The Endocannabinoid System has gotten more attention recently than ever before since its discovery in the early 1990s, but it is still relatively unheard of and misunderstood.
This is surprising considering some experts say that the Endocannabinoid System is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in maintaining human health. And if you are a cannabis patient or consumer, the Endocannabinoid System is responsible for the way your body interacts with your medicine or product of choice.
Here’s what you need to know about the system that is responsible for so much.
The Endocannabinoid System is a collection of cannabinoid receptors found throughout virtually all animals with a vertebrae, humans included. Its receptors can be found in the brain, organs, connective tissue, glands, and immune cells. These receptors sit on top on cells and act as gatekeepers, monitoring the situation outside the cell and communicating back to the cell, which in turn activates the appropriate cellular response.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Most CB1 receptors are found in the brain and nervous system, but also occur in reproductive organs. CB2 receptors are found most abundantly in the immune system, gastrointestinal tract, and the peripheral nervous system.
Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated by specific molecules that bind to the receptors, endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
Cannabinoids that are naturally produced by the body are dubbed endocannabinoids. Anandamide is a major endocannabinoid you may have heard of; the “bliss molecule” is responsible for feelings of euphoria when released in the brain. Cannabinoid receptors also bind with and are activated by contact with cannabinoids found in nature, like THC or CBD in cannabis.
Israel has been a hub of cannabis-related scientific research for decades. Many of the medicinal cannabis breakthroughs have come from researchers in the country, including the groundbreaking isolation of THC which later resulted in the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System.
In 1964, more advanced extraction methods allowed Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam to successfully isolate THC as the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Being able to successfully isolate THC allowed subsequent researchers to work backwards and watch as the chemical was metabolized through the body. Watching THC’s metabolic pathway led researchers to observe a signaling system in the body that was completely unknown before: The Endocannabinoid System.
The discovery of this system led researchers to question why animals and humans have naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the first place. In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam and his co-researchers discovered the naturally occurring endocannabinoid Anandamide.
At its core, the mission of the Endocannabinoid System is homeostasis, which is defined as the “tendency of the body to seek and maintain a condition of balance or equilibrium within its internal environment.”
Because cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, the Endocannabinoid System plays an active role in all sorts of biological functions.
If it isn’t obvious by now, CB1 receptors in the brain are activated by THC, resulting in psychoactive high associated with marijuana. But the Endocannabinoid System has a hand in so much more than just a head high. It affects everything from sleep patterns, to short and long term memory, internal temperature regulation, pain, immune function, appetite, digestion, motor control, mood, and more.
With the Endocannabinoid System affecting so many biological processes, it is no wonder why there is wide ranging scientific and anecdotal evidence that cannabis could be an effective treatment against everything from insomnia, to chronic pain, tourette syndrome, epilepsy, depression, and stirring an appetite in cancer patients.
Learning about the Endocannabinoid System is a great way of deepening knowledge of your own body and becoming a more informed cannabis consumer and patient. As more scientific research is done, the closer we will get to more comprehensive understanding of this vital system.