Medical Cannabis And The Endocannabinoid System Simply Explained

June 25, 2017

The endocannabinoid system, present in the human body, is a biological system responsible for the physical and psychological effects of medical cannabis via what is known as “CB1 and CB2 Receptors”

Only fairly recently have researchers and medical professionals taken an interest in this system, as they begin to understand that these receptors and cannabis could be the perfect match made in heaven.

Numerous studies are currently underway in Europe, America and Israel, looking more closely at the endocannabinoid system and how tapping into it with the right (natural) compounds could reduce chronic pain and improve health in potentially thousands of cases.

CB Receptors are found in many organs of the body, including the liver, bone marrow, and the brain.

As the above image demonstrates, CB1 and CB2 Receptors are located throughout the human body, and some have suggested that there may be an evolutionary clue in this finding, as certain compounds of medical cannabis directly stimulate, (in ways still not known) these receptors.

Cannabinoids, found in cannabis, could be the chemical messengers of the endocannabinoid system, as studies are now suggesting.

There are two categories of cannabinoids – endogenous or exogenous

Endogenous means that they actually originate inside the body, while exogenous means they come from outside the body. Both are involved, in some capacity, in the interaction of cannabis with mood, memory, appetite, pain, sleep, and a whole host of other functions.

Medical cannabis and these CB1 and 2 Receptors in the body work in tandem, according to some studies, explaining partially why CBD-heavy strains offer relief to chronic pain sufferers around the world.

We know that CB1 Receptors are found throughout the body, but mainly in the brain and spinal cord.

The distribution of CB1 and CB2 receptors within the body and brain explains why cannabinoids have certain effects when it comes to appetite regulation, and the amygdala, which plays a role in memory and emotional processing. The CB1 Receptor also plays a major role in reducing the sensation of pain in nerve endings.

CB2 Receptors are more closely related to the peripheral nervous system, and are especially concentrated in immune cells. CB2 Receptors, it is thought, are responsible for reducing inflammation in the body, across a variety of organs.

The connection between compounds in cannabis and endocannabinoids in humans is an interesting one, and one that is drawing a lot of interest from the medical community globally

While endocannabinoids are produced naturally by the body, the main two that scientists are aware of are known as 2-AG and anandamide.

2-AG is found in large amounts in the brain, while anadamide is more prevalent in other organs of the body. Both discovered in the early 90’s, these two are essentially neurotransmitters, but are only produced by the body on demand, or as needed.

After these endocannabinoids are released, they are rapidly broken down by enzymes, such as FAAH and MAGL. When cannabis is taken into the system, the endocannababinoid system in the body jumps into action if you like, and remains activated because of the cannabis compounds, for an extended period of time.

Even though a whole lot more research needs to be done, we already know some of the vital functions performed by the endocannabinoid system in the body. To name just a few, metabolism, regulating pain, sleep and mood, processes of learning and memory, immune system, reducing inflammation, neuroprotection, digestion, and many many more.

As well as those functions the endocannabinoid system also responds to various ailments. That is why researchers have concluded that medical cannabis may be able to help with conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and others due to the way the endocannabinoid system regulates homeostasis.

It is known that diseases are mainly a result of a lack of correctly regulated homeostasis in the body, hence the new interest in medical cannabis

Unfortunately there is still one big issue here, however smart the endocannabinoid system may be, and that is the psychoactive effects of THC, one of the main mood altering compounds in cannabis. Not everyone wants to be feeling high due to their medication, especially to the point where they can’t function in their daily life.

Researchers are now challenged with mimicking the effects of cannabinoids such as THC, with synthetic cannabinoids, which can be designed to target specific parts of the endocannabinoid system while avoiding others. That would be a treatment worth taking to the FDA, as it would be all-encompassing, and safe for children and the elderly alike.

If researchers can find a way to circumvent the blood-brain barrier, via synthetic cannabinoids, they could avoid the THC and thus the high that many patients don’t want.

It is hoped by many that researchers internationally will get the resources they need to carry out further research on a natural remedy that could help hundreds if not thousands of people.

[Featured image credit: Pixabay]

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