The Endocannabinoid System

The legal cannabis movement started in San Francisco in the early 1990’s when it was discovered that cannabis treated many symptoms that AIDS patients suffered from, including pain. It was medical marijuana laws that changed the legal status of cannabis nationwide, opening the doors for an adult-use market and creating a path towards full legalization. Cannabis patients across the country have used the plant to treat a growing number of medical conditions.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

How does cannabis address so many different conditions? How does the body interact with the plant to produce these medicinal effects? What research has been to done to demonstrate the efficacy of medicinal cannabis? To dive into these questions, it’s crucial to have a basic understanding of the endogenous cannabinoid system, otherwise known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body. The Encyclopedia Britannica definition of homeostasis is, “any self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival. If homeostasis is successful, life continues; if unsuccessful, disaster or death ensues.”The endocannabinoid system is made up of three parts: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and metabolic enzymes.

It is there, working for you:

Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body on the surface of cells in the brain, organs, tissues, and glands. These receptors are embedded in cell membranes and produce varying reactions when stimulated by cannabinoids. Cannabinoids come from two distinct places — the body, which produces naturally occurring endocannabinoids, and the cannabis plant, which produces phytocannabinoids. The third part of the ECS is metabolic enzymes. Metabolic enzymes act like a natural referee in that they destroy endocannabinoids once they are used and no longer useful to the body.

Cannabinoid receptors

Two cannabinoid receptors have been discovered by researchers: CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found in the central and peripheral nervous system. It’s also found in the brain and is the receptor that THC interacts with, giving the user a high. CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system and the gastrointestinal system where they regulate inflammatory responses in the bowels. CB2 receptors are also found in the brain, although not as densely as CB1 receptors. These receptors, a large part of the endocannabinoid system, play roles in regulating cardiovascular activity, appetite, mood, memory, and pain in the body.

 

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