Regardless of the reasons why cannabis is consumed, there would be no effect on our bodies if humans naturally did not have a biological system capable of interacting with it.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex biological system in our bodies in which endocannabinoids and cannabinoids, a type of neurotransmitters, bind to cannabinoid receptors (mainly CB1 and CB2) expressed throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) to elicit particular effects. The endocannabinoid system and its effects on the human body are plenty and important to know to better understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
It is a newly discovered system having only been cloned in the early 1990’s which helps to maintain the body’s homeostasis. Homeostasis is the tendency for the body to maintain equilibrium and maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival.
It is vital for our bodies to be in homeostasis because without it, our bodies will go into chaotic disarrangement. ECS ensures homeostasis is achieved in our bodies at all times, even throughout chaotic situations.
How the endocannabinoid system maintains homeostasis
The neurotransmitters attach onto the receptors the way a key would fit into a lock. Our bodies naturally make endocannabinoids via diet, like anandamide which locks onto the receptors. Since THC has a similar shape to anandamide it is able to attach to cannabinoid receptors as well. Once bound, the distinct effects of the cannabinoids generally occur.
THC gets you high because it activates the CB1 receptor within the brain, like anandamide. But the reason why we are not constantly high is because THC doesn’t interact with CB1 receptors in exactly the same way as the body’s natural endocannabinoids and the metabolic enzymes that quickly break down endocannabinoids like anandamide don’t work on THC, so THC lingers around for much longer.
While CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and the nervous system, including the brain, CB2 receptors are mainly found on white blood cells, in the tonsils, and in the spleen and helps with the inflammatory and autoimmune processes.
The ECS is involved in regulating a variety of processes including pain sensation, mood, cognitive process, and memory to name a few. It is also found to give a post-exercise euphoria known as runner’s high.
Some cannabinoids also pass the blood-brain barrier (BBB), causing an even more elated feeling. This is important in understanding how one experiences the psychoactive effects of THC, which does cross the BBB.
Medically interesting aspect of CBD
What’s really interesting to note about the ECS and CBD is that, unlike THC and other endocannabinoids, CBD does not directly affect the receptor, but rather uses an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) to lock and bind. This helps increase the amount of anandamide in the system, thereby naturally uplifting the mood without psychoactive effects.
CBD also blocks the psychoactive effects of THC thereby reducing the “high” felt in association with it.
Recent studies are showing that CBD and THC may have apoptotic capabilities. In other words, they can potentially reduce cancer causing cells by killing them. Scientists believe that anandamide has a key role to play in the process, but no significant studies have been released as yet.
By working together with other endocannabinoids, CBD and THC provide relief for many medical conditions from arthritis and fibromyalgia to cancer and anxiety. They do this by maintaining the body’s homeostasis and acting on specific receptors that have anti-inflammatory and pain reliving effects.
But to better understand how cannabis fits with our own ECS, more careful and unbiased research needs to be done by all within the medical community.