Endocannabinoid System Explained – How Does It Work?

Did you know that the Endocannabinoid System plays a significant role in the effects of THC & CBD oil? The cannabis plant is used by millions of people around the globe for different purposes. Some people consume cannabis for its psychoactive effects, while others use it for its medicinal properties. Cannabis would not induce a high or have medical benefits if our bodies didn’t possess a biological system that interacts with cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.

cannabis plant

The body’s endocannabinoid system isn’t there just to allow people to enjoy the effects of their favorite marijuana strain. In fact, the endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body and is imperative for maintain healthy as it regulates bodily functions and maintains homeostasis.

Maintaining Homoeostasis

To understand the body’s endocannabinoid system, it’s important to know about one of the most essential concepts in biology: homeostasis. The role of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis. This occurs when the body’s biological functions are in balance. The best outcome is often found in the middle, between two extremes. In order for our bodies to perform their best, the biological systems found within are regulated to keep conditions within this middle range. An example would be that our bodies do not want their temperature to be too hot or too cold. Instead, our body achieves homeostasis when the temperature is within that middle range.

The endocannabinoid system is involved in multiple physiological processes which include mood, pain sensation, appetite, metabolism, memory, sleep, bone development, and immune function. It is incredibly widespread throughout the animal kingdom, and all vertebrate species possess one. The three main components of the endocannabinoid system are cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and metabolic enzymes.

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors lie on cell surfaces throughout the body and transmit information about changing conditions to the cell’s inside, which sparks a cellular response. The two major cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They are not the only cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system, but they were the first ones to be discovered and are the most widely researched.

CB1 receptors are predominately found in the brain. THC binds to these receptors, which causes people to experience high. CB2 receptors on the other hand, are abundantly found outside of the nervous system, especially in the immune system. Both of these receptors can be found throughout the body.

The Endocannabinoid System

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids that bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors, similar to the way that plant cannabinoids do. These cannabinoids are produced naturally by cells in the human body and help regulate many biological functions.

Top Known Cannabinoids:

  • THC
  • CBD
  • THCA
  • CBDA
  • CBG
  • CBGA
  • THCV
  • CBN
  • CBC
  • CBCA

The two main endocannabinoids in the body are anandamide and 2-AG. These two endocannabinoids are composed of fat-like molecules inside cell membranes and are synthesized when they are needed.

endocannabinoid system vector-smart-1

2-Arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG)

endocannabinoid system vector

Anandamide

Metabolic Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes perform various cellular functions that are vital for homeostasis. When working with the endocannabinoid system, metabolic enzymes get rid of endocannabinoids after they have been used. FAAH is an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, while MAGL breaks down 2-AG.

These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids are only used when they are needed, but not after they have been used. This allows endocannabinoids to be distinguished from other molecular signals in the body, such as classical neurotransmitters or hormones that remain for later use.

The three main components of the endocannabinoid system can be found inside almost every major system of the human body. When something brings a cell outside of its “middle range”, the body relies upon these components to get the system working properly, thus bringing back homeostasis.

Endocannabinoid Regulation in The Firing of Brain Cells

Neurons are brain cells that communicate with each other by sending electrochemical signals to one another. They listen to other neurons in order to decide if it will fire off a signal. However, neurons do not like to receive too much signal, and also like to be in a “middle range.” If neurons become overloaded by signals, it can be toxic to the body. This is where endocannabinoids come in.

For example, if a neuron listens to another neuron that becomes overactive and is sending too many signals, the listening neuron will become unstable. When this occurs, the listening neuron will create endocannabinoids exactly where it is connected to the overactive neuron. These endogenous cannabinoids will then bind with CB1 receptors on the overactive neuron, transmitting a signal that instructs it to stop sending so much signal. This brings things back to homeostasis.

Endocannabinoids move in reverse, which is why they are known as retrograde signals. Usually, information flow between neurons travels in only one direction; from the sender that releases neurotransmitter signals, to the receiver that listens to the signals. Endocannabinoids permit receiver neurons to regulate how much output they receive, and they do so by sending retrograde signals back to overactive neurons that released the signals.

The brain is not the only organ that seeks to maintain homeostasis. Every other main system of the body, from the immune system to the digestive system, must carefully regulate how its cells are functioning. Proper regulation is crucial for overall health.

Endocannabinoid Regulation of Inflammation

When the immune system suffers infection or is damaged in any way, it responds with inflammation as a natural protective reaction. The main purpose of inflammation is to reduce damaged tissue as well as pathogens, which can cause infection. Inflammation is a result of immune and fluid cells moving into the affected area to help regain homeostasis.

It is imperative that inflammation reduces after the affected area heals so it does not become dangerous. If the immune system inappropriately activates, malicious conditions such as chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases can arise. If this occurs, the inflammatory response is prolonged for too long, or gets transferred to healthy cells.

How Do THC and CBD Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?

The main reason that plant cannabinoids provide psychoactive and medicinal effects for the body is because they interact with the endocannabinoid system. For instance, THC induces a temporary high because it activates the CB1 receptor located within the brain. THC does not interact with CB1 receptors in the exact same way that natural endocannabinoids do. Metabolic enzymes that would normally break down endocannabinoids after they are used do not work on THC, so THC lingers for a longer period of time.

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Cannabinoids do not typically do not usually interact with only one receptor type. Instead, they often interact with many receptors. CBD, the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, interacts with various receptors in the brain. So, although plant cannabinoids may interact the same receptors as endogenous endocannabinoids, they also interact with other receptors, causing their effects to be different.

CBD can also influence the amount endocannabinoids in the brain. This is referred to as “endocannabinoid tone.” CBD inhibits the FAAH enzyme, which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide. Thus, CBD can increase anandamide levels by not allowing FAAH to break down more anandamide. Studies have shown that when CBD inhibits the FAAH enzyme, anxiety may reduce in individuals.