Endocannabinoid System 101: The Gateway Between Marijuana and You
April 06, 2022
We’ve written about the components of cannabis before: Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD that impart such powerful effects. Possible benefits of introducing cannabinoids to your body include fighting pain and inflammation, easing anxiety, and quelling certain types of seizures. Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens once those compounds enter our bodies? If so, you’re in the right place: It’s time to meet the endocannabinoid system.
What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)? You can think of it as the gateway between cannabis and you, the place where all those medically useful compounds interface with the endocannabinoids our own bodies create and cannabinoid receptors present in every person. While the ECS was only discovered about 30 years ago, scientists now believe it’s one of the body’s most important regulatory networks.
In today’s post, we’ll take you deep inside the world of the ECS, examining the links between the endocannabinoid system and CBD and answering essential questions such as: “What does the endocannabinoid system do?” By the end, you’ll have firm grounding on this important bodily system—how it partners with cannabis to regulate many of our most important daily functions.
An Introduction to Types of Cannabinoids
As our earlier posts on terpenes and cannabinoids suggest, cannabis isn’t a single medicine but many of them, all combined into one powerhouse of a plant. It was the search for how and why cannabis works so well with the body that led scientists to discover the endocannabinoid system, eventually recognizing it as a central component of health in both humans and animals.
The road to discovery begins in the early 1960s, when Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was studying cannabinoids. Eventually, he isolated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two most abundant of the marijuana plant’s cannabinoids. Because they’re plant-based, they’re technically called “phytocannabinoids” in scientific terms. (We’ll return to this point in a moment!)
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
Groundbreaking though Dr. Mechoulam’s work was, it didn’t solve the mystery of how these cannabinoids interact with the body. That answer wouldn’t appear until 1990, when a molecular biologist named Lisa Matsuda was searching for the spot where THC and CBD interacted with the body. After she discovered them in the forms of specialized receptor cells called “CB1” and CB2” in the brains of lab rats, Matsuda and her colleagues soon identified the rest of the endocannabinoid system.
What happened next may be the most astounding part. Keep in mind our earlier note that THC and CBD are (scientifically speaking) phytocannabinoids. This may provide a hint as to what it meant when researchers then discovered two endocannabinoids—cannabinoids produced by our own bodies. These endocannabinoids are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. All humans produce these two bodily chemicals, which are remarkably similar to those found in cannabis. Anandamide, for instance, is in many ways analogous to THC in terms of its painkilling and other effects.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that the cannabinoids “speak the same language” as our bodies. In fact, some researchers believe this is why cannabis is so effective at modulating bodily processes such as anti-inflammatory responses to pain and injuries.
What does the endocannabinoid system do? Since its discovery, scientific understanding of this fascinating network has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, we know that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating such vital processes as:
Appetite and metabolism
Proper sleep function
Communication between cells
The Endocannabinoid System and CBD
Let’s take a moment to talk about CBD, one of the most medically studied phytocannabinoids. By now, you can probably guess that this important compound interfaces with the endocannabinoid system. Since the ECS has CB1 and CB2 receptor cells, scientists originally posited that those receptors send signals that help modulate bodily processes around inflammation, appetite, mood, and other functions when met with CBD.
As it turns out, CBD only interfaces indirectly with these receptors. Instead, CBD activates a different receptor type—called “TRVP1”—that performs functions such as stabilizing body temperature, regulating inflammation, and other essential jobs.
That’s not all. CBD is believed to play a variety of key roles in the body. According to a recent study, the roles it may play include:
Reducing the potential for metastasis in some cancers
Decreasing pulmonary inflammation in cases of COPD, a serious respiratory ailment
What About Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
Like every bodily function, sometimes the endocannabinoid system doesn’t function exactly as it’s supposed to. That’s the basic idea behind Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CECD), a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids. Research into CECD is still just beginning, but it’s believed this syndrome may play a role in such disorders as:
It’s too early to speculate on the causes (and possible cures for) CECD. But given that it’s characterized by a shortage of anandamide, some researchers speculate that ingesting more CBD might stop a natural bodily enzyme called “FAAH” from breaking down too much anandamide.
While it’s too early to speak with certainty, the hypothesis that the list of seemingly unrelated disorders above may all be linked to a deficiency in endocannabinoids is gaining traction. Needless to say, we’ll keep you in the loop about news and developments in this line of inquiry as they’re made available.
What is the Endocannabinoid System? Wrapping Up
There is still more to be learned regarding how the endocannabinoid system operates. It may be one of the body’s most important regulatory networks and we can say with certainty that when the ECS comes into contact with cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, they can play a vital role in its functioning.
Is it possible that the endocannabinoid system and CBD play much deeper roles in partnership than we ever suspected, and that it may even help stave off many of the most difficult to pinpoint chronic conditions? That remains to be seen, though initial signs are promising.
At 3Fifteen Primo, we’re passionate about connecting our customers with cutting-edge cannabis medicines that can make a real difference in their lives. If you’d like to know more about the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis can support your health, just ask. We’re here to help!