In today’s blog, we are going to talk about the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoids. If you want to get a deeper understanding of how the ECS works, and learn more about cannabinoids and their benefits, you’ll enjoy this article.
Endocannabinoid system (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system. It is identified in the early 1990s when researchers were exploring THC – a well-known cannabinoid.
Cannabinoids are compounds that are found in cannabis.
ECS plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes like:
- Reproduction and fertility
Even if you don't use cannabis, the ECS exists and is active in your body.
How does it work?
The three main components of the ECS are endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endogenous cannabinoids, commonly known as endocannabinoids, are molecules that are produced by your body. They're like cannabinoids, except they're produced by your body.
So far, experts have identified two key endocannabinoids:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
These help in keeping internal functions running smoothly, and your body produces them as needed.
These receptors can be found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them and send a signal to the ECS that something needs to be done.
The two main endocannabinoid receptors are:
- CB1 receptors - mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors - mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
Endocannabinoids have the ability to connect to both receptors. The effects are determined by the location of the receptor and the endocannabinoid it binds to.
For example, endocannabinoids could reduce pain by targeting CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve. Others may attach to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells, indicating that your body is inflamed, which is a typical symptom of autoimmune illnesses.
Enzymes are in charge of breaking down endocannabinoids after they've served their purpose.
The two main enzymes are responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase - breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase - typically breaks down 2-AG
Functions of ECS contribute to homeostasis, which refers to the internal environment's stability. When an external factor, such as pain or a fever, disrupts your body's homeostasis, your ECS jumps in to assist your body in returning to its optimal state.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis that exist naturally.
They are very similar to endocannabinoids as the human body produces them and uses them to maintain homeostasis, which maintains internal health and immune system processes.
Different cannabinoids produce different effects according to the type and location of receptor they interact with.
It is important to note that cannabinoids aren't created directly by cannabis. The cannabis resin is high in cannabinoid acids, which must be activated by decarboxylation (heating). When you smoke, vape, or cook cannabis, a process occurs that creates cannabinoids from cannabinoid acid secretions.
How many cannabinoids are there?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most well-known cannabinoids. Whether or not they use medical or recreational marijuana, almost every adult American has heard of these compounds.
However, the number of cannabinoids goes much beyond THC and CBD.
Estimates vary, but there are at least 60-100 distinct cannabinoids known, with many more believed to exist.
Because of this diversity, the interactions between cannabinoids are also fascinating.
CBD, for example, does not interact with CB-1 brain cell receptors in the same manner as THC does, and actually prevents THC from connecting to receptors.
Let’s take a look at the most common types of cannabinoids:
THC is just about one of the only cannabinoids that will get you high.
It was the first cannabinoid to be isolated and is now one of the most abundant cannabinoids in modern cannabis products and strains.
THC binds to CB-1 receptors in the brain, resulting in powerful psychoactive effects such as euphoria, relaxation, and laughter.
THC can be used for medical uses as it helps with pain relief, mood, and digestion.
CBD, the second most well-known cannabinoid, is in many ways the polar opposite of THC.
CBD does not create the same intoxication effects as THC, which is simply explained by the way the two cannabinoids interact. CBD has a preference for attaching to CB-2 receptors, which are present throughout the body.
As a result, it has numerous physiological effects, such as:
- Stress reduction
- Appetite improvement
- Better sleep