannabinoid System:
As I am not a doctor, please do not take this as medical advice. The information below is for essential enrichment and gives a general understanding of the endocannibinoid system under close examination by the world’s doctors and scientists. The information here is cited by medical professionals, but always consult a doctor before making a decision affecting your health.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is a series of receptor sites responsible for regulating and balancing many body processes, including immune response, appetite, pain and mood management, inflammation and metabolism, memory, and more. The body monitors and heals itself through endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids with receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is this balance or “homeostasis” that allows our bodies to be “healthy.”
Where is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is considered a potent mediator in the central nervous system. It interacts with your entire body with receptors in the brain, gut, lungs, reproductive organs, liver, and elsewhere. Imagine the cannabinoids you have ingested today, swirling around your bloodstream and interacting with every tissue site in the body via the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
How does the Endocannabinoid system work?
As a part of your central nervous system, it is a complicated matrix that we are just starting to unfold. The easiest way to describe the endocannabinoid system is through the analogy of it as a series of locks and keys. A plant cannabinoid is a key, and the CB receptors are a lock.
Phytocannabinoids are plant-based cannabinoids like those found in the cannabis plant (CBD, CBG, CBN, THC etc. There are so many!) Each phytocannabinoid seeking to unlock its potential in your body. Endocannabinoids are “endogenous,” meaning your body already produces them. There are only a handful known as of now, but the two major ones are Anandamide and 2-AG or 2-arachidonoyl glycerol. Let’s just call it 2-AG, depending on which key is used, and the location of the lock (stomach vs. say your lungs) dictates what response your body has.
Understanding the ECS becomes a little muddy because different tissue sites and receptors have different responses or potencies. Science has demonstrated that certain phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids have specific affinities towards either CB1 or CB2 receptors. Delta 9 THC, for instance, has an affinity for CB1 receptors, while CBD has an affinity for CB2 receptors. CBD can also bind to CB1 receptors and, in that case, stop THC from binding to that same location. The competitive binding sites and lack of high experienced from THC straight consumption is why I feel it’s taken so long for CBD to catch on as the cannabis culture didn’t like getting less high. But, that’s not why we take CBD.
Why are we just learning about the Endocannabinoid System?
In 1936, the movie “Reefer Madness” showcased “Marijuana” as a drug that corrupted the minds of its users, enticing them into lust and even murder. The film portrayed users as crazed individuals in the clutches of this relentless drug and society began to demonize cannabis and its consumers. Sounds familiar! One year after the movie’s release, the US government enacted the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and arrests for possession and sale of untaxed cannabis started. After a brief hemp revolution during World War 2, when hemp was grown for fiber for the war effort, the tax revenue after the war was insufficient, and hemp was again grouped with Marijuana and forgotten about. In 1969 Leary vs. The United States decided that the Marijuana Tax Act was unconstitutional. Following the pattern of the previous three decades, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act under Title Two of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, and again cannabis as a whole was illegal. Since the 1920’s “ganja” or “Marijuana” was considered more of a drug than a medicine by the western world. That mindset continued to permeate into society until well into the 1990’s and even now to an extent. In the 1990’s research was started under US government control hoping to prove cannabis’ damaging effects to the body. What researchers found in 1988 and soon after expanded on was that this system (the endocannabinoid system) exists in our bodies naturally and, through proper regulation and balance, allows us to live our best lives. The natural presence of both endogenous and plant phytocannabinoids is why we want to give people the ability to be more able in their everyday lives. CBD is not a silver bullet, but it helps us balance on the tight-rope of life.
Don’t miss Dr. Rachel Knox, Endocannabinologist and cannabinoid medicine specialist with degrees from Tufts and Duke, deliver a clear and concise introduction to the endocannabinoid system! (@racheldocknox)
Want more? Check out Dr. Ruth Ross, a researcher of molecular pharmacology. Here she is live with the University of Toronto, as she demystifies the endocannabinoid system.