What is the Endocannabinoid System?
7 min read
The human body is home to the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids and enzymes that form and break down these cannabinoids. Chances are you probably weren’t taught about it at school. But just like your circulatory, respiratory or muscular systems, the endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in the way your body functions.
When did we discover the endocannabinoid system?
We’ve only known about the endocannabinoid system for around 25 years. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a pioneer at the forefront of cannabis research, was the first to isolate the THC (∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) cannabinoids. Scientists discovered that THC lodges in a specific receptor in the brain—cannabinoid receptor type 1, or CB₁. This eventually led to the discovery of cannabinoid receptor type 2, or CB₂, which is part of the immune system.
Scientists began to realize that these receptors couldn’t be present in the human body only to interact with specific plant-derived cannabinoids. This meant that there were likely natural agents within the body that would bind to these receptors. This expanded the research of cannabinoids to explore the naturally occurring cannabinoids inside the human body, not just the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant.
The cannabinoids inside the body were named “endocannabinoids.” Endo is the Greek word for “internal.” Two endocannabinoids were isolated and named—anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG. Anandamide comes from the Sanskrit word “Ananda,” which translates to “supreme joy.” This is what is referred to as the “bliss” chemical. This is the same compound that results in the happy feeling you get after eating a piece of chocolate. Anandamide only binds to CB₁ receptors, but 2-AG attaches to both CB₁ and CB₂
Why does the endocannabinoid system matter?
The endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in your body’s functioning and well-being. The endocannabinoid system maintains a number of integral functions, including mental health and wellness, mood, appetite, nutrient transport, energy storage, immune function and the regulation of stress and pain perception.
Understanding the important details of how the endocannabinoid system works can help you learn how to better prevent and treat a number of chronic health issues. The system is made up of multiple elements that work in unison.
Let’s break it down into three parts:
1. Endocannabinoids (eCBs)
Endocannabinoids don’t follow a typical course.
Typically, all information flows from a nerve cell, known as “presynaptic,” to the target nerve cell with the corresponding receptors for that chemical, labeled “postsynaptic.” eCBs travel in reverse. It’s the postsynaptic cell that produces and releases eCBs.
In the presynaptic cell, the eCBs come into contact with the CB₁ receptors. These receptors block the flow of other chemicals out of these presynaptic cells. After accomplishing their function, eCBs are then taken back into the cell and broken down by their corresponding enzymes. Inactivation of the enzyme that degrades anandamide (like plant-derived CBD) can return this eCB back into the human body.
Endocannabinoids have a short duration of action.
eCBs have a very short lifespan, and your body won’t contain stores of them at all times. Your body produces eCB on demand. eCBs then act locally and are degraded immediately after, meaning their effects don’t last long.
2. CB₁ Receptors
CB₁ receptors are able to bind to both of the endocannabinoids. These receptors can be found in multiple areas of the body and perform different tasks based on their location.
They promote appetite.
While found throughout multiple sites within the brain, CB₁ receptors are concentrated in the areas of the brain associated with appetite. The activation of CB₁ receptors in the appetite center of your brain are responsible for making you crave food. Scientists are even researching ways of blocking CB₁ receptors in order to fight obesity.
They help to regulate buildup of body fat.
CB₁ also occurs on fat cells. In order to maintain homeostasis, your body’s endocannabinoid system has to function in perfect balance. A hyperactive endocannabinoid system can result in weight gain by leading to the release of chemicals involved in fat metabolism.
In cases like this, the use of CBD can actually help you lose weight by turning white fat into brown fat, as well as breaking down stored fat. Unlike white fat, brown fat influences and promotes weight loss in the body.
They inhibit the overactive firing of nerve cells.
By suppressing stimulating chemicals, CB₁ receptors can prevent nerve cells from firing excessively, which explains the role the endocannabinoid system has in conditions such as epilepsy.
They change the way you react to stressors and trauma.
The endocannabinoid system also influences the production of stress chemicals and affects how you react to stressors.
CB₁ receptors are concentrated in the memory, fear-regulating and reward centers of your brain. These receptors can influence how you perceive scary memories that are experienced in conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
CBD ultimately impacts CB₁ receptors by increasing the levels of anandamide, which results in the stimulation of CB₁ receptors and works to lessen the impact of traumatic memories.
They provide relief from anxiety.
CB₁ receptors, in particular, localize on the nerve cells specializing in releasing nerve chemicals of excitement and calm. At the activation of high doses of endocannabinoids, CB₁ receptors can help stop these chemicals from releasing.
In terms of anxiety, the endocannabinoid system demonstrates dual properties. In other words, the endocannabinoid system reduces anxiety when low doses of endocannabinoids stimulate CB₁ receptors. Simultaneously, it may also induce anxiety when higher doses of cannabinoids prevent the release of the relaxing nerve chemical GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid).
Furthermore, the endocannabinoid system can induce anxiety by activating another group of brain receptors named transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 channel (TRPV₁). These receptors can also be considered a part of the endocannabinoid system.
They help moderate sensitivity to pain.
CB₁ receptors are found within the nerve cells of your spinal cord. Activation of these receptors can inhibit incoming pain cells.
They connect the brain and gut.
The endocannabinoid system is critical to the relationship between your brain and gut. Issues like chronic stress can instigate a reduction of CB₁ receptors and increase your sensitivity to pain. Endocannabinoids acting as CB₁ receptors can help treat stomach pain as well as lower your anxiety.
3. CB₂ Receptors
CB₂ receptor pockets are only able to slot into 2-AG. These receptors can be found in the immune cells of organs like the spleen, bone marrow, tonsils, and the digestive tract. The actions of CB₂ receptors correspond to their locations within the body.
They reduce inflammation.
CB₂ receptors stimulate cells in the immune system, creating the potential to fight inflammation, including the kind that occurs in inflammatory bowel diseases. It can also reduce inflammation throughout the body. Because pain is often related to inflammation, eliminating the source through the use of endocannabinoids is a great way to treat many conditions related to inflammation.
They promote heart and bone health.
The activation of CB₂ receptors slows down the buildup of fatty plaques in arteries, a critical cause of heart disease. And the receptors found in bone marrow stimulate the growth of bone-forming cells and suppress the growth of bone-deteriorating cells. This creates an opportunity for new osteoporosis treatments.
They prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.
Cannabinoid receptors are found in the centers of the brain that control the vomiting reflex. Stimulation of these receptors can help reduce nausea and vomiting.
The most important part?
Learning about the endocannabinoid system can help you better understand how Onyx & Rose CBD can work for you.