The Endocannabinoid System
What is it and why does it matter?
There’s no doubt about it; medical cannabis and the endocannabinoid system are a hot topic!
We have all heard reports, perhaps even seen videos of people just like us using cannabis products and getting incredible results!
How can one plant do so much for so many people?!?
First of all, it’s not just one plant…
Cannabis is a species of plant; there are thousands of varieties of cannabis and all of them are unique.
Every strain of cannabis produces a wide range of chemicals many of which we call “cannabinoids“. There are also aromatic compounds called “terpenes” that give the cannabis plant its characteristic smell.
Cannabis is complex…
There can be hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes present in any full spectrum cannabis product, and we haven’t even mentioned other phyto-nutrients such as flavanoids!
…but it isn’t alone.
Cannabis isn’t the only source of cannabinoids, many plants and fungi produce similar chemicals.
In fact, your body produces it’s own cannabinoids!
Where did it all begin?
Deep down at the bottom of sea, approximately a billion years ago, a small squishy marine creature called a Tunicate evolved to produce and use chemicals that we would now call cannabinoids.
The Tunicate (aka The Sea Squirt) also had receptors that the cannabinoids activated, like little keys and locks.
This intricate system allowed the creature to balance and regulate it’s simple physiological functions.
The primitive endocannabinoid system was a success! The Sea Squirt passed on it’s cannabinoid hardware to successive generations, and evolution took it’s course.
Life on earth became more complex; animals grew larger, and evolved big brains and expansive nervous systems, but retained the endocannabinoid system because it worked; it kept the animals healthy and well long enough to pass on their genes.
Every animal on earth, including you, is descended from the tunicate.
We all have an endocannabinoid system, and it is not a coincidence.
What does the Endocannabinoid System do?
The endocannabinoid has one job; to keep you well.
OK maybe there’s more to it…
The endocannabinoid system is present in almost every tissue; from your brain to your gut and even your reproductive organs. Your body produces and utilises cannabinoids to gently regulate physiological functions throughout the brain and body.
Broadly speaking, the endocannbinoid system promotes homeostasis; not too hot, not too cold, neither too sleepy or too awake, not too hungry, not too full, everything must be kept in balance!
Almost everything your body does is facillitated by your endocannabinoid system, you can’t live without it!
One System, many parts
In our bodies we have both cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, as well as some other useful parts such as enzymes and transporter molecules.
Broadly speaking there are two types of receptor, and two types of cannabinoid transmitters…
(there are actually more, but for simplicity’s sake lets just deal with the ones we know the most about)
The CB1 receptor is found in high concentrations in the central nervous system, but is also found throughout the body.
The CB2 receptor is found in both the brain and the body, and especially in the immune system
Both receptors are found on the ends of our nerve cells, and they are essential for making sure that our body and brain communicate with eachother. Cannabinoid receptors are also found outwith the nervous system in our tissues.
So how do they work?
Both the CB1 and CB2 receptors need to be activated by cannabinoids, normally produced in the endocannabinoid system.
The two main human cannabinoids are called Anadamide and 2-AG
Anadamide means “bliss molecule”, and it makes us feel happy, hungry and sleepy. It is made in very small quantities because it is very potent. Anandamide activates the CB1 receptor, a bit like a microscopic On switch
2-AG is produced in large quantities throughout your brain and body; a healthy adult produces 200 times more 2-AG than Andamide!
Where Anandamide has a very strong effect on the CB1 receptor, 2-AG doesn’t have much of an effect on either cannabinoid receptor. In fact, 2-AG temporarily blocks cannabinoid receptors!
By doing this, 2-AG acts like a dimmer switch gradually regulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system, fine tuning it to whatever the body needs at the time!
So what about Cannabis?
As we know, the cannabis plant produces abundant cannabinoids, and they can be used by our endocannabinoid systems.
Your body receives THC from cannabis, and uses it like Anandamide
Your body receives CBD from cannabis, and uses it like 2-AG
In the same way that the endocannabinoid system evolved to keep us healthy, the cannabis plant specialised in the production these useful chemicals!
Cannabis is a resource
Hemp and cannabis plants produce these chemicals, and if we use them properly, we can improve and maintain our health and happiness. It is not a coincidence that humans gravitate towards this strange little plant, nor is it mere luck that it has such a beneficial effect on our well being.