The cannabis plant works so well in the human body because of a little known system - the endocannabinoid system or ECS. The endocannabinoid system, named after cannabis - the plant that helped scientists discover it.
Believe it or not, the endocannabinoid system regulates a lot more than you may think. ECS is a bodily system made of receptors that are located throughout the body and works with other systems to maintain homeostasis.
To be in a homeostasis state means for our body’s conditions to be in a certain zone at all times, ensuring we are not too hot or too cold, our blood pressure stays in the right zone, and many other things. Homeostasis ensures our bodies remain in the sweet spot.
ECS plays a vital role in homeostasis and helps regulates functions like
Pleasure / reward
To understand the endocannabinoid system, three components work together to maintain a homeostasis state. Those three components are:
Cannabinoid receptors - can be found on the surface of cells.
Endocannabinoids - are small molecules that activate the cannabinoid receptors.
Metabolic enzymes - break down endocannabinoids after they are used.
The cannabinoid receptors’ job is to listen to the conditions outside of the cell and transmits information to the inside of the cell; it then kickstarts the appropriate cellular response.
There are two major receptors (most commonly studied, but more exist) the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Each of these receptors is located in various parts of the body.
CB1 is abundant in the brain, and this receptor interacts with the THC for the high.
CB2 is abundant outside the nervous system, like the immune system.
The endocannabinoid molecules bind to and activate the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2), like the cannabinoid THC. Endocannabinoids are naturally produced by the body, “endo” means “within.” There are two major endocannabinoids
Both endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within the cell membranes. They are synthesized on demand. Meaning they are made and used when needed. They are unlike other biological molecules.
The metabolic enzymes destroy endocannabinoids once they are used. There are two major enzymes FAAH and MAGL. The FAAH enzymes break down anandamide and MAGL break down 2-AG. This ensures that endocannabinoids are only used when needed and then quickly destroyed.
These three components are found in almost every primary system of the body. It is the three components that are called upon when a cell is out of its sweet spot. The ECS is only engaged when and where needed.
So how does ECS work when you consume cannabis?
When you smoke marijuana, the plant cannabinoid (in this case, THC) attaches to the CB1
receptors in your brain; this creates the high. The reason you get high is that the enzyme FAAH breaks down anandamide and other endocannabinoids (what your body makes), but it can’t break down THC, so it sticks around and has a significant effect.
Many people, like myself, love CBD for anxiety. When you consume CBD, the plant cannabinoid CBD stops the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide, thus allowing the anandamide to have more of an impact. This is why it’s believed CBD can have such an impact on anxiety disorders.
The endocannabinoid system is vital to all our systems and ensures our bodies maintain a homeostasis state. The cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and metabolic enzymes are tightly regulated and are dispersed quickly when needed and then removed once homeostasis is achieved. Constantly activating our ECS with cannabis isn’t always a good thing. If our bodies are out of homeostasis for a prolonged period, ECS can lose time and space selective mode of action, and it will affect inappropriate cells.
ECS is vital to our bodies, and cannabis should not be considered a cure-all. Understanding ECS can help us understand the different kinds of cannabis-related therapies.