August 20, 2019
Cannabis Science

The Endocannabinoid System for Beginners


The Endocannabinoid System

While humans have used cannabis for thousands of years, we are only beginning to understand how it affects our bodies. We are now learning about the chemical reactions that occur when we use cannabis, and the medicinal impact this may have. This is largely due to our relatively new understanding of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  If you haven't heard of endocannabinoid system before – don't worry, most people haven’t.


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How our Bodies Communicate with Themselves

Before we explain how the endocannabinoid system works, here’s a quick refresher on how our bodies communicate and work in general: cells communicate with each other by sending chemical pulses. These messages help coordinate and regulate everything we feel, think, and do. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters and are released from a neuron, attaching themselves to a specific receptor located on a different nearby neuron. This puts the receiving neuron into action, triggering a set of events that allows the message to be passed along.This complex signalling is how our bodies, from head to toe, communicate, regulate, and function.


WhatIs the Endocannabinoids System?

The endocannabinoid system is just as big and integral to our bodies as the nervous system and the digestive system, it just took scientists a little longer to find!


The endocannabinoid system is a biological system composed of receptors, proteins, and neurotransmitters that break down and use cannabinoids throughout the body. The endocannabinoid system regulates a variety of physiological and cognitive processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. It's the second-largest neurotransmitter systems inside the human body and is critical for balancing and regulating most bodily functions.


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The Endocannabinoid System’s Receptors

Humans have two types of receptors with very original names: Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). The receptors are found in many organs and areas of the body.  When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids can interact with our receptor sites. CB1 absorbs THC and helps manage pain predominantly while CB2 absorbs CBD and helps with inflammation.



A vital part of the endocannabinoid system is the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) These two endocannabinoids fit into the endocannabinoid receptors, balancing, regulating and stimulating different responses depending on location.


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Anandamide binds with the CB1 receptor and is commonly called the “bliss molecule” because it increases moods. This effect is linked to anandamides ability to stimulate an increase in dopamine in the brain. Further research is needed to understand exactly how anandamide does this, however. The location of the CB1 receptors in the brain control what areas anandamide is synthesized in, resulting in specific systems and bodily functions that are affected.


TheSystems Influenced by Anandamide:

-        Cognitive functions (brain functions)

-        Pain

-        Hunger and appetite responses

-        Memory

-        Motor skills

-        Motivation

-        Reproductive systems


THC and Anandamide

THC, the predominant intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis shares a very similar structure to anandamide, allowing it to fit into, and partially bind with theCB1 receptors in our bodies. When cannabis is consumed THC binds with the available CB1 receptors influencing the above bodily responses and systems.This interaction is what allows us to experience the effects and benefits ofTHC.


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2-AG binds with the CB2 receptor, found most commonly in the peripheral tissues in the body. 2_AG has a large influence over the body’s immune response. CB2receptors are located all over the body with a larger concentration in the spleen which further supports the belief of 2-AG’s ability to suppress the immune response and help mediate inflammation.


SystemsInfluenced by 2-AG:

-        The immune system


CBD and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol)

CBD the non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis mimics 2-AG and binds with theCB2 receptor. CBD’s ability to bind with the CB2 receptor is what allows cannabis to be used for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and other immune-related symptoms.


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HowDoes the Endocannabinoid System Work?

The endocannabinoid system is located throughout the human (and most mammals) body.Receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the brain, organs, glands, and immune cells respond to cannabinoid compounds in our bodies and bind to these endocannabinoid receptors. Although its discovery is still relatively new (compared to other bodily systems like the nervous system), the endocannabinoid system is arguably the most essential system in our bodies to maintain optimal health. 


The Endocannabinoid Systems Relationship to Health

We now understand some diseases can be linked with lower levels of endocannabinoids and other changes in the endocannabinoid system activity. For example, the endocannabinoid system has a significant role in the way our body responds to stress, and it's responsible for maintaining many of our daily bodily functions such as naturally preventing diabetes, osteoporosis, and maintaining healthy bone density. Essentially if the endocannabinoid system is not functioning correctly or becomes unbalanced, then the whole body could be at risk for illness and disease.

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The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabis

When a person uses cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) cannabinoids bind with the receptors that are naturally intended to bind with anandamide and2-AG. This engages the receptors in our endocannabinoid system and activates the corresponding bodily functions such as pain relief, intoxication, increased hunger or anti-inflammatory abilities. Patients who use cannabis also show an increase in naturally occurring endocannabinoids in their bodies, increasing the body’s ability to naturally regulate itself. This is how and why cannabis can be used for therapeutic benefits.


Is the Endocannabinoid System the Same in Every Human?

Everyone’s physiological design is unique and varied. The endocannabinoid receptor locations and quantity can differ from person to person drastically. This is why the same dose and type of cannabis can affect patients differently.


Cannabis is Medicine

For too long cannabis has been brushed off as a recreational drug, despite decades of recorded medical and therapeutic use. Being aware of the endocannabinoid system and the interaction between cannabis and the human body is vital in understanding how to make the right medical choice for you. After all, the endocannabinoid system was only discovered and named as such because of developing cannabis research.


The endocannabinoid system has a large role to play in your body, and in the future of medical cannabis. If you or a loved one are curious about how medical cannabis could be of help, complete our online survey to see if you are eligible for medical cannabis.


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