Cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. However, it wasn't until the late 1980s that scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis in the human body. Since then, researchers have been studying the interaction between cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, uncovering new insights into the plant's therapeutic potential. In this blog, we'll explore the basics of the endocannabinoid system, how it works, and how cannabis can affect it.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
If you've ever experienced the blissful state of a runner's high, you know how exhilarating it can be. While many believe endorphins are responsible for this sensation, the truth is more nuanced. The endocannabinoid system, which has been around for over 600 million years and can be found in people and even animals, plays a significant role in this phenomenon.
In humans, this system functions as a regulator, maintaining homeostasis by modulating the central nervous system's activity. The endocannabinoid system communicates with other primary systems, including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, immunological, and metabolic systems.
In simple terms, the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, modulates a few natural background processes in your body, including things like body temperature, sleeping and waking cycle, appetite, mood, inflammatory responses, and immune system function. As a nervous system moderator, it produces neurotransmitters that influence health and wellness.
What does the endocannabinoid system do?
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating various physiological, cognitive, and emotional functions that often go unnoticed in the body. This includes appetite, pain response, stress response, inflammatory response, memory and cognition, sleep health, and mood. The way you feel when hungry, sleepy, or stressed is due to the endocannabinoid system's functioning at that moment.
Although there's much we don't understand about the endocannabinoid system, we know that three primary components are involved: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and specialized enzymes.
Endocannabinoids such as Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), bind to cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, which are distributed throughout the body.
Specialized enzymes such as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) metabolize endocannabinoids to make them bioavailable in the body.
But, how do these components work together to enable the endocannabinoid system to function as a whole? Stay tuned to learn how cannabis works in the context of the endocannabinoid system.
So what are endocannabinoids?
The body releases endocannabinoids in response to various internal and external stimuli to carry out numerous functions, from digestion to fertility. Endocannabinoids are synthesized on demand from the body's fat, muscle, and other cellular tissue to achieve an end goal, such as activating fight or flight, sleep, or food-seeking behaviors. They act sorta like chemical messengers that tell your body what to do.
The body uses two primary endocannabinoids, AEA or anandamide (known as "the bliss molecule") and 2-AG, for homeostatic regulation, or helping you stay alive and balanced. AEA promotes relaxation, calms nerves, and increases appetite, while 2-AG plays a role in emotional and cognitive functions, energy balance, pain sensation, and neuroinflammation.
While the ability to produce endocannabinoids is vital to maintaining health and wellness, other factors are also critical.
What are endocannabinoid receptors?
Endocannabinoids like anandamide achieve their purpose by binding with specialized cells called cannabinoid receptors. There are two primary cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is mainly centralized in the brain and central nervous system and is responsible for mediating aspects related to mood, cognition, emotion, and more, including fight or flight and appetite.
On the other hand, CB2 is primarily found around the body's main organs and appears to be connected with immunological functions, including inflammation and pain response.
Both receptors bind with cannabinoids, including the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis, and play a crucial role in regulating various physiological, cognitive, and emotional functions in the body.
What about the special enzymes?
After fulfilling their role, endocannabinoids and their receptors are broken down by specialized enzymes present in nerve cells. These enzymes, namely FAAH and MAGL, break down the endocannabinoids into their constituent parts for future use. Specifically, FAAH targets Anandamide while MAGL breaks down 2-AG endocannabinoids.
A well-functioning endocannabinoid system requires healthy levels of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzyme activity. Any compromise or dysfunction in any of these components might negatively impact overall health.
Cannabis and the endocannabinoid system
Cannabinoids are the active compounds found in cannabis, and they bear a striking resemblance to the endocannabinoids in our bodies. These cannabis-derived cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, bind with endocannabinoid receptors to enhance their activity, ultimately promoting endocannabinoid system signaling.
As a result of this interaction, cannabis exhibits various effects, such as stimulating appetite, providing stress relief, reducing inflammation and pain, improving sleep health, boosting mood, and relieving anxiety. However, since each individual responds differently to cannabis, the effects of cannabinoids, such as CBD oil, vary significantly from person to person.
Given that the endocannabinoid system impacts various aspects of wellness, and every person has a unique physiology, no two individuals will experience the same effects, even if they take identical doses of cannabinoids.
CBD and the ECS
CBD works indirectly with Cb1 and CB2 receptors, and instead seems to encourage a balanced and regular endocannabinoid system. CBD may have a stimulating and focusing effect due to elevated endocannabinoid levels, depending on dosage and circumstances. Additionally, CBD may help to lower cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone that can hinder sleep, reduce appetite, and suppress immune functions.
In contrast, higher doses of CBD may induce relaxation, reduce inflammation, and improve mood and pain. Unlike THC, CBD does not bind with CB1 receptors in the brain and therefore does not have a psychoactive effect and won’t make you feel high. Instead, CBD primarily interacts with CB2 receptors located throughout the body, resulting in a calming, balancing effect on the nervous system.
THC and the ECS
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is the primary psychoactive substance found in cannabis, which induces the sensation of being "high." Due to its ability to activate CB1 receptors, THC produces several physiological effects, such as pain relief, improved mood, relaxation, increased appetite, and drowsiness, similar to those of anandamide (AEA). THC's psychoactive characteristics stem from its strong binding affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain, which alters the user's perceptions.
Choosing the right cannabis for you
Gaining an understanding of how cannabis can enhance the functioning of the endocannabinoid system may help you pick out the best weed for your specific needs. Knowing how cannabis works in your body is particularly useful if you want to explore certain effects and outcomes, such as relief from pain, stress, better sleep, or increased appetite.
Whether you use cannabis recreationally or medicinally, it may lead to improved quality of life and drive home deeper personal experiences for yourself and others. If you’re ready to explore some of the best weed in DC, look no further than Flower Ave. Start by browsing our extensive gift menu and order weed delivery in DC online.