WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?
The endocannabinoid system is made up of several integrated mechanisms:
- Enzymes responsible for creating and destroying cannabinoids
- Receptor sites on cells to receive cannabinoids
- Endocannabinoids themselves (cannabinoid-like compounds that are naturally produced by the human body)
These mechanisms are predominantly responsible for communication within the body to best regulate various biological responses.
One of the prime questions raised in these early studies was whether or not the body produces its own natural equivalents to the previously discovered compounds called phytocannabinoids, like THC and CBD, found in the cannabis plant (Mandal, 2014). The answer turned out to be “yes” – in the form of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG, which are like the two prominent analogs to THC and CBD, (Pacher et al, 2006). With the understanding that we humans create our own cannabinoids, the door to deconstructing their purpose was opened.
HOW DOES THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM FUNCTION?
Whenever there are deviations from homeostasis in the body’s functions, the endocannabinoid system is activated and begins to respond accordingly by synthesizing endocannabinoids, which act as neurotransmitters.
When the body creates neurotransmitters for the endocannabinoid system, they are picked up by specialized cannabinoid receptors, which sit on the surface of cells. These receptors are found in a wide range of physiological regions, such as in:
- The immune system
- Organs and glands
- Connective tissue
- The brain (most significantly)
Like a key fits into a lock, endocannabinoids interact with these receptors and transmit information about changing conditions to kick-start a response, with the goal of helping the body achieve homeostasis, or equilibrium, within the body despite outside influences (Alger, 2013).
The endocannabinoid system’s receptor sites include CB1 and CB2 receptor variants, which respond differently to various cannabinoids (Pacher et al, 2006). CB1 receptors are most prevalent in the central nervous system and are linked to the following benefits:
- Modulation of stress and anxiety
- Increased appetite
- Decreased nausea
- Balance of immune system
- Inhibition of tumors