In recent years, researchers have discovered that the cannabis plant has some pretty incredible therapeutic potential in many different areas of our health and well-being. Because cannabis seems to have such a wide variety of effects on the human body, its mechanism has been an important area of focus for many scientists. While we’ve only just scratched the surface of what there is to learn about this plant, its therapeutic potential, and the mechanism within the human body, one thing is clear: the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in it all.
What It Have to Do With Cannabis?
The ECS is a complex signaling system within the human body made up of receptors, enzymes, and biochemical pathways. Its primary responsibility is to maintain homeostasis within the body. The ECS manufactures, you guessed it, endocannabinoids. Unlike the cannabinoids we find in the cannabis plant, like CBD and THC, endocannabinoids are created within the body. That is to say, they are endogenous. Much like serotonin and dopamine, endocannabinoids are key chemical messengers. They interact with the receptors in the ECS to help regulate a wide range of processes within the body like appetite, memory, pain, emotion, and sleep.
There are two key endocannabinoids in the human body:
● Anandamide - involved in appetite, memory, pregnancy, and even runner’s high
● 2-Arachidonoylglycerol - involved in emotional states including the content feeling humans tend to experience after orgasming
These signaling molecules interact with cannabinoid receptors within the ECS usually by binding to them. Depending on the combination of receptor and endocannabinoid, a specific downstream effect will impact one of the many processes the ECS is responsible for regulating. There are two key receptors in the ECS:
● CB1 receptors are responsible for moderating everything from your memory to your mood, sleep, motor function, and even the way you perceive pain.
● CB2 receptors, on the other hand, play a key role in moderating our inflammation and immune responses.
The last key component of the ECS? Enzymes. The enzymes are responsible for regulating when endocannabinoids are produced, where they are housed, and when they are broken down.
How does cannabis interact with the ECS?
The ECS itself was discovered because scientists were investigating the mechanism behind the effect of cannabis on the human body.
“By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance… We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.” - Raphael Mechoulam, otherwise known as the “Father of Cannabis Research
While we hear about THC and CBD the most often, in fact, over 144 cannabinoids have been identified within the cannabis plant. Like endocannabinoids, cannabinoids from the cannabis plant interact with the receptors of the ECS in various ways to produce distinct downstream effects on a number of biological processes.
One of the biggest challenges facing scientists today lies in the complexity of each individual strain of cannabis. As more and more research has been completed, scientists have discovered that each cannabis strain has a distinct chemical profile. These individual chemical profiles modulate the impact that cannabinoids have on the ECS and, in turn, the effect on the body. This is known as the entourage effect.
Today scientists are working to discover which strains pair well with which health concerns so that the therapeutic potential of cannabis can be maximized for patients in need. So far, there are promising results for the use of cannabis in a number of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other treatment-resistant conditions.
The more scientists discover about the ECS and the way it interacts with cannabinoids, the more and more clear it appears that the cannabis plant has immense potential to improve our health and well-being in a wide variety of ways. Stay tuned. The future is bright!