Your body needs a buffering system to keep it functioning at optimal levels. Many underlying factors, such as damage, aging, and neglect, can disrupt the body’s homeostasis and cause decay. Several decades ago, scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system — a network of complex cell-signaling receptors that intertwine brain activity with physical well-being.
The endocannabinoid system’s main function is to keep the body’s internal environment stable. Right now, science is still in the early stages of understanding how the endocannabinoid system protects the body from illnesses and disorders. But, existing research paints a promising picture of its therapeutic potential.
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of three main components:
- Endogenous cannabinoids
Our body produces natural cannabinoids. However, when it runs out of these compounds, the resulting deficiency causes the endocannabinoid system’s regulatory environment to shut down.
Many activities, such as physical exercise, yoga, and phytocannabinoids from food sources, can help replenish endocannabinoid activity and resume normal function.
Phytocannabinoids are quite similar to endogenous cannabinoids. They mimic natural endocannabinoid activity and also counteract the effects of some important endocannabinoid compounds.
Some of the most popular examples of phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD. Both are extracted from plant matter and have been the subject of many scientific studies.
What do endogenous cannabinoids do?
Endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids naturally occur in our bodies. These include:
· Anandamide (AEA)
· 2-arachidonoyglycerol (2-AG)
Endocannabinoids trigger the activity of two main receptors of the endocannabinoid system: CB1 and CB2. These compounds can bind to either of these receptors; however, AEA is mostly associated with CB1 and 2-AG with CB2.
Endocannabinoids are fat-based and have cell membranes in their outer structures. The body produces them on demand; when their supply is low. Once endocannabinoids have done their job, enzymes take over and break them into metabolites.
Two main enzymes that are involved in endocannabinoid breakdown are:
· Fatty Acid Hydrolase
· Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase
How does the endocannabinoid system maintain homeostasis?
The endocannabinoid system is only activated when it’s needed. It plays a critical role in brain cell firing and maintaining the homeostatic environment of the immune system. Many responsibilities come under the endocannabinoid system’s purview, from protecting nerve cells to regulating appetite and fighting inflammation.
How do phytocannabinoids Help the Endocannabinoid System?
THC, the psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in cannabis, induces psychotropic activity in the endocannabinoid system. Like anandamide, THC binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, instead of exactly mimicking anandamide function, it causes a high characteristic of Marijuana plants.
Endocannabinoid enzymes don’t act as effectively on THC as they do on endogenous cannabinoids, which prolongs their lifespan and leads to potent and longer-lasting effects.
Another prevalent phytocannabinoid in the cannabis plant is CBD. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t directly interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, it triggers many underlying receptor types, influencing the central nervous system’s overall levels of endogenous cannabinoids.
Research suggests that CBD works with the enzyme FAAH to prevent anandamide’s breakdown, thus increasing CB1 receptor activity.
While CBD doesn’t bind with CB1 receptors, studies have shown that CBD can counteract THC activity, consequently reducing its capability to interact with the receptor and suppressing negative effects, such as hallucinations and delirium. Beyond the endocannabinoid system, CBD affects neuron receptor activity most medications are known to as well.
Studies conducted on mice have found that CBD stimulates serotonin activity linked to sleep, memory, sexual function, mood, and many other vital cognitive functions. CBD also regulates glutamate, one of the most sensitive neurotransmitters present in the brain. Glutamate, when overexcited, can cause anxiety and other concerning psychological symptoms. Some theories suggest that CBD may also bind to a cannabinoid receptor that science hasn’t uncovered yet.
What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
Clinical Endocannabinoid deficiency is a new theory in scientific circles. This theory suggests that endocannabinoid deficiency in your body or malfunctioning important endocannabinoid receptors can aggravate existing conditions and lead to new disorders.
A 2016 article that reviewed over a decade of research on the endocannabinoid system that Clinical Endocannabinoid deficiency may be the reason why some people develop:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
None of these conditions have a dependable treatment. They are quite resistant to treatments, mainly because the causes that contribute to their development are largely unknown. If ECS is the answer to this uncertainty, then targeting this system may unveil a more reliable treatment. However, more research is needed to ascertain this connection.
Functions of the Endocannabinoid System
- Appetite and digestion
- Chronic Pain
- Inflammation and other immune system responses
- Learning and memory
- Motor control
- Cardiovascular system function
- Muscle formation
- Bone remodeling and growth
- Liver function
- Reproductive system function
- Skin and nerve function
These functions all share a common thread — homeostasis. To further simplify things, if an external force, such as a virus or bacteria, kicks your body out of homeostasis, the endocannabinoid system steps in to realign normal body function.
Homeostasis is critical to prevent the body’s internal systems from losing its way. One of the most important systems that maintain homeostatic activity in the body is the endocannabinoid system. Besides natural endocannabinoids produced in the body, phytocannabinoids found in plant matter can trigger endocannabinoid activity.
Phytocannabinoids are mainly of two types: THC and CBD. THC binds directly to CB1 and CB2 receptors. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t directly engage with cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it influences the activity of chemicals that bind to CB1 receptors, thus indirectly affecting receptor activity. CBD can also counteract THC’s psychoactive effects because of a special effect known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect is a synergistic relationship between two compounds.
More in-depth research is needed to demonstrate how endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids compete with each other to fit into the broader endocannabinoid system and stimulate and inhibit neurotransmitter activity. With more extensive clinical trials, understanding the endocannabinoid system’s working may improve systems connected to inflammation, pain, sleep-wake cycles, mood, and more.