What is the endocannabinoid system ? Why is it called the endocannabinoid system? Do I have one if I never used cannabis?
Yes, every human, all the animals, even those evolved millions of years ago express the cannabinoid system.
The name is related to cannabis because science first knew about cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Only later they discovered the endocannabinoid system. Similar to how opioids and opioid receptors got their name after opium, which is found in poppy seeds. Seeds used to relieve pain way before the discovery of morphine.
The mystery of how cannabis has so many healing properties and almost zero negative effects led scientists to discover a complex system in the human body.
This system, called the endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining equilibrium (homeostasis) at the cellular level. Present in all the human tissues, affecting the organs, glands, the brain, the immune system. In every tissue, the endocannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the main one remains homeostasis – to maintain stable internal conditions. How well the system functions results in our well-being and our health.
How is the endocannabinoid system involved in all these physiological processes? / How does is it impact our mood, sleep, appetite, on how we perceive pain and pleasure?
Science is still trying to figure out how the system works but for now, the following is known:
The endocannabinoid system is a molecular signaling system that consists of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids. In general, the function of a cell can be changed by receiving a message. The location of the receptors and the specificity of that message to that receptor will greatly impact the function of the cell.
They are naturally produced molecules in our bodies, assisting neural communication, acting as messengers. Because they are present throughout various functions of the body, researchers suggest that they help facilitate and improve these functions. If you imagine your body like an engine, cannabinoids are like the motor oil used for the engine to work optimally. Endocannabinoids are fatty acid analogs that are metabolites of membrane lipids. They are thought to be synthesized on demand in the postsynaptic neuron. After being made they can bind to different receptors to improve communication between neurons.
They act as message receivers. Located in the presynaptic neurons, they help with neural communication. Until now, 2 of cannabinoid receptors are known, CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system, a system in the body that maintains core functions such as motor activity, pain perception, stress response, and memory.
CB2 receptors are widely distributed throughout the peripheral organs in the body, serving as core components in the immune system, muscular system, and cardiovascular system.
Two best known internally produced cannabinoids are Anandamide and 2AG:
acts on both CB1 and CB2 receptors and also binding to the other non-cannabinoid receptors. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “joy, bliss, delight”, and amide. It is also associated with the “runners high”.
(2-AG) was the second endocannabinoid to be discovered. Compared to anandamide it is synthesized differently and has more affinity on both receptors. It’s mostly present in the brain and spinal cord. It is also found in bovine and human milk.
There are many more endocannabinoids, like oleamide and N-arachidonoyldopamine, and they all affect the receptors differently. How exactly all these chemicals dictate eating and sleeping patterns, pain relief and neural generation of motivation and pleasure.. is not yet fully understood.
EXAMPLE OF ECS IN WORK
In case of an injury, the tissue is damaged and pain will be perceived. Neurons are activated and receptors are filled with messages caused by the injury. Once the signal is received, the body reacts to pain. Pain signals are not required anymore, so the body produces cannabinoids to switch off the receptors. The sensation of pain is diminishing and the system is back to equilibrium again. In this situation, endocannabinoids seem to suppress or limit the immune system’s inflammatory signals, reducing the sensation of pain.
THC AND ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
A lot more research was done on phytocannabinoids, and how they affect us. These are plant-derived cannabinoids found in the plant Cannabis Sativa. The most researched one is the psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has an affinity to both cannabinoid receptors, acting as an agonist. (agonist- mimics the effects of a neurotransmitter)
When THC is introduced into a human body, its molecules bind perfectly to CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC can disguise as anandamide and in smaller doses, we might not even notice it mimicking the ECS. But if our endocannabinoid system is stormed by this psychoactive chemical, the system gets disrupted. The CB1 receptors, dispersed all around the human brain are now filled with THC. Instead of the endocannabinoid system helping the body to function properly, it is now messed by THC. This leads to many reactions in the body, the main one being the release of dopamine, associated with the “high” feeling. Side effects like dry mouth, red eyes, “munchies”, impaired short term memory, are not deadly or harmful, but a constant abuse of THC might result in a malfunction of our ECS leading to mental health issues.
CBD AND ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM<
Despite having a similar structure to THC, Cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t have the same affinity to the cannabinoid receptors. CBD hardly binds to the CB1 receptors and even the affinity to CB2 is pretty weak. So why is it so beneficial?
1. Because of its low affinity to CB1, it is not psychoactive. Compared to THC, extremely high doses can be administered with little side effects!
2. It works as an antagonist on the CB2 receptor. CBD, Instead of stimulating the receptor, is calming it down, distressing the whole system.
3. The key reason for CBD boosting our health is its indirect impact on the ECS. CBD is believed to increase the production of our endocannabinoids and at the same time weakening the enzyme responsible for their degradation. This way the level of our native, body-produced cannabinoids is highly elevated, resulting in optimal performance.
More research needs to be done on how CBD aids our system. And let’s not forget of more than a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, which are mostly left unstudied. Medicine has already shown interest in them, while already producing artificial ones.
Synthetic cannabinoids already exists. These are cannabinoids manufactured in labs to influence on our endocannabinoid system. Drugs like Nabilone and Dronabidol are synthetic forms of THC used for treating nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and anorexia. Their structure is similar to THC, but little altered to modify receptor affinity. Playing with the chemical structure we can influence the drug, maximising the healing potential and diminishing the side effects.
LET THE FOOD BE THY MEDICINE
Polyunsaturated fatty acids being precursors of endocannabinoids are essential for their production. A healthy intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is a good foundation for ECS. Hemp seed oil is a great choice as it has an ideal ratio of fatty acids!
Cacao contains anandamide and other compounds similar to endocannabinoids, so eating real chocolate, will boost your endocannabinoid levels!
Herbs and spices that contain the Beta-caryophyllene terpene also stimulate the CB2 receptor.
So try experimenting with black pepper, lemon balm, hops, cloves, cannabis, oregano, cinnamon.
Echinacea believed to be the best natural immune system supplement contains CB2 agonists.
While Tea (Camelia Sinensis) supposedly has a positive effect on the endocannabinoid system, coffee is better to avoid.
Endocannabinoid levels decrease with heavy coffee consumption, inhibiting the system, which is in fact seen in diminishing the need to sleep and eat.
Living a healthy life reflects in a strong endocannabinoid system!
Similar to the release of hormones, physical exercise is also endocannabinoid-enhancing.
Methods to relax your body and mind, like massage, aromatherapy, meditation, and other breathing exercises also have a positive impact on ECS.
Social activities are great aswell! Singing and dancing can raise your endocannabinoid levels by 50%!
And most important, protect your ECS from stress! Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death in the US. So put on your favorite song, take a few drops of CBD and dance! Face a new day with a smile! ????