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What is the endocannabinoid system? And how do cannabinoid receptors play a role in it? Read this guide to find out everything you need to know.
After all, marijuana has a long history of medicinal use stemming back to ancient Chinese empires, Greece and even the Bible.
That’s because the human body operates a network of receptors that allow us to experience different sensations. One group of receptors, known as cannabinoid receptors, binds with THC to create euphoric feelings.
But euphoric feelings aren’t the full extent of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The biggest issue standing in the way of medical marijuana is a lack of understanding and education.
Use the following article as your ultimate guide to learn about ECS.
The discovery of THC and CBD in the marijuana plant links back to a scientific breakthrough that came out of Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel in 1964.
The strong effect of cannabinoids on the body lead to further research that uncovered cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system.
Many molecules that have receptors in the body in addition to cannabinoids. These include Estrogen, Testosterone, Seratonin, Opiates, Insulin and more.
THC binds readily to cannabinoid receptors to produce a euphoric feeling and provide some of the other health benefits of marijuana use.
CBD, however, binds more ready to other receptors like the Seratonin receptor. It also works as a reuptake inhibitor in the synapse, making it a good option for patients with chronic depression.
Because cannabinoids are so closely related to good health, the human body produces its own cannabinoid called an endocannabinoid. The production of natural endocannabinoids in the body is the reason the ECS exists.
Pot enthusiasts have long heralded the healing benefits of marijuana, claiming the plant is a magic cure-all for everything from depression to digestive issues to cancer prevention.
Cannabis naysayers have questioned the validity of these claims.
What scientists are learning is that these conditions affecting seemingly unrelated systems within the body are actually all connected through the endocannabinoid system.
The ECS is a network of cannabinoid receptors that you find in various parts of the body including the brain, digestive tract, colon, nervous system, tissue, reproductive and other organs.
In no uncertain terms, cannabinoid receptors exist all over the human body.
In humans, they are the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. They respond to THC and other molecules. THC molecules and other cannabinoids cause the receptors to express, producing the health benefits of marijuana.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating the following functions:
It’s for this reason that marijuana can have such a profound impact on the human body.
The CB1 & CB2 cannabinoid receptors are the two primary receptors for endocannabinoids and THC.
The endogenous cannabinoid molecules, or endocannabinoids — a name that implies they are produced in the body — are anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamide, AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These molecules bind well with CB1 and CB2 respectively.
THC has an affinity for CB1, while CBD prefers other receptors found throughout the body.
Here’s how CB1 & CB2 receptors work.
CB1 cannabinoid receptors are primarily located in the central nervous and peripheral nervous systems. They exist at the cellular level.
The CB1 receptor is primarily found in:
It’s believed that receptor expression from the CB1 receptor positively impacts:
This staggering list of potential areas the CB1 receptor benefits doesn’t even account for the health benefits that stem from CB2. The endocannabinoid system is truly a far-reaching one, as evidenced below.
CB2 Cannabinoid receptors are also cellular. They attract endogenous cannabinoids like 2-AG.
This receptor is responsible for regulating functions of:
Receptor expression from CB2:
Perhaps, marijuana can be the cure-all that enthusiasts envision.
Enzymes in the body break down molecules, changing them from one form to the next. Metabolic enzymes have an important role in the endocannabinoid system.
As mentioned above, CBD does not bind directly to cannabinoid receptors like THC does. CBD can bind to other receptors in the body but it also interacts with enzymes.
The specific enzyme responsible for hunting down endocannabinoids in the body is known as FAAH. CBD is like the friend that tells FAAH to take a load off and stop looking for endocannabinoids to destroy.
The result is a larger number of endocannabinoids left in the body. These can then activate expression of the CB1 receptor causing some of the effects of THC without the psychoactive part.
A key function of the endocannabinoid system is ensuring that multiple bodily functions are “just right”.
Like the tale of Goldilocks, the young girl who tastes everyone’s porridge until she finds the bowl that is “just right” for her, the Goldilocks Zone is a form of homeostasis in which the body is performing at its peak.
The ECS helps to regulate almost every function of the body. And when these functions come out of homeostasis, CB1, CB2, endocannabinoids and enzymes reset the body’s measure of performance.
Hence, another reason why medical marijuana makes people feel so good.
And now –drum roll please– the answer of the day. Let’s explore how THC works within your body.
As you’ve learned, THC binds to the CB1 receptor in the body to activate CB1 expression. CB1 expression causes a number of medical benefits.
But THC itself is a “biphasic” drug. That means that THC doses are important.
Not because of a risk of overdose, as marijuana has not been shown to produce overdose cases. It’s because marijuana use can have the opposite effect on people who use too much.
Marijuana can be great for anxiety, for instance, but too much THC can cause anxiety in patients who go over their recommended dosage.
Doctors who prescribe medical marijuana often start with lower doses and gradually increase the dose to avoid a bad reaction due to the biphasic nature of the drug.
It’s for this reason that so much conflicting research exists around marijuana use.
When patients follow optimal dosing, they experience the following benefits of THC:
But too much THC is said to have some opposite effects including:
It’s for these reasons that the medical regulation of marijuana is important to reap the full benefits of the drug.
Marijuana is a powerful option for people suffering from a number of medical ailments.
Users of medicinal cannabis can thank cannabinoids THC and CBD for working within the endocannabinoid system, mimicking the bodies own endocannabinoids, regulating homeostasis and providing the above benefits.
But opponents to marijuana focus on possible negative side effects that can be combatted with proper dosage.
To overcome these claims, those who benefit from medical marijuana must learn the health benefits of cannabis and how the plant works to ease illness and symptoms.
To learn more about the benefits of medical marijuana click here.