Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years with evidence dating back to 2000 BC, but only in the past few decades have scientists truly understood how it works. What led to this understanding was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system; a unique biological system that facilitates the effects of cannabis within the human body.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a central regulatory system that affects a wide range of biological processes. Every human has an ECS in their body that restores homeostasis by promoting sleep, appetite, stress reduction, modulation of pain and inflammation. ECS homeostatic roles have been summarised as “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect.”
Cannabinoids are the main active ingredients in cannabis. Cannabinoids are found in our bodies, where we call them endocannabinoids and in plants, known as phytocannabinoids. The most common cannabinoids used in medical cannabis medicine are THC (Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol).
The ECS consists of a group of molecules known as cannabinoids as well as the cannabinoid receptors that they bind to. Cannabinoid compounds in cannabis interact with the endocannabinoid system to produce effects. Humans naturally have cannabinoid receptors located on cell surfaces throughout the body. Additionally, humans produce cannabinoids that interact with these cell receptors throughout the body.
Decades of scientific research on the ECS has resulted in the discovery of two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and the central nervous system. CB1 receptors are essential for a healthy functioning brain and are one of the most abundant receptors in the entire nervous system. They moderate memory, mood, motor function and perception of pain.
CB2 receptors can also be found in the CNS as well as the peripheries, immune system, and organs. When cannabinoids interact with these receptors, they produce different effects within the body.
Cannabinoid receptors act as binding sites for endogenous cannabinoids as well as cannabinoids found in cannabis. When cannabinoids bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors, they act to change the way the body functions.
While cannabinoid receptors are primarily expressed in the brain and immune system, researchers have identified cannabinoid receptors in a variety of other places as well, including the peripheral nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, and gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. Cannabinoid receptors continue to be identified in unique parts of the body as research on the endocannabinoid system progresses.
Through stimulation of the endocannabinoid system many physiological functions including inflammation, sleep, pain, memory, digestion, immune function, neuroprotection to name a few, are engaged. The ECS helps regulate homeostasis and accomplishes this through cellular communication of the nervous system.
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CEDS)
Suboptimal ECS functioning considerations: migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, “failure to thrive” syndrome, depressive illnesses, uncompensated schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s, uncompensated Parkinson’s, uncompensated anorexia, and chronic motion sickness.
Correcting CEDS may be accomplished via at least three molecular mechanisms:
- Augmenting endocannabinoid ligand biosynthesis;
- Decreasing endocannabinoid ligand degradation;
- Augmenting or increasing receptor density or function.
For many different reasons your ECS can be under-functioning, and this results in symptoms that often take years to develop. If you think you have CEDS, please speak to your doctor.
Disclaimer: If you think Medicinal Cannabis is right for you, please check with your doctor and request a referral. How cannabis affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight, age and health, dosage and tolerance. The information provided by CDA Clinics is for educational and informational purposes only. For medical advice, please check with your doctor and request a referral.