The Endocannabinoid System
You’ve heard of the nervous system, circulatory system and the digestive system, but your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is probably something you aren’t aware of. This is because the ECS was only recently discovered, and released to the public, within the last 30 years by an Israeli organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry Raphael Mechoulam, studying the effects of cannabis on the body. Named after the cannabis plant, the ECS is a type of communication system within the brain and body that affects a variety of very important functions.
Functions that are known to be affected by the endocannabinoid system:
- Appetite and Digestion
- Cardiovascular function
- Immune function
- Organ function
- Psychiatric disease
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of a collection of specialized lipids, receptors and enzymes that help maintain basic functions and respond to illness. Although research is ongoing, some scientists even believe that the ECS helps balance and regulate proper homeostasis, which is the body’s ability to stay at its optimal condition to help keep you balanced and healthy. Through various actions, endocannabinoids are thought to help manage multiple medical conditions and a variety of symptoms.
Diseases, conditions and symptoms known to be managed by the Endocannabinoid system:
- Cancer or cancer treatment symptoms
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
- HIV or AIDS symptoms
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms or pain
- Nerve pain
- Sleep disorders
When activated by cannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptors are known to change the way the body regulates. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body, called CB1 and CB2.
Where they are:
They are most present in the brain, but also found in the central and peripheral nervous systems, intestines and liver.
What they do:
They are thought to affect memory, sleep, appetite, stress and pain. They’re responsible for the psychoactive effect of medical cannabis.
Where they are:
They can mostly be found in the immune system.
What they do:
They are known to be responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect of cannabis and can help reduce inflammation and tissue injury.
Cannabinoids are molecule compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors and can be found both naturally within the body and also within a variety of plants. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids created by the body to help regulate and balance the various systems.
Cannabinoids activate the endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 located within different parts of the body. Different types of cannabinoids are known to cause different types of responses within the body. Although there are at least 113 cannabinoids, the most well-known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
It’s the most famous cannabinoid because it’s best known for its psychoactive abilities, causing the sensation that makes you feel high. According to neurologists, the therapeutic effects of THC include analgesia (including neuropathic pain), muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, antiemetic, appetite stimulant, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), antidepressant and sedative.
CBD is getting more attention in recent years, due to its apparent medical benefits without the psychoactive effects found in THC. This is because CBD doesn’t ignite the CB1 receptors that THC does. Some of the symptoms known to be alleviated by CBD include nausea, pain, anxiety, depression and inflammation. More research on the benefits of CBD is currently in the works, including studies on how CBD affects schizophrenia, epilepsy and breast cancer.
Each strain of cannabis has a specific percentage of THC and a ratio of THC to CBD. The higher the THC, the more you’ll most likely feel the psychoactive effects. CBD helps reduce some of the unwanted effects of THC, such as rapid heart rate, sleepiness, anxiety and confusion. So it’s important to find a strain with a balance that suits your specific needs.
As its name suggests, CBN is related to THC, the compound being in fact a metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol. This means that cannabinol is obtained from THC, through a process that involves both natural and special treatments.
THC-a, the acid form of the psychoactive cannabinoid, is converted to CBN-a when exposed to air for a long period. In the presence of air, THC-a can lose hydrogen molecules and undergo oxidation, the result being the acid form of CBN. This compound is then treated with heat and UV light and converted to CBN.
The third best-known cannabinoid after CBD and THC, CBN is mildly psychoactive and is thought to act as a natural antiemetic and anticonvulsant agent. It is known to also be responsible for the sedative effects of some varieties of the cannabis plant, allowing it to be used as an effective sleep aid over harsh and addictive pharmaceutical medications.