While many have heard of THC and CBD for health and recreational purposes, many people do not know the reasons behind why cannabinoids like the ones listed above function the way that they do. To put it simply, cannabinoids work because they interact with certain receptors within our body to produce the desired effects. These receptors belong to an entire system known as the endocannabinoid systems.
For new users who are just hearing this term, it could make them question the substances even more. In this article, we will go into depth about the endocannabinoid system so that you can learn more about what it is and what role it plays when chemicals like THC and CBD are introduced into the body.
What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system are a system of receptors located throughout the entirety of the human body that is designed for one purpose: homeostasis. Through the release or absorption of cannabinoids, receptors are activated and this system, which are found throughout all of the other systems in the body. They regulate the body to make sure that internal processes are balanced.
For example, the role of the endocannabinoid system stretches into other regulatory systems such as the reproductive system, the nervous system, and the respiratory system. However, the system goes much deeper than just this surface-level summary.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of the components that make up this system and what it is able to achieve when it is functioning properly.
There are two types of receptors found within the endocannabinoid system: the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor, which are each responsible for regulating different processes.
The first type of receptor is one that is largely present in the brain region as well as in the nerves that connect to the nervous system. For this reason, CB1 receptors are associated with neurological functions and nerve-related processes.
To give you a better example, turn your attention to THC for a second. If you have tried THC or if you have heard about it, you know that it produces psychoactive effects or a “high”. The reason behind this can be found in the fact that THC interacts more with the CB1 than the CB2 receptors, resulting in a psychoactive experience.
While CB1 receptors are found in the brain and nervous system, CB2 receptors are found in other sections of the body such as the immune system, the major organs, the extremities, and other places that are not covered by the first series of receptors. These receptors are largely responsible for maintaining processes and keeping the body regulated.
To give you an example of how this works, turn to CBD. Cannabidol is said to affect the CB2 receptors more than the CB1 receptors, which is why there are not any psychoactive effects that are experienced when it is smoked or consumed.
To fully understand what phytocannabinoids are, we first have to take a look over endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are produced within the body and designed to attach to the receptors.
All human bodies produce these endocannabinoids, which serve to interact with the human body in a wide variety of ways. Besides these cannabinoids, there are cannabinoids that naturally occur in the cannabis plant that also function in a similar fashion.
These cannabinoids are known as phytocannabinoids and can be found specifically within the hemp plant. Two examples, which we have already stated several times throughout this article, are THC and CBD. To summarize, endocannabinoids are produced within the body while phytocannabinoids are those that are present in the cannabis plant.
What Does It Do?
The main goal of this system is to achieve homeostasis. However, this covers a wide variety of different processes. So, what does it actually do? Let’s break down some of the processes that the endocannabinoid is said to monitor and effect.
- The regulation of appetite and thirst
- The breakdown of food in the body and the resulting absorption of important nutrients
- The functions of the immune system to protect the body
- The way that the body uses inflammation
- The overall mood of an individual
- The sleeping process
- Overall fertility and reproductive processes
- The movement and actions of an individual via muscles and other parts of the body
- The regulation of internal temperature
- The storing of memory and the learning of new concepts
- The pain experience
- The experience of both pleasure and related rewards
This is not a list that covers all of the processes that the role of the endocannabinoid system is charged with overseeing. This should give you an idea as to the scope and importance of the ECS. Without this system, we may not be able to keep our bodies as stable as they currently are.
All Animals Have the ECS
What may be surprising to learn is that humans are not the only creatures to have the endocannabinoid system. In fact, all animals have it within their body as well!
It would also be logical to assume that there must be some major differences in structure from different animals. However, all animals have the same kind of system in their body that allows them to keep all of their systems regulated as well. While it is not advised to feed your pet marijuana, there may be some benefits of utilizing the same types of cannabinoids.
Most Abundant Neuromodularity Receptors in the Body
You may be thinking, what the heck is neuromodularity? Let us explain. Neuromodularity is the process in which one neuron utilizes multiple chemicals to regulate a wide variety of neurons with varying processes.
Essentially, neuromodularity is what drives the endocannabinoid system as it undergoes a different process to release the cannabinoids. Normally, a neuron produces a chemical indicator in a presynapse (which is simply the term that is given to a neuron that is responsible for developing and sending a chemical message).
The message then travels across a synapse, which is a small passage located between neurons. It ends up at another neuron called a post-synapse (which refers to the neuron that receives the chemical message in this process) that continues working with other neurons and receptors around them. This lets others know what to do and how to provide the right effect in the body.
With endocannabinoids, this process is reversed so that the chemicals are actually produced in the postsynaptic neuron and sent to the presynaptic neuron. In this version of the process, endocannabinoids are allowed to travel into the body and attach to the related receptors and all kinds of endocannabinoids are produced. This process is extremely effective and the ECS contains the most neuromodularity receptors in the body.
Why Is the Endocannabinoid System Important for Homeostasis?
So far, we have covered some of the effects of the endocannabinoid system as well as the different parts of the system and what it achieves. However, many readers may still be missing the key part: why is this system so important for homeostasis? The answer to this question lies in the vast functions of it as well as the way that it works.
To begin with, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for how our body reacts to certain stimuli. For example, if you bump your toe against a table, your body feels pain. In response to that pain, the endocannabinoid system will produce cannabinoids that rush to the affected area and calm the pain down while also activating inflammation so that it can undergo the healing process.
When an imbalance is detected within the body, the endocannabinoid system rushes to the rescue to make sure that it is fixed so that the body can maintain a constant balance. Given that homeostasis is needed in order for us to thrive and lead healthy lives, this is why the endocannabinoid system is so important for homeostasis.
That being said, not everyone’s endocannabinoid system functions as desired. In some individuals, it may not work the right way or may not produce the right amount of endocannabinoids, which results in something that is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. As you have seen above, this is very important in the process of achieving homeostasis. When it is barred from doing this, it could be the reason why those with low endocannabinoid activity experience a wide variety of health issues.
These types of diseases or conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome, are all conditions or diseases that stem from the body’s lack of regulation. They often tend to be ones that have no treatment and are extremely unpleasant.
While we are on the subject, it is also important to discuss the potential symptoms that come from this hypothesized disorder. Symptoms often include
- A change in sleep quality that results in insomnia
- Feelings of anxiety (This could also be a symptom of a serious mental health disorder. If you experience any unexplained mood changes, seek the help of a mental health professional immediately to make sure that you get the assistance you need!)
- Problems with anger and anger management
- Sudden feelings of sadness or depression
- The development of issues that feature inflammation, such as arthritis
- Unexplained bone loss
- The development of feelings of chronic pain
- Symptoms that mimic dementia
- The inability to eat or weight loss
The biggest issue with these symptoms is that there is no way to link them to an endocannabinoid deficiency and they could very well represent a much bigger health problem. No matter what type of symptoms you experience above, almost all of them are concerning. The moment you experience such symptoms, take the initiative to visit your primary health provider so that you can be assessed for any serious health complications.
Another important thing to note is that endocannabinoid deficiency is simply a hypothesis at this time. During a conversation with a doctor, it is doubtful that they will use this term as a way to explain your symptoms. With this in mind, it is important to treat every condition or disease using the prescribed medications or methods that are given to you by the doctor. If the doctor approves or it won’t interfere with any course of treatment you are currently taking, you may be able to bring on additional external cannabinoids as a way to supplement your current treatment plan to see if it helps. However, it is not recommended that cannabinoids are the only form of treatment that you should seek out if you are dealing with serious health problems.
The hemp/cannabis industry will continue to grow as long as people have a need for recreational/medical marijuana and CBD. As we have seen recently and in the past, more and more people are gradually testing these types of substances as potentially helpful forms of natural treatment and many are reporting the benefits.
Hopefully, this guide on the endocannabinoid system has not only given you the information needed to understand the interaction between our bodies and cannabinoids such as CBD and THC but has also shown you how this system functions within our body regularly as well.