The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis has been at the center of the most exciting and under-reported research in modern science. Research led to the discovery of a biochemical communication system in the human body, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which plays a crucial role in regulating our physiology, mood, and everyday experience.
The body’s endocannabinoid system isn’t there just to allow people to enjoy the effects of marijuana. In fact, the endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body and is imperative for maintaining health as it regulates bodily functions and maintains homeostasis.
To understand the body’s endocannabinoid system, it’s important to know about homeostasis. Researchers understand that the lack of homeostasis can cause issues with multiple systems in the body. The role of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis or keeping the body’s biological functions in balance. An example would be that our bodies do not want their temperature to be too hot or too cold. Instead, our body achieves homeostasis when the temperature is within that middle range. The ECS is involved in multiple physiological processes which include mood, pain sensation, appetite, metabolism, memory, sleep, bone development, and immune function. It is incredibly widespread throughout the animal kingdom, and all vertebrate species possess one. The three main components of the endocannabinoid system are cannabinoid receptors, metabolic enzymes, and endocannabinoids.
Cannabinoid Receptors (CB1 & CB2)
Cannabinoids are the compounds found in cannabis plants; however, they naturally exist in the human body as well to interact with the bodies ECS. ECS receptors are commonly referred to as either CB1 receptors or CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system, in the brain and spinal cord. These receptors work with nerve cells in the brain to manage the body’s biochemistry. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid found in cannabis plants that interacts with the CB1 receptors in the brain. THC does not interact with CB1 receptors in the exact same way that natural endocannabinoids do. Metabolic enzymes that would normally break down endocannabinoids after they are used do not work on THC, so THC lingers for a longer period of time. CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system, in white blood cells. These receptors work with white blood cells throughout the body to help regulate the immune system. CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis and hemp plants that binds to the CB2 receptors and results in the commonly cited health benefits. ECS and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. There are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than there are for all of the neurotransmitters put together.
Metabolic enzymes perform various cellular functions that are vital for homeostasis. When working with the endocannabinoid system, metabolic enzymes get rid of endocannabinoids after they have been used. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids are only used when they are needed, but not after they have been used. This allows endocannabinoids to be distinguished from other molecular signals in the body, such as classical neurotransmitters or hormones that remain for later use. The three main components of the endocannabinoid system can be found inside almost every major system of the human body. When something brings a cell outside of its “middle range”, the body relies upon these components to get the system working properly, thus bringing back homeostasis. Neurons are brain cells that communicate with each other by sending signals to one another. They listen to other neurons to determine if it will fire off a signal itself. But neurons don’t like to receive to many signals at once. If neurons become overloaded by signals, they can be toxic to the body. This is where endocannabinoids come in. For example, if a neuron listens to another neuron that becomes overactive and is sending too many signals, the listening neuron will become unstable. When this occurs, the listening neuron will create endocannabinoids at the point where it’s connected to the overactive neuron. These endogenous cannabinoids will then bind with receptors on the overactive neuron, transmitting a signal that instructs it to stop sending so much signal. This brings things back to homeostasis.
Endocannabinoids move in reverse, which is why they are known as retrograde signals. Usually, information flow between neurons travels in only one direction; from the sender that releases neurotransmitter signals, to the receiver that listens to the signals. Endocannabinoids permit receiver neurons to regulate how much output they receive, and they do so by sending retrograde signals back to overactive neurons that released the signals. The brain is not the only organ that seeks to maintain homeostasis. Every other main system of the body, from the immune system to the digestive system, must carefully regulate how its cells are functioning. Proper regulation is crucial for overall health.
For example when the immune system suffers infection or is damaged in any way, it responds with inflammation as a natural protective reaction. The main purpose of inflammation is to reduce damaged tissue as well as pathogens, which can cause infection. Inflammation is a result of immune and fluid cells moving into the affected area to help regain homeostasis. It’s vital the inflammation dissipates after the affected area heals. If the immune system inappropriately activates, conditions such as chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases can arise. If the inflammatory response is prolonged it can be transferred to healthy cells.
How Does CBD Oil Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
Cannabinoid (CBD) Oil receptors lie on cell surfaces throughout the body and transmit information about changing conditions to the cell’s inside, which sparks a cellular response. The two major cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They are not the only cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system, but they were the first ones to be discovered and are the most widely researched. CB1 receptors are predominately found in the brain. THC binds to these receptors, which causes people to experience high. CB2 receptors on the other hand, are abundantly found outside of the nervous system, especially in the immune system. Both of these receptors can be found throughout the body.
Research And The Endocannabinoid System
Research demonstrates that endocannabinoids are produced upon activation of immune cells and may help regulate the immune response by acting as anti-inflammatory agents. This acts as a protection to limit the inflammatory response so it isn’t excessive and helps stop the immune system from attacking body systems, known as various auto-immune diseases.
Extensive preclinical research—much of it sponsored by the government—indicates that CBD Oil has potent anti-tumoral, antioxidant, anti-spasmodic, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsive, and neuroprotective properties. CBD Oil directly activates serotonin receptors, causing an anti-anxiety effect, as well.
Based on scientific studies migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS and numerous other related conditions display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that show an underlying clinical ECS deficiency that may be suitably treated with CBD oil.
Dr. Ethan Russo, neurologist and medical scientist… CBD is an excellent anti-inflammatory without the liabilities that we get from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with their tendencies to produce serious side effects like ulcers, heart attacks, and strokes, these just aren’t a liability with cannabidiol, as it’s a homeostatic regulator. To explain that: homeostasis is a state of balance. Many diseases interfere with a balance in a given system and if we can bring that balance back to where it should be there’ll be improvement in the overall condition.”
In recent years, scientists associated with the International Cannabinoid Research Society ICRS have elucidated a number of molecular pathways through which CBD exerts a therapeutic impact. For example, a preclinical study by Dr. Sean McAllister and his colleagues at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco report on how CBD destroys breast cancer cells by down-regulating a gene called ID-1, which is implicated in several types of aggressive cancer. Silencing the ID-1 gene could be a potential strategy for cancer treatment.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister.
According to McAllister’s lab, the best results were obtained when CBD was administered along with THC. Several studies underscore the therapeutic advantages for combining CBD and THC—particularly for treating peripheral nephropathy, a painful condition associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, and other neuro-degenerative ailments.
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