There are various biological systems in the human body. The endocannabinoid system is one of such systems, and it is known to be implicated in various effects of cannabis.
This system was first discovered in the process of science learning about the properties and effects of cannabis, and for this reason the researchers called it the endocannabinoid system.
“Endo” refers to something being internal or in the body, in this case, it refers to the cannabinoids being created within the body as a result of internal processes. These internal cannabinoids are acting on a specific system of receptors by activating them.
The endocannabinoid system has been reported countless times to have great therapeutic potential, which made it the focus of many medical research undertakings for quite some time now. Although scientists have established the basics of this incredible system, much still is left to be discovered.
Cannabinoids, what are they?
Like many internal systems, endocannabinoid system uses chemical messengers called cannabinoids in its operation. These internal chemical messages can be separated into two categories endogenous or exogenous.
Endogenous cannabinoids, also called endocannabinoids are naturally formed by the human body. They regulate the most fundamental functions of the body, such as appetite, memory, pain, mood, sleep, and various others by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors.
The cannabinoids found in marijuana are considered exogenous because such chemicals as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are derived from outside of the body. Through interacting with cannabinoid receptors they produce a range of effects in the body from physical to psychological.
What about cannabinoid receptors?
As their name implies, receptors are there to receive the chemical messages that are able to bind to these receptors. Each message is able to create a characteristic effect in the body. CB1 and CB2 are the names of the two endocannabinoid system receptors, which are usually cannabinoid specific, but periodically able to interact with most cannabinoids allowing them to produce specific effects.
CB1 are heavily present in the brain and spinal cord but can be found almost anywhere in the body. They are clustered in various areas of the brain associated with many bodily processes.
CB1 receptors are able to regulate our hunger and are concentrated in the limbic system at the base of our brain. They are also partially responsible to emotions and memory due to being located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. Nerve endings have fair amount of CB1 receptors, which allows for pain suppression.
CB2 receptors have been found to be prevalent in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells. Various diseases and conditions have been linked to chronic inflammation. Since inflammation is a tool of the immune system, it can be relieved by activating the CB2 receptors.
When it comes to phytocannabinoids, it was discovered that THC is able to activate the endicannabinoid system just like its own internal cannabinoids as it is able to bind to the CB1 as well as CB2 receptors.
CBD molecule acts slightly differently, and is not able to attach itself to cannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD reduces a specific enzyme called fatty acid amylagidrolase. This enzyme is known for breaking down anandamide, one of the vital endocannabinoids. By inhibiting FAAH in the brain anandamide levels are increased.
So what are endocannabinoids?
Endocananabinoids are natural cannabinoids produced by the human body. 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol) and anandamide are the two main endocannabinoids discovered thus far.
Anandamide was the first endocannabinoid identified by science in 1992. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit word "ananda" meaning "bliss", and hints at its unique effects on the mind and body. In 1995, scientists discovered the second endocannabinoid and named it 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol).
The highest concentrations of 2-AH are located in the brain, but anandamide accumulates in other areas of the body as well. Both of these endocannabinoids are able to bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors, but differ the degree of binding and activation of each receptor.
Endocannabinoids are "short-term" neurotransmitters, that is, they are synthesized on demand. In other words, endocannabinoids are produced only when the body signals that they are needed and therefore their presence or availability is temporary.
After release the enzymes such as FAAH (fatty acid amylagidrolase) and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase) begin acting on these cannabinoids thus facilitating their break down.
The phytocannabinoid from the marijuana plant are able to stay in the body significantly longer. This activates the endocannabinoid system in significantly greater ways and for much longer.
Other endocannabinoids are currently being studied, including noladine ester, virodhamine and N-arachidonyldopamine (NADA). However, their role in the body is not yet fully understood.
Functions of the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating an array of bodily functions:
Memory and learning
In addition to maintaining basic functions, the endocannabinoid system also is able to affect and responds to various health concerns.
For example, it has been shown that tumor cells have more cannabinoid receptors than healthy ones. Increased amounts of endocannabinoids were also discovered in those who suffer from inflammatory disorders such as arthritis, those with chronic pain or anxiety and patients with Parkinson's disease.
Based on those and other findings it is believed now that the regulation of homeostasis as at the core of the endocannabinoid system’s purpose.
Homeostasis is a key element in the biology of all living things. It is best called the ability to maintain stable internal conditions necessary for survival, and the disease is essentially an inability of the body to remain in homeostasis or healthy sustainable balance. Thus, endocannabinoid system balancing effects make is a useful if not unique instrument in the future of healthcare.
Endocannabinoid system in medicine and healthcare
Due to its wide influence on the human body, it is believed that the endocannabinoid system in the future can significantly facilitate the treatment of many diseases and conditions. In recent years, scientists have been studying various ways of targeting this system.
Currently, there are two main ways to stimulate the endocannabinoid system: medical marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids.
Medical marijuana is the most commonly used method for involving the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of various conditions due to its being rich in therapeutic phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD.
Medical marijuana can and is often being prescribed for many illnesses. Nausea, chronic pain and inflammation, epilepsy, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis and many more. It is also commonly used for palliation of untreatable conditions.
Regardless of the fact that medical marijuana has great therapeutic potential, it is also known to produce a slew of unpleasant side effects, such as a feeling of intoxication. Some people do not wish for the psychoactive effects of cannabis-derived THC and prefer cannabinoid treatment that avoids this such as various CBD and terpenes products.
Synthetic cannabinoids are molecules that are designed to mimic the activity of existing cannabinoids. These compounds can target the endocannabinoid system in more specific, yet still effective ways.
For example, Dronabinol is a synthetic version of THC that can be prescribed for cancer and AIDS patients to combat nausea and loss of appetite, while Cesamet is another THC-like synthetic cannabinoid used to reduce vomiting in cancer patients and to treat pain in several disorders, including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and chronic pain.
In addition to imitating the effects of cannabinoids, such as THC, synthetic cannabinoids can also be designed to target certain parts of the endocannabinoid system while avoiding others.
All things considered, the endocannabinoid system is truly a treasury for the health-related scientific research and holistically-oriented medical professionals, as while being extremely complex, it is already established that it plays an important role in many vital bodily processes and promises to be an effective tool in the treatment of many serious and difficult-to-treat conditions.
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