Understanding the endocannabinoid system
How does it work with cannabis to reach homeostasis?
One of the most important bodily systems to our health and well-being is the endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short. While we might be more familiar with other bodily systems from science or health classes, the ECS is a newly discovered system that still has not been researched as extensively in the United States as in other parts of the world. Yet scientists have learned that this one system interfaces with nearly every other system in your entire body. The ECS regulates both physical functions, like movement, pain sensation, and immune responses, as well as cognitive functions like perception, mood and memory.
The name “endocannabinoid” is actually formed from two other words: Endogenous, which means something produced naturally in the body; and cannabinoids, which are molecules that were discovered in the 1990s during cannabis research. There is actually no cannabis that is a part of this system.
Scientists are learning that many human ailments and diseases could stem from an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system and can be successfully treated by various chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Because a well-functioning ECS regulates different systems in our bodies, it works to bring our internal systems into balance -- or reach homeostasis.
There is not a single physiological process that is not impacted by the ECS. It is engaged when we eat, sleep, relax, exercise, and have sex, as well as during pregnancy, while giving birth and even while nursing a baby. That’s why scientists consider it to be the most important system because of how it resides within and affects every part of the body.
How cannabis works with the endocannabinoid system
When consuming cannabis, the cannabinoids in the plant binds with receptors in the body and can stimulate, supplement, and nourish the ECS, promoting balance, improving health, and effectively managing conditions and potentially treating disease. These receptors are G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), which act as gatekeepers of molecular signals.
Because GPCRs are involved in every important physiological process within our bodies, 40 percent of all pharmaceutical drugs target them. The two most important receptors in the ECS are GPCRs. They are called the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and like pharmaceuticals, cannabis targets CB1 and CB2 and can work as medicine. Unlike most pharmaceuticals, cannabis has been shown to have fewer negative side effects and there is no lethal dose of cannabis.
If we think of the CB1 and CB2 receptors as locks within the body, the keys that unlock these receptors are the naturally occurring endocannabinoids in the body as well as the phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The most well-known phytocannabinoids - or cannabinoids - in cannabis are THC and CBD, which bind to and affect our CB1 and CB2 receptors. When we are depleted of endocannabinoids, we replenish our system with phytocannabinoids, which is a parallel molecular structure.
There are at least 113 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, more than any other plant in nature. For that reason, cannabis could be considered a superfood because of all the therapeutically beneficial chemical compounds it contains. Therefore, there are seemingly infinite ways this plant can be used to enhance our health and wellness.
Next month we will dive more into the different types of cannabinoids and the different methods used to extract these helpful compounds from the cannabis plant. Be sure to keep an eye out for our next newsletter.
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