Learn About The Endocannabinoid SystemDana OV
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid system or eCS is a complex cell-signaling system that we still don’t fully understand. However, what we know so far is that it plays role in regulating a range of functions and processes within the body. The eCS is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors which play key roles within the body’s endocannabinoid system. It sounds a bit confusing, I know. Let’s break it down.
The eCS- briefly
The eCS is a necessary system for the body to regulate homeostasis. It is active in everyone, regardless of their cannabis consumption. How we maintain homeostasis through the eCS involves three main components: “courier” molecules which are called cannabinoids, the receptors that cannabinoids bind to called CB1 and CB2 receptors, and the enzymes that break down the molecules for the body to synthesize. In order to achieve a natural balanced state of being, our bodies produce endocannabinoids that interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, plants can also produce cannabinoids called phytocannabinoids, like the THC located in weed, that can interact with our eCS.
What is a CB1 receptor?
CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain, central nervous system, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), are the two most prominent endocannabinoids within the body. Both bind to CB1 receptors to maintain homeostasis. However, you can also think of the CB1 receptor as the THC receptor; it is responsible for the intoxicating effects associated with the use of marijuana. More on that later.
What is a CB2 Receptor?
CB2 receptors are mostly located on immune cells, which circulate throughout the body and brain via the bloodstream. However, there are also some in the spleen, liver, and bone cells. Unlike CB1, the CB2 receptor isn’t typically located on neurons, except in the brainstem and hippocampus. BUT, there are some brain cells that seem to express CB2 receptors in response to inflammation and injury, but those cells are still non-neural. Still with me?
How do they work?
Both CB1 and CB2 receptors cover the wall of a cell with their binding side facing outward. In other words, kind of like a lock waiting for its key. When cannabinoids bind to the receptors, G-proteins, located on the inside the cell, bind to the tails of the receptor which then act to deliver certain messages. The CB1 receptor’s major role in the brain is to regulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. While the CB2 receptors primarily regulate inflammation and cell development and survival. Got it?
How does THC affect the eCS?
THC found in marijuana is an agonist for CB1 and CB2, meaning, it mimics endocannabinoids produced by the body. Most cannabinoids can bind to both the CB1 & CB2 receptors and this is true for both the endocannabinoids anandamide & 2-AG, mentioned earlier, and for phytocannabinoids like THC. So, when a CB1 receptor is ‘unlocked’ by an agonist like THC it can result in several discernible effects, ranging from therapeutic to hindering. The characteristic high associated with THC is because the CB1 receptor influences the dopamine transmission throughout the brain. CB1 contributes to the brain’s top-down control of pain receptors.
How does CBD affect the eCS?
Unlike THC, CBD is an antagonist for CB1 and CB2 so It blocks cannabinoid receptors rather than activating them. In essence, CBD interacts with the way the receptors bind with THC, counteracting its psychoactive effects. However, beyond the endocannabinoid receptors, CBD activates other receptors and ion channels that can have an effect on the body. For instance, it can activate a specific serotonin receptor.
Not unlike our good friend cannabis, the eCS is a complicated beast. It may require years of research to fully understand its complex relationship with phytocannabinoids. However, from the information we have gleaned so far, the physical benefits of THC and CBD seem pretty undeniable.