Since Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, many people have turned to CBD for various reasons; many of us still don't fully understand how it works, however.
When you ingest cannabinoids like CBD, they work within the Endocannabinoid System to promote homeostasis and maintain the body's health.
In this article, we will explore how this system works to promote homeostasis.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System is a biological system of neurotransmitters that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain, immune cells, and other cell types throughout the body.
Cannabinoids are produced naturally by the body (endocannabinoids) and are also found in cannabis (phytocannabinoids). The Endocannabinoid System is involved in regulating many functions of the body, including:
- pain perception
The Endocannabinoid System regulates these systems to maintain overall homeostasis within the human body.
How does the ECS affect other systems in the body?
The Endocannabinoid System is also involved in regulating functions in other systems in our body, such as reproduction and the immune system.
Endocannabinoids (the cannabinoids our bodies naturally produce) are also responsible for regulating neurotransmitter release, which is essential in many delicate processes like memory formation and the development of chronic illnesses.
These endocannabinoids can function in various ways, including as an analgesic or a natural painkiller. They can also help to regulate neuropathic pain as well as inflammation.
In a nutshell, the Endocannabinoid System is essential in maintaining homeostasis within the human body and its many functions.
Three main parts make up your Endocannabinoid System - CB receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids vs Phytocannabinoids
At a glance, it may seem like these two things are the same, but in reality, Endocannabinoids are a form of Endogenous Cannabinoids.
They’re similar to cannabinoids, but your body produces them.
Experts have so far identified two primary endocannabinoids.:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
Your body produces these naturally as you need them.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced in plants like cannabis. They function much as endogenous cannabinoids do, only they’re extracted from cannabis.
CB1 and CB2 receptors
Endocannabinoids are molecules that bind to receptors in the brain, immune cells, and other cells throughout your body. Endocannabinoid receptors are found in many different areas of the body, including the central nervous system and immune cells.
There are two main CB (cannabinoid) receptors:
- CB1 receptors, mainly found in the central nervous system (CNS)
- CB2 receptors, which are present mostly in your nervous system and immune cells
Endocannabinoids bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors to signal that the endocannabinoid system needs to take action.
These endogenous cannabinoids can bind with either receptor, depending on its location, which will result in different effects.
In contrast, some phytocannabinoids (including CBD) can either bind to one and not the other or not bind to either of them and instead bind to other receptors in the body.
Once endocannabinoids have carried out their function, enzymes break them down.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this process: fatty acid amide hydroxylase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL).
What other cannabinoid receptors exist in the body?
CB receptors aren't the only receptors in your body that cannabinoids can bind to. In fact, you may be surprised to know that CBD doesn't directly bind with either of them!
Here are some of the other cannabinoid receptors:
Found mostly located in the spinal cord but also present in immune cells and bone marrow, when activated, these receptors can lower blood pressure and aid in the migration of cells.
Found throughout the body, cannabinoids are found in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver, lungs, bladder, kidneys and bone marrow, among others.
These receptors help to lower blood pressure and aid in reducing inflammation. In addition, the ECS plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis, as it moderates energy uptake and output.
While found only in a few parts of the body, particularly the GI tract and pancreas, researchers have discovered that they play an important role in metabolism. When this system is activated by the endocannabinoid OEA in particular, it regulates food intake and weight loss. It also manages blood glucose levels.
These receptors are heat-sensitive and sense when tissues are damaged. Researchers have begun to study how this receptor influences pain. It is believed that if the receptor isn’t regulated, the results can be chronic pain.
These types of receptors are believed to help fight nausea and vomiting, which can occur as a side effect of chemo treatments. They are part of a broad category of serotonin receptors.
In addition to receptors in the brain, cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body. Therefore, they respond differently when activated by a ligand such as an endocannabinoid. Other receptor types that have been identified include GlyRs, glycine receptors and PPARs, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors.
One of the functions PPARs are believed to be involved in includes neurodegeneration and protection against tumours. In addition, GlyRS is related to pain signals transmitted to the brain.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
One of the most abundant and most popular cannabinoids is CBD. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects and will not get you high.
Although experts have some understanding of how CBD interacts with the ECS, it doesn’t directly bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors like THC.
Some believe that it instead acts by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down before doing their job. However, the science behind this isn't quite clear, and more research is needed in this area.
While we still lack much information about CBD, early research has shown that it can help with pain, inflammation, anxiety, and much more.
THC and the Endocannabinoid System
THC is one of the main compounds found in cannabis and is responsible for the psychoactive effects created by use.
THC interacts with cannabinoid receptors by binding to them. It has a powerful effect because it can bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors; it primarily binds to CB1 receptors, however.
THC can have a broad range of effects on the body. For example, it can help to reduce pain and stimulate your appetite, while it could also cause paranoia or anxiety in some cases.
Final thoughts on the Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System is an essential regulator of our health. Though its science remains somewhat of a mystery, recent research has provided us with valuable insight into how our bodies interact with cannabinoids.
Studies show that some conditions like fibromyalgia and migraines, along with IBS, may actually be caused by an endocannabinoid deficiency.
Further studies will undoubtedly help to unlock more information about this powerful system, and we may even discover that there are other types of cannabinoid receptors.