What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system was discovered while research was being conducted on how THC interacted with our bodies. Scientists identified a complicated and intricate cell signaling system that could be found at numerous locations in the human body that they called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, and proceeded to investigate its function and purpose. Nearly 20 years later, our understanding of ECS is much greater, but there is still much more to discover.
The investigation has revealed that the ECS has a direct relationship with the regulation of the following processes:
- Appetite and digestion
- I remember
- Reproductive system
- Inflammation (and other immune responses)
- Motor system
- Cardiovascular system
- Skin and nerves
What connects all these processes is that they contribute to homeostasis, the overall process of maintaining stable vital health. It seems that, when the body is attacked by an infection or injury and homeostasis is manipulated, the ECS intervenes and tries to bring the body back to its ideal level of operation.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
There are three main components of the endocannabinoid system: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. endocannabinoids are similar to the cannabinoids found inside the cannabis plant, but are produced internally by our bodies when we need them (even if we have never used cannabis, these endocannabinoids are present in our bodies).
Two of the key endocannabinoids that have been identified so far are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). They are able to signal the ECS to act on the areas needed by binding to endocannabinoid receptors that are abundant around the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (immune system and the like). Currently, research has identified two main receptors:
- CB1 receiver (found in the CNS)
- CB2 receptor (found in the immune system)
The results vary depending on which endocannabinoid binds to which receptor and where in the body this occurs, but an example would be that if we experience a process of inflammation somewhere in the body, the AEA or 2-AG would bind to the CB2 receptors in that area and this would alert the ECS, starting the recovery process.
Once their function has been performed, endocannabinoids are broken down by various enzymes. Hydrolyzed fatty acid amide is responsible for the breakdown of AEA, while monoacylglycerol acid lipase typically breaks down 2-AG.
How do THC and CBD interact with ECS?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two main compounds found in cannabis. While THC is responsible for the "high" for which the plant is famous, CBD has no psychoactive effects, making it more suitable for medical use. Both have a role in the medical application of cannabinoids, but interact differently with ECS. Once ingested, THC can have a very powerful effect due to its ability to bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This has a number of effects on us, some more pleasant than others. For example, it can increase our appetite and help us sleep, but it can also cause anxiety.
How CBD interacts with ECS is a bit more mysterious. Many suggest that CBD may prevent enzymes from breaking down endocannabinoids, thus allowing them to work longer and enhancing their effect. Scientists are certain that CBD does not bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same way as THC, but that may also be how it works. By inhibiting the way THC binds to these receptors, CBD may negate some of its negative side effects. Another theory is that it binds to a receptor that has not yet been discovered.
Although the details of how CBD interacts with ECS are still being studied, it is clear that it has the capacity to help with the management of pain, inflammation and other symptoms associated with various pathologies.
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CEDC)
A theory that has been gaining momentum recently suggests that the development of several medical conditions may be closely related to an endocannabinoid deficiency.
Research on this theory suggests that conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome may be the result of this deficiency. They do not appear to have any clear underlying cause, but can often develop at the same time and be resistant to conventional medications. Also, these alterations occur in areas known to be regulated by RSD. If these conditions could be related to a deficiency in RSD, then perhaps by manipulating it with other cannabinoids we could begin to address the root of these problems.
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Pacher, P., Batkai, S. and Kunos, G. (2008). The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2241751/ [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
Russo, E. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576607/ [Accessed 14 Oct. 2019].