Endocannabinoids have been making news headlines in recent years because of their relationship to marijuana. With the growth of legal cannabis industries across Canada, you may be wondering: what are endocannabinoids?
Recent endocannabinoid system research has led to discoveries that are changing social, medical, and political landscapes. The Canadian government has even announced that by July 2018 recreational cannabis will be legal nationwide.
For good reason then, many using marijuana for the first time want to know about endocannabinoids. This article will address the question: what are endocannabinoids? It will also examine the function of endocannabinoids in the human body, what endocannabinoid receptors are, and the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and CBD.
What Are Endocannabinoids?
So, what are endocannabinoids? Simply put, endocannabinoids are transmitters, or more properly, neurotransmitters. They are chemicals which transmit signals through the brain by way of specialized, complementary receptors.
These signals are important for numerous functions in the human body including those involving pain, inflammation, and mood. Endocannabinoids may be endogenous or plant-based. This simply means that they may be naturally-occurring within the body or introduced from an outside (plant) source.
In other words, endocannabinoids are a natural and normal part of the human body processes and systems. And the body (brain) has special receptors just for their use.
What Are Brain Receptors and their Function?
It’s not possible to answer “what are endocannabinoid receptors?” without first explaining brain receptors and their function in the human body.
Brain receptors are specialized proteins which bind to cells to facilitate the transmission of signals throughout.
Endocannabinoid system research shows that some of the brain receptors are allocated for the receipt of the psychoactive components of marijuana.
Brain receptors are proteins on cells which allow for the transmission of neurochemicals. These transmissions regulate every function in the human body, many of which are specialized.
Some receptors allow for the transfer of serotonin, dopamine, and other necessary chemicals. Others allow for the transfer of specialized chemicals which may perform various functions in the body.
Many analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications rely on the endocannabinoid brain receptors to deliver their desired effects.
Endocannabinoid System Functions
The endocannabinoid system functions much as any other receptor systems: it provides the means for synapses in the brain to communicate.
Endocannabinoid system research shows cannabinoids directly impact or control no less than 16 important human functions. These 16 functions are:
- Analgesia/pain relief
- Anxiety control/stress relief
- Appetite control
- Autonomic nervous system functions
- Female reproduction
- Immune system regulation
- Male impotence
- Memory/storage cleanup
- Mood control/synaptic depression induction
- Multiple sclerosis
- Physical exercise
- Regulation of body temperature (thermoregulation)
- Role in hippocampal neurogenesis (growth of axons)
- Social behavior
These 16 essential bodily functions are regulated by naturally occurring, or endogenous cannabinoids.
However, the question on many people’s mind has more to do with the relationship between endocannabinoid system and CBD rather than endogenous cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoid Receptor Types: CB1 and CB2
There are two cannabinoid receptor types which regulate how cannabinoids are received and put to use. These G-protein coupled receptors are known as the CB1 and CB2; the first was discovered in 1988.
Since the discovery of endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid system research into the core question— what are endocannabinoids?— has yielded numerous pharmacological and genetic tools.
Most researchers expect that research into marijuana components and their effects on the human body will continue to deliver startling results.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are found throughout the body. However, CBI receptors are concentrated in the nerves and spinal cord. Given that THC primarily provides pain relief, this is a natural fit.
The CB2 receptors are more concentrated in the immune system and peripheral organs. More research is needed into exactly how these receptors interact with CBN to provide medicinal relief.
The Endocannabinoid System and CBD
The three key psychoactive components in marijuana are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (Cannabidiol), and CBN (Cannabinol). These three components readily serve as extra transmitters to the cannabinoid receptors in the human brain.
When someone ingests marijuana, the THC matches to the CB1 receptor and the CBN matches to the CB2 receptor. In the case of the endocannabinoid system and CBD, no ready receptor exists, yet the drug provides powerful effects researchers continue to study.
Most who’ve used marijuana for medical reasons such as anxiety or to nausea already have a good idea of how the endocannabinoid system and CBD function together.
On the other hand, researchers seek to understand the specific chemicals involved and the treatments possible.
At the end of the day, many simply choose to smoke dried marijuana to obtain needed relief.
It’s possible that we’ll never fully understand how the endocannabinoid system and CBD interact to provide relief to medical marijuana users.
Regardless of that, those who choose to use medical cannabis swear by the results. And it makes sense considering these systems and marijuana appear to work together.
Endocannabinoid System Research Continues
These past few years, endocannabinoid system research has been rapidly increasing. This is partially due to the legalization of medical marijuana worldwide and recreational cannabis in many parts of the globe, starting with Canada. From Canada to Europe, the US to the UK, researchers the world over are trying to discover the mysteries of marijuana.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system in 1988 did not shock the world into sensible marijuana legislation then. But, it did open doors to research that are today paying off. More is now understood about this most vilified of plants than ever before.
From children with epilepsy to cancer patients, marijuana has helped people find relief.
The benefits of marijuana for medical treatments are wide and varied thanks largely to the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system functions as it does due to the specialized receptor proteins which readily accept THC, CBD, and CBN. Separately or in combination, these three compounds provide pleasure, but more importantly, vital health benefits to millions of patients.
Fact is, life for humans without endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system would be painful and difficult. Endocannabinoids are that important!