The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis and the naturally occuring chemicals it produces have an effect on the human body because they interact with the Endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a human biological system, comprised of endogenous (produced by the human body) cannabinoid like compounds like Anandamide and 2-AG, the enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endocannabinoids and the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.
The Cannabis plant has been estimated to evolve nearly 34 millions years ago, long after the endocannabinoid system. The name suggests that the plant came first, but in fact, it was through studying cannabis and it’s affect on our physiological function that scientists finally discovered the existence of the ECS in the late 1980s. It’s long evolutionary history gives strong indication that our ECS serves a very important and basic purpose in animal physiology.
What does it do?
ECS is crucial for bioregulation as it plays a fundamental role in the human body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. A person is in a normal, healthy state of being when their body is in homeostasis. The ECS is an intricate part of the body’s chemical communication system that makes homeostasis possible.
The ECS is involved in regulating a variety of physiological and cognitive processes including, but not limited to, appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory, and in mediating the pharmacological effects of cannabis.
Currently there are two primary types of endocannabinoid receptors scientists are focusing on: CB1 and CB2. They are from a very common class of cell membrane receptors called “G-protein-coupled receptor superfamily”. When activated, they modulate information transmission between cells.
Cannabinoid receptors exist throughout the human body including the central and peripheral nervous systems. CB1 receptors are predominantly expressed in the brain and mainly interact with THC, whereas CB2 receptors are mainly found on the immune system and mainly interact with CBD.
Cannabinoid receptors recognize & respond to 3 varieties of cannabinoids:
1. Endocannabinoids that our body produces naturally
2. Phytocannabinoids that are produced in the trichome glands of cannabis
3. Synthetic cannabinoids that are created in a laboratory
CB1 Receptors: Highly expressed in our brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), with large concentrations in our nociceptive areas (pain pathways), limbic system (emotion), motor control pathways and reward pathways. Below are some of the mains areas in the brain with high CB1 expression:
CB1 receptors have also been found in the periphery including the enteric nervous system (GI), peripheral neurons, adipocytes (fat cells), retina (eye), reproductive organs, colon tissues, lungs, adrenal gland, prostate and heart.
CB2 Receptors: Highly expressed throughout the immune system on immune cells. This means that CB2 activation has an inherent important role in pain, inflammation and phyioslogical defense mechanisms. It is a natural immunomodulatory receptor meaning that it can induce, enhance or suppress an immune response.