What is the Endocannabinoid System? The endocannabinoid system is a network of internally occurring components that play an important role in our inner biological system.
It is responsible for regulating and balancing (homeostatis) the response of the human body to certain triggers. Such as appetite, metabolism, immune change, communication between body cells and lots more.
More importantly, the endocannabinoid system plays a huge role in the physical and psychological effects of cannabis in the human body.
It is through this system that the active components of cannabis, which are referred to as cannabinoids, interact with our body’s biological system and elicit its beneficial effects.
It was thus named after the active components. Endo (which means within the body) and Cannabinoid (the active ingredient that it acts upon).
The endocannabinoid system has a great potential to alter the way the human body works and a fully functional one is essential to have a healthy and balanced body system.
This system is a major focal point of medical research because of its widespread therapeutic potential. Although medical researchers have discovered the basics of how this amazing system works, there are still more left to be discovered.
Components of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is made up of different components that work together to bring a fully and totally functional system that helps to regulate and control responses which have to do with the effect of cannabinoids. The components include:
- Cannabinoid receptors on cell surface
What is the Endocannabinoid System? Cannabinoid Receptors
The cannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of the cells. Think of these receptors like a keyhole that will only function if the right key is inserted into it.
There are many types of cannabinoid receptors but only two of them have been widely studied and researched. They are CB1 and CB2.
Each receptor responds to different kinds of cannabinoids, but there are some cannabinoids that don’t distinguish between the two and can interact with both.
The distribution of these receptors within the body system explains why cannabinoids have certain profound effects on us.
CB1 receptors are abundantly present in the brain and spinal cord. They are found in exceedingly high concentration in the parts of the brain that are associated with the behaviors they influence.
Most importantly, they are found in the hypothalamus and the amygdala, which are responsible for appetite regulation, control of stress and anxiety, reducing nausea as well as for memory and emotional processing.
CB1 receptors are also present in nerve endings where they act to reduce sensations of pain (one major reason why cannabis is used as a pain killer).
CB2 receptors are usually located in the immune cells of the peripheral nervous system. Once activated, they trigger an immune response to reduce inflammation, a role that is important in treating many chronic diseases.
What is the Endocannabinoid System? Endogenous Cannabinoids
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are naturally produced by the human body. They are neurotransmitters that are produced on demand by the endocannabinoid system when the body gives signals that they are needed.
They work exactly like the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, commonly referred to as THC, CBD, CBN. And there are two major types known by scientists namely Anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol).
Other endocannabinoids under study include virodhamine, noladine and N-arachidonyl dopamine (NADA) but their effect has not been fully discovered.
Anandamide is the first endocannabinoid that was discovered. It occurs in higher concentration in the nervous system.
It has only partial binding ability with CB1 and CB2. This means that although it binds or fit into the keyhole (receptor), it doesn’t fit perfectly as such. It only trigger a less powerful physiological response.
This is in contrast to 2-AG, which is found in higher concentrations in the brain and is able to fully associate with the two endocannabinoid receptors to trigger a strong physiological response.
Once the effect of cannabinoids in the body is no longer needed, they are broken down by the third component of the endocannabinoid system. And that brings us to the enzymes and their effects on the biological system of the body.
What is the Endocannabinoid System? Enzymes
The enzymes of the endocannabinoid system play an important role. They are responsible for breaking down the remaining endocannabinoid after their physiological role has been carried out.
The enzymes are of two types, they include: Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). FAAH is responsible for breaking down excess anandamide while MAGL works on 2-AG.
They both ensure that the endocannabinoids get utilized when they are required but not longer than they should stay in the body system.
Why Cannabinoids have effects on the body
The main reason why cannabinoids like THC, Cannabidiol and Cannabinol have psychoactive and/or medicinal effects on the body is because the human body has a system in place to interact with them.
It has been discovered that THC has the ability to bind with the two receptors in the body and activates them just like the naturally produced endocannabinoid in the body does.
However rather than binding directly to them, it works by antagonizing the effect of FAAH enzyme which is responsible for the breakdown of anandamide.
When FAAH is inhibited, the breakdown process of anandamide is disrupted and this leads to a buildup of FAAH in the brain, making it linger longer than usual and this accounts for the ‘high’ feeling and the psychoactive effect it has on the user.
Antagonization of the FAAH enzyme has been shown to be a useful means of combating other mental disorders. And some of the anti–anxiety properties of CBD may be from its ability to antagonize the effect of FAAH and thereby increase endocannabinoid presence in the body system.
What is the Endocannabinoid System In medicine?
Due to its significant effects on the human body, the endocannabinoid system is believed to have significant effects in treating and correcting many medical conditions.
With this, there are currently two ways of harnessing the effect of the endocannabinoid system in medicine. They include: Synthetic cannabinoids and plant based cannabinoids.
By far, the most known one is Medical marijuana and it is the most common way of using the endocannabinoid system to treat medical conditions.
It is known that its active components produce therapeutic effects on the endocannabinoid system by interacting with it. It can be used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, epileptic fits, nausea, sclerosis and it can even be used in palliative care. And much more …
Despite the benefits of medical marijuana, some patients have some significant side effects such as feeling high, paranoia, or anxiety caused by THC. For this reason, some patients prefer treatment options other than these.
Synthetic cannabinoids are made to copy the activity of existing cannabinoids, and they can target the endocannabinoid system.
However, these synthetic cannabinoids should be considered critically and cannot replace the plant cannabinoids. Especially because these natural cannabinoids already exist in the cannabis plant and so they don’t have to be synthetically produced.
This is probably about maintaining the control and profit by the pharmaceutical industry and adapting to the collective public awareness of the healing properties of cannabinoids.
Examples include Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid that has been used to combat loss of appetite and nausea in AIDS and cancer patients. It is also used for reducing chronic pains in severe conditions.
Functions of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is important in many basic functions of the human body such as appetite, immune function, metabolism of food, pain, sleep, memory, mood, digestion, inflammation and lots more.
Apart from regulating these basic body functions, it also provides a physiological response to illness.
A very vivid example is found in cancer and tumor cells having more cannabinoid receptors than healthy cells and tissues in the human body.
Because of this, many medical researcher believe that the function of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis i.e. regulating the body system and maintain a middle or balanced course in all situations.
A diseased body condition is largely as a result of the inability of the body to achieve homeostasis. Thus, the role of the endocannabinoid system in maintaining homeostasis is a key role in medicine.
The endocannabinoid system is truly a treasure for scientists and medical professionals. Although it is a complex system, it plays an important role in many important body processes and shows promising prospects as a treatment target for many severe conditions.
What is the Endocannabinoid System? Conclusion
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is the most important medical breakthrough after the discovery of sterile surgical methods. Thus when it comes to the endocannabinoid system, the research summarized in this treatise is only the tip of an iceberg.
There is still more to be done in terms of significant research on it and its impact on the overall health of the human body. As well as how plant based cannabinoid can be used to play groundbreaking therapeutic roles in human health.
Cannabis contains more than 80 cannabinoids that link with receptors in the body.
However, only two have been extensively researched and worked upon, THC and Cannabidiol. As such, further research should go into the others and how they can be used to extensively affect the endocannabinoid system for more homeostatic benefits.
By Pietraszki Sandro