When scientists set out to study the effects that cannabis has on the brain, they made an exciting discovery. They discovered a system within the human body that had previously been relatively unknown. It became known as the Endocannabinoid System, taking its name both from the term cannabis and its active ingredients, cannabinoids.
WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?
But what exactly is the endocannabinoid system? There’s a lot of science-y stuff, so we’ll try and break it down into layman’s terms.
At its most basic, the endocannabinoid system is a communications system in the brain and other parts of our body. As you could imagine, this system affects many important functions. It has an impact on how one moves, feels, and reacts. It also reacts in response to the presence of cannabinoid compounds like CBD or THC.
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HOW DOES ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM WORK?
The endocannabinoid system essentially works like the nervous system but in reverse. In the nervous system, a “message” – in the form of a type of chemical called a neurotransmitter – is released from the neurons in our brains and attaches to specific receptors on a nearby neuron. The second neuron then kicks into gear and passes the message along. These neurotransmitter chemicals are responsible for a great deal of physical and mental activities.
In the endocannabinoid system, that process is reversed. Instead of originating in the brain and traveling down through the body, cannabinoids go in the other direction. It moves up to the neurons to attach to cannabinoid receptors there. Once there, the cannabinoids are able to control what happens the next time the neurons activate. They effectively limit the amount of different neurotransmitters that a neuron can send, causing many changes in the body and mind.
THE IMPACT OF ENDOCANNABINOIDS & PHYTOCANNABINOIDS ON OUR BODY
What makes the system an “endo”-cannabinoid system is that our bodies naturally produce neurotransmitters that are similar to CBD and other cannabinoids. Compounds we get from cannabis are called “phyto”- cannabinoids, as they come from a plant source.
A comparable analogy is how our bodies produce endorphins that are chemically similar to opiates but are much weaker. Similarly, the general consensus is that although our body creates its own endocannabinoids, it’s not as strong as phytocannabinoids. Thus, when we use cannabis, we’re creating a stronger response to something our bodies are naturally creating. This is why phytocannabinoids such as CBD is considered to have such promising medicial benefits.
WHAT DO CANNABINOID RECEPTORS DO FOR YOU?
Cannabinoid receptors were once thought to be located just within the brain. However, recent studies show that they exist throughout our bodies. In fact, results show them to be more numerous than any other receptor system. Two main cannabinoid receptors have been identified thus far: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the nervous system, connective tissue, gonads, glands, and organs. CB2 receptors are located in the immune system and its associated structures.
As you might imagine, such prevalence means that cannabinoids have a significant impact on health.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM FUNCTIONALITY
Put in lay terms, it keeps your internal systems in a stable condition that is necessary for survival and general well-being.
Right now, experts are of the opinion that the endocannabinoid system’s overall function is to regulate homeostasis. Put in lay terms, it keeps your internal systems in a stable condition that is necessary for survival and general well-being.
When you think about it, a disease is simply a disruption of stable internal systems. The disruption causes those systems to become unstable, leading our immune system to break down. Thus, the continued study of the endocannabinoid system is intrinsic to unlocking the full medical applications of cannabis use.
Current research suggests that the study of this system will be useful in the fight against cancer. But cancer is just the tip of the iceberg. Evidence indicates that the endocannabinoid system may very well be the therapeutic target for a wide range of disorders. This includes HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, glaucoma, epilepsy, PTSD, and a host of other chronic, debilitating conditions.
So, there you have it. We tried to make it as easy to understand as possible, but the truth is that researchers are still continuing to make discoveries about this system. We only discovered its existence back in 1992, and further discoveries about it has led scientists to reveal the medical benefits of cannabis and start the wave of cannabis legalization that has happened across the country. We’re sure that there is more to discover about this unique system and how it affects our lives and our bodies.
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