In recent years, medical cannabis research has come on leaps and bounds. What is perhaps the biggest breakthrough in medical cannabis research, is also one of science's greatest revelations of the 21st century: The discovery of the endocannabinoid system. Thus identifying exactly how cannabis compounds interact with our bodies.
The cannabis plant has been used as a natural medicine for centuries, with archaeological evidence dating back to ancient Egypt. It's incredible to know that our ancient ancestors used cannabis as medicine in 1500BC, but the "as to why" was not understood until the twilight years of the 20th century.
Excluding cannabis prohibition years, the cannabis plant played an integral role in the human way of life. Before the Marijuana Tax Act came into effect in 1937, cannabis Sativa became a common ingredient of a host of medicines, such as cough syrups.
What is the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis is a harmful drug, right? If you're still waving the stigmatized flag and demonize cannabis, then you must have missed the cannabis industry's biggest breakthrough to date: the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
In the 1990s, "The Godfather of cannabis", Dr. Robert Mechoulem, and his industry colleagues from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Lumir Hanus, and Dr. William Devane discovered the endocannabinoid, anandamide (AEA): a cannabinoid, naturally produced by the human body (and all mammals).
In addition to anandamide, the body also produces the cannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These cannabinoids are known as "endo" (short for endogenous) cannabinoids (endocannabinoid). In layman's terms, the word endocannabinoid means a cannabis-like substance that occurs naturally inside of our bodies.
A further two components exist within the ECS: enzymes and receptors (CB1 and CB2). These three components work in synergy with (Phyto)cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
What are the Primary Functions of the Cannabinoid Receptors?
All in all, the endocannabinoid system is comprised of three receptors: CB1, CB2, and CB3.
Both the CB1 and CB2 receptors are well researched as they were discovered shortly after the discovery of endocannabinoids. Whereas the CB3 receptor is a recent revelation.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors work by binding with cannabinoids. Dependant on the cannabinoid's efficacies, they will bind with the receptors and carry out their duties, which are later broken down by enzymes.
Although equally vital, each receptor has its own job to do:
Located in the brain and nervous system, the CB1 receptor helps to regulate the following functions:
- Immune cells
- Pain perception
- Short term memory
- Motor functions
Found in the peripheral nervous system, and white blood cells, the CB2 receptor works in conjunction with the following:
- Respiratory tract
- Skeletal muscle
- Reproductive system
- Adipose tissue
- Central nervous system
- Cardiovascular system
- Immune system
As for the CB3 receptor, research is in its infancy and as yet inconclusive. However, it's addition is well received among industry professionals.
Both "Phyto" and "Endo" cannabinoids work in synergy. After they have carried out their duties via the CB receptors, they are broken down by their assigned enzymes.
The enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide. and the enzyme monoacylglycerol acid lipase, breaks down 2-AG.
Cannabinoid Deficiency and Homeostasis
You have no doubt heard of vitamin deficiency; well, the entire mammalian kingdom could become subject to cannabinoid deficiency. Sometimes, our bodies do not produce enough endocannabinoids, thus affecting our homeostasis.
Cannabinoids help to regulate an assortment of bodily functions and an imbalance of our ECS creates an endocannabinoid deficiency, which further explains why CBD has a positive impact on our general personal well-being. It is known amongst industry experts as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
In 2016, NCBI published that the CECD theory could be the reasoning for a number of cases of migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. The theory is plausible, as these conditions do not have a clear underlying cause.
Clinical trials are suggesting that unwanted factors such as sickness or injury, unsettle your body’s homeostasis. Reactively, your endocannabinoid system comes into action. This further reinforces scientific studies highlighting the benefits of medical cannabis.
THC, CBD, and Cannabinoid Receptors
THC has a strong affinity with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Once a phytocannabinoid enters your system, it binds with receptors, just like endocannabinoids.
The compounds bond with both receptors is so strong, that its effects become diverse. THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid, powerfully medicinal, and a well-known appetite stimulant.
An additional factor of the ECS is that it differs from person to person. This is why the plant's high-inducing qualities affect people in different ways.
CBD on the other hand has an entirely different relationship with the endocannabinoid system. Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating, so it doesn't get you high. Furthermore, cannabidiol doesn't bind well with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors the same way that THC does.
It is believed that CBD may have a stronger relationship with the CB3 receptor, but this is just a theory. But what has been researched, is that CBD prevents cannabinoids from breaking down. This bolsters the evidence that cannabinoids such as cannabidiol, improve the effectiveness of other cannabinoids, as they slow down the process.
The endocannabinoid system is crucial to maintaining a healthy body. Many industry professionals, hemp enthusiasts, in particular, believe that modern illnesses are a result of the Marijuana Tax Act. Despite being non-intoxicating, hemp also fell victim to cannabis prohibition and was globally outlawed.
This consequently led to cannabis compounds being eradicated from the human diet. So when homeostasis was interrupted, our endocannabinoid system had no backup.