The Endocannabinoid system has been under the microscope (literally and figuratively) over the course of the last few years. It has sparked many debates on its actual function within the human body. Its ability to be targeted by various therapeutic agents in different disease states has been of particular interest for biomedical and clinical researchers. In fact, some researchers have suggested that the endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in cellular homeostasis. This means that the health of this system may be directly related to the health of the rest of the body.
What is the Endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is a system mainly comprised of two receptors and a series of endogenously produced compounds (compounds produced inside of the body). The two main receptors associated with the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The name “endocannabinoid” comes from the fact that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant interact with the receptors from this system. Also, Endocannabinoids are the compounds produced inside of the body that interact with these receptors as well. Although there exists many endocannabinoids, one of the most widely known and studied is N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA).
AEA has been found to increase during times of oxidative stress, inflammation or cell death. This prompts researchers to believe that it may be produced as a response to injury to counteract inflammatory activity.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors are found throughout the body. However, CB1 receptors are mainly found within the nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in gut epithelium and cells of the immune system.
CB1 receptors have been shown to predominantly interact with THC and other psychoactive compounds in the cannabis plant. The psychoactivity of THC is logical simply because CB1 receptors are found mostly in the nervous system. Therefore, the interaction between CB1 receptors and THC may cause certain changes in brain chemistry, leading to the “high effects” produced from recreational cannabis use.
On the other hand, CB2 receptors are mainly known to interact with cannabidiol (CBD) which is the second major compound in the cannabis. This is not to say that CBD does not interact at all with CB1 receptors, but rather these interactions are so uncommon they almost don’t even exist. Because CBD does not interact to a significant extent with CB1 receptors, it does not possess the same psychoactive effects that THC does.
Both of these cannabinoid compounds have been found to have some potential therapeutic properties.
How does the Endocannabinoid system help you!?
Based on which receptors you’re interacting with, there are many benefits with stimulating your Endocannabinoid system. For instance, stimulating your CB1 receptors are going to affect your brain and central nervous system. For example reports have actually shown that CB1 deficient mice have an impaired ability for neural-progenitor cell proliferation in the event of nervous system injury. This may mean that CB1 deficient mice have less of a chance to recover from a stroke or other brain injury compared to mice whose CB1 receptors are at normal levels.
A similar story can be told about CB2 receptors. activation of the endocannabinoid system through CB2 receptors may have cardioprotective properties. Some animal studies have shown that the use of synthetic cannabinoids that interact with CB2 receptors may be beneficial in myocardial infarction. This is mainly because of their ability to limit infiltration of cells that cause inflammation through CB2 receptor activation.
What does this all mean?
As with all things CBD and THC, many tests are still being conducted on the Endocannabinoid system but the future certainly looks promising! These systems are clearly important for overall health and utilizing the active ingredients in cannabis seems to have a positive effect on their overall functionality within the human body!