Different Ways of Using Medical Marijuana in Florida
June 18, 2018

The endocannabinoid system plays many important roles in the human body utilizing its receptors distributed mostly in the brain and gut. Scientists first discovered the system while trying to understand the effects of cannabis, and named it the endocannabinoid system for this reason.

The endocannabinoid system is a major target of medical research because of its widespread effects and therapeutic potential. While scientists have sorted out the basics of this fascinating system, much more remains to be uncovered and now that more research is allowed soon more information will come out.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoid are the chemical messages used by the endocannabinoid system. Our bodies produce our own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids.

They interact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate basic functions including mood, memory, appetite, pain, sleep, and many more.

The cannabinoids found in marijuana, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are considered exogenous. When consumed, they also interact with cannabinoid receptors to produce physical and psychological effects in the body.

What is the Endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system has two receptors: CB1 and CB2. Each receptor responds to different cannabinoids, but some cannabinoids can interact with both.

The distribution of CB1 and CB2 receptors within the body and brain explains why cannabinoids have certain effects.

CB1 receptors are distributed throughout the body but, are mostly present in the brain and spinal cord. They are concentrated in brain regions associated with the behaviors they influence. For example, there are CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus, which is involved with appetite regulation, and the amygdala, which plays a role in memory and emotional processing. CB1 receptors are also found in nerve endings where they act to reduce sensations of pain.

CB2 receptors tend to be distributed in the peripheral nervous system. They are especially concentrated in immune cells. When CB2 receptors are activated, they work to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response which is believed to play a role in many diseases and conditions.

With respect to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, researchers found that THC binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, activating them just like an endocannabinoid would do.

CBD does not bind directly to cannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD works by inhibiting an enzyme called FAAH, which is responsible for the breakdown of anandamide — the most important endocannabinoid in the body. When FAAH is inhibited, it cannot break down anandamide at its normal rate. This leads to a buildup of anandamide in the brain.

How does the ECS work?

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced naturally within the human body and are “short-order” neurotransmitters, meaning they are synthesized on demand. In other words, endocannabinoids are only produced when the body signals that they are needed, and their presence is transient.

After being released, endocannabinoids are quickly broken down by enzymes, which include FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase).

By contrast, when you consume marijuana, large amounts of cannabinoids enter the body and stick around. This means that the endocannabinoid system is activated more strongly and for longer than it would usually be.

The endocannabinoid system is involved with regulating many basic functions of the human body, including:

 

ECS Functions

The endocannabinoid system is involved with regulating many basic functions of the human body, including:

  • Appetite
  • Metabolism
  • Pain
  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Movement
  • Temperature
  • Memory and learning
  • Immune function
  • Inflammation
  • Neural development
  • Neuroprotection
  • Cardiovascular function
  • Digestion
  • Reproduction

Besides maintaining basic functions, the endocannabinoid system also acts in response to illness.

For example, tumor cells have been shown to express more cannabinoid receptors than healthy cells. Studies also show a rise in endocannabinoid levels in patients with various disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, chronic pain and arthritis.

As a result, some scientists believe the overall function of the endocannabinoid system is to regulate Homeostasis which is a key in maintaining a good balance in life.

Disease is largely a result of a failure in achieving homeostasis. Thus, the endocannabinoid system’s role in maintaining homeostasis makes it a unique and promising target in medicine.

The Endocannabinoid system and current medicine

Due to its widespread effects in the human body, the endocannabinoid system shows a promising future in treating many diseases and conditions.

There are currently two major ways of targeting the endocannabinoid system: medical marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids.

Medical marijuana is the most common way of targeting the endocannabinoid system to treat various illnesses. Compounds in marijuana, including THC and CBD, are known to produce therapeutic effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system.

Medical marijuana can be used for a wide variety of conditions including chronic pain, nausea, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and palliative care.

Despite the success of medical marijuana, some users experience unpleasant side effects, such as feeling high. Some people do not enjoy the psychological effects of cannabis and would prefer a treatment that avoids this.

Some researchers are currently looking into whether the endocannabinoid system can be targeted peripherally using synthetic cannabinoids which cannot cross the blood-brain-barrier. This would avoid the negative side effects of cannabinoids entering the central nervous system and affecting the brain (i.e. the feeling of being high).

In sum, the endocannabinoid system is truly a treasure trove for scientists and medical professionals. It is extremely complex, plays important roles in many vital processes, and holds promise as a treatment target for many debilitating conditions.