THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM: THE MIND-BODY BRIDGE
In order to understand how cannabinoids work and why they have so many health benefits, one must understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The first endocannabinoid (anandamide), a naturally occurring cannabinoid in humans, was only discovered as recently as 1992, after which the ECS was discovered.
Most people will not have heard of the endocannabinoid system and its importance in regulating the body’s internal environment. This is not surprising considering its discovery and scientific explanation came long after the prohibition of marijuana and the implementation of reefer madness propaganda.
Not only is it difficult for people to separate decades of negative connotation from cannabis, but most are unaware of the differences between marijuana and industrial hemp. Most people do not know that industrial hemp does not contain a significant amount of THC. It cannot get you high.
Because of residual emotional taboos, it is a challenge to educate on the topic of cannabinoids, and it is no surprise that most people have not heard of the endocannabinoid system. But to not educate people about their own ECS is as much a disservice as not telling a female about her reproductive system.
The ECS is a bridge between mind and body. And cannabinoids are what build that bridge. An individual’s awareness of this system can promote the mind and body’s goal of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of a stable internal environment. And when homeostasis is out of whack, a better understanding of the ECS and cannabinoids could help both medical professionals and patients decide if cannabinoids can help them re-regulate.
Perhaps the Most Important System in the Human Body
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of cell receptors and their corresponding endocannabinoid molecules. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are present all over the body. They can be found in the brain, organs, glands, immune cells and connective tissues. The ECS performs a different task in each tissue. However, the goal remains the same – homeostasis. And this is precisely why cannabinoids have so many health benefits and are able to treat so many diseases and disorders.
Cannabinoids enhance homeostasis on all levels. One example of a homeostatic function is autophagy. This is a process involving the sequestration of part of a cell’s contents. The partial contents are digested and recycled. This function is mediated by the ECS and serves two purposes: for healthy cells, it promotes a healthy balance between degradation, synthesis, and recycling of cellular products. Conversely, it proves fatal for tumor cells or malignant cells. It causes the cells to devour themselves in a coordinated cellular suicide. The ECS is charged with eradicating cancerous cells.
Endocannabinoids are also present at the intersection of all body systems. This enhances cell-to-cell communication and coordination. For instance, at an injury site, cannabinoids inhibit the release of activators from injured tissue. This stabilizes the neurons, preventing over-firing, and inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory agents.
How a person relates to his external environment is also influenced by the ECS. Administration of endocannabinoids affects a person’s social behavior. It promotes creativity and humor alongside sharing.
Components of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system plays a very critical role in homeostasis. It has three key components, namely:
- The endocannabinoid receptors present on the cell surface
- The endocannabinoid molecules which activate the receptors
- Metabolic enzymes that degrade the endocannabinoids after usage
There are two endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The former is present in large numbers in the brain. Their interaction with THC gives rise to the psychotic effect experienced when a person takes in cannabis. CB2 receptors are readily available in the nervous and the immune system. Both receptors are present in other parts of the body.
The endocannabinoid molecules are agonists for the endocannabinoid receptors. The body’s cells produce the molecules. Endocannabinoids are of two major types – 2-AG and anandamide. Endocannabinoid molecules are synthesized on demand.
How/Why the Endocannabinoid System is Important
Researchers are on a constant search to discover the real mechanisms of action of the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system has a number of therapeutic benefits to the body. These include:
- Analgesic effects
- Cancer-fighting properties
- Prevention of neurodegenerative diseases
- Promotion of good health
The endocannabinoid system ensures that the central nervous system and the immune system are running smoothly.
Memory: Endocannabinoids play an essential role in the removal of old memories. Deletion of aversive memories helps post-traumatic stress disorder patients and also conditions the behavior of those prone to chronic anxiety. Letting go of painful memories allows the patients to recover faster and move on.
The ECS aids in the regulation of metabolism and control of transmission of energy through the cells. This ensures effective utilization of foods consumed.
Immune function and inflammation: ECS helps to boost immune function to promote good health. It helps prevent auto-activating of immune system function, inflammation, and resulting neurological disorders.
Appetite and weight: The ECS controls the appetite internally. It stimulates the appetite in people who are wasting away, causing them to regain weight.
The Endocannabinoid System and Industrial Hemp
Industrial hemp is an ally to the ECS. Industrial hemp does not have any psychoactive properties. It contains less than one percent of THC.
Hemp mimics the behavior of endocannabinoids and interacts with cannabinoid receptors to support the ECS. Interaction of the hemp with the cannabinoid receptors stimulates various physiological functions in the body.
One of the compounds present in hemp is THC (though not in significant amounts). It activates receptors, which then triggers a response. The THC is an agonist of two important endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. THC is most particular about the CB1 receptor. It doesn’t degrade rapidly. It functions well for pain relief, reduction of nausea, and stimulation of appetite.
CBD, another cannabinoid derived from hemp, acts as a receptor blocker. Its affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors is very low. Therefore, it does not fit well into the receptors. It doesn’t activate the receptors but instead prevents its binding to other compounds like THC.
Because these industrial hemp exogenous cannabinoids help modulate the ECS, many diseases and conditions can be treated including:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Huntington’s disease, etc.
Research and Education
There is a need for more research to understand more deeply how the endocannabinoid system impacts on our health and how supplementing the natural production of endocannabinoids with plant-based cannabinoids could affect our health. We must make every effort to fill the knowledge gaps in cannabinoid science.
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