The Endocannabinoid System
Did you realize that your body produces its own cannabinoids? Called Endocannabinoids, these substances interact with the body just like the cannabinoids in marijuana. How do cannabinoids work in the first place?
The Endocannabinoid System: A Look At Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are organic compounds in cannabis that produce the beneficial health and mental effects associated with marijuana. Because they’re compounds found within the plant, you must consume marijuana to realize their effects. There are over 100 of these substances in cannabis and science hasn’t studied them all sufficiently yet. THC and CBD are the two most well-known cannabinoids.
Surprisingly, your body also creates similar compounds, called endocannabinoids. When you make use of marijuana, you are just supplementing substances already in your system. The abundance causes an appreciable effect.
While we have much to learn about cannabinoids, we do understand that they function through interaction with receptors located throughout the body. These receptors create a complex system called The Endocannabinoid System, or ENS.
The Endocannabinoid System: What is The ENS?
The Endocannabinoid System runs within the body and it controls and influences a lot of functions. Think of it as a homeostasis regulator. The two main cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors primarily exist on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, spleen, white blood cells, endocrine gland and parts of the reproductive, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. THC binds to these receptors to change how they function. In turn, the receptors also influence communication among the cells within the body.
CB2 receptors are all over the body. We now understand that they affect the immune system, digestive system, brain, and Peripheral Nervous System. Because CBD does not interact with any receptors which affect cognitive brain function, there is no intoxication. This makes CBD such a good ambassador for medical marijuana.
The 5 Currently Recognized Endocannabinoids
Science currently recognizes 5 endocannabinoids.
- Arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide),
- 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG),
- 2-arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether);
- virodhamine, and
- N-arachidonoyl-dopamine (NADA).
The Endocannabinoid System: History Of The ENS
In 1988, Allyn Howlett and William Devane identified the first cannabinoid receptor in a rat’s brain. These cannabinoid receptors proved to be plentiful in the human brain also. Humans have more cannabinoid receptors than other neurotransmitter receptors.
Following this breakthrough, researchers began mapping the CB receptors in the human brain. They primarily found these receptors in the regions responsible for physiological and mental processes. Therefore, appetite, higher cognition, motor coordination, memory, and emotions can be affected when things interact with CB receptors. They also exist in the digestion system, reproductive system and elsewhere.
By 1990, Lisa Matsuda identified the DNA sequence that defines a THC receptor in the brain of a rat. Afterwards, scientists had the power to explore precisely which substances triggered these receptors.
Additionally, scientists developed genetically altered mice lacking the THC receptor to test whether THC affected them.
The Endocannabinoid System: The Future Of The Endocannabinoid System
In some ways, what we know about the ENS raises more questions than it answers. This is exciting for the future as science explores the significance of our cannabinoid receptors and just what cannabis can do.