How Cannabinoids Heal & The Endocannabinoid System
In recent years, we have learned that the medicinal powers that cannabis holds are vast. In order to understand exactly how cannabis (and cannabinoids) heal the body, we need to first get familiar with the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biochemical communication system in the human body, largely comprised of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that regulate various functions including sleep, mood, memory, appetite, reproduction, and pain sensation. This intricate system was first discovered in the 60's and 70’s when scientists were researching the effects of cannabis on the human body. The ECS allows our bodies to process and interact with cannabis and its phytocannabinoids which is why we feel benefits like pain relief and anxiety reduction when we consume it.
We can gain a deeper understanding of the system by defining the word endocannabinoid, which simply means ‘cannabis-like substances that naturally occur inside us’. The key function of the ECS is returning us to or maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is your body's internal balance system that works to keep everything in the right ‘zone’. Think of homeostasis as the control panel for your internal environment - things like your heartbeat, temperature, hunger gauge, and immune response are all regulated by homeostasis. When something goes haywire within the body, your ECS acts as a rescue team to correct it.
So how does the ECS know when to act? Extensive research points to two cannabinoid receptors found in select tissue on the surface of cells:
CB1 - which is in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord, this receptor also triggers psychoactive effects)
CB2 - which is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), the digestive system, and specialized cells within the immune system. Work to moderate inflammation and immune response.
CB1 and CB2 aren’t the only receptors but they are the most studied receptors. These receptors ‘sit’ on cells within various systems throughout our body and allow communication and coordination between different cell types. Streamlined communication between cells allows our body to respond to needs like injuries or illness by deploying help from multiple internal systems. The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is a literal bridge between body and mind.
Endocannabinoids - What Are They?
Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are naturally produced molecules within the body that bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. Much like neurotransmitters, eCBs are chemical messengers for the ECS. These molecules are made only when they are needed and are crucial to maintaining communication between cells. Plant cannabinoids like THC can also activate receptors but each produces a different response based on the receptor it interacts with. Noting that over 100 different cannabinoids have been identified within the cannabis plant, there are endless responses and benefits that each compound could trigger within the body.
Enzymes In The ECS
The last of three key components of the endocannabinoid system, enzymes! Also molecules, metabolic enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids get used up and then quickly destroyed. ECS enzymes work to immediately break down cannabinoids after use, rather than storing them like many other systems in the body. It’s worth mentioning that these enzymes have a particularly difficult time breaking down THC, which is why it can linger in our cells for months after use.
Cannabinoids & How They Heal
Now that we have a greater understanding of the ECS that exists within us, it becomes much more clear as to how we as humans are biologically built to reap the benefits of cannabis.
An excellent example can be found in CBD. CBD is unique in that it doesn’t directly trigger or attach to either major receptor. Instead, it modifies the receptor’s ability to bind to cannabinoids which increases your levels of natural endocannabinoids by occupying specific enzymes. This receptor modification is thought to make other phytocannabinoids more impactful when ingested with CBD. The benefit of CBD doesn’t stop at cannabinoids, CBD also interacts with non-cannabinoid receptors within the body like the 5ht serotonin receptor (treating various mental disorders) and the TRPV1 receptor, which is responsible for pain and inflammation.
CBN is another cannabinoid that interacts with both CB1 and CB2 but doesn’t ever bind to either receptor. Instead, CBN prefers to influence CB2 which provokes TRPV2 receptors responsible for promoting therapeutic feelings. CBN is a highly regarded sleep aid known for increasing mood-enhancing chemicals. CBN is a key component in our Good Night formula.
An additional mood-boosting cannabinoid is CBDA. It provides therapeutic effects throughout our body by activating 5-HT1A, which are serotonin receptors. CBDA is special due to having a much stronger binding affinity than CBD as an antagonist at an important receptor known as GPR55. Other medicinal benefits that CBDA is known for: anti-nausea, treatment for epilepsy (reduction of seizures), and high anti-inflammatory properties.
By diving into the ECS and how it works, we uncover a lesser-known look at the direct impact that each cannabinoid has on our body. Whether you’re new to cannabis or are a regular user, having this knowledge means we are better equipped to single-out cannabinoids that can treat needs specific to our individual health and wellbeing.
Further research on the ECS can be found by visiting our sources below!
Zlebnik Natalie, Cheer Joseph. Beyond the CB1 Receptor: Is Cannabidiol the Answer for Disorders of Motivation?
Sulak, Dustin. DO. Introduction to the endocannabinoid system.