By Emily Ledger
The popularity of cannabis and cannabinoid products have become more popular than ever, with a record number of people showing an interest. While we have all heard that these compounds can help to aid the natural functions, in addition to harboring medicinal potential, many still may not know how they interact with our bodies. That’s why we’re outlining everything we know about the Endocannabinoid System, and how cannabis compounds play a role.
Although the human race has been interacting with cannabis for thousands of years, the biological system which supports this relationship was only discovered in the 1990s. Phytocannabinoids – like CBD and THC, found within the cannabis plant – are thought to be processed in a similar way to endogenous, or endo-cannabinoids, produced within our bodies.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is now known to be a system of receptors and neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids). The existence of the ECS, though speculated earlier, was only confirmed by researchers in the 1990s. Although there is still much to be understood about the functions and the significance of the ECS, most scientists and researchers agree that it plays a significant role in a large number of biological and physiological functions.
The ECS receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, are expressed throughout the central nervous system, as well as in the human immune system. Endocannabinoids have been found to interact with these receptors in a number of internal processes. Research around cannabinoids from Cannabis Sativa plants has demonstrated that these phyto-compounds are able to inhibit these endocannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids Vs Endocannabinoids
As their name suggests, cannabinoids are named after the cannabis plant. This is because this group of compounds was first discovered in Cannabis Sativa at the end of the 19th Century with the isolation of Cannabinol (CBN). In 1940, the chemical synthesis of CBN was achieved, as well as the discovery of Cannabidiol (CBD). THC was also identified two years later. These compounds are known as phytocannabinoids – as they are found within plants.
Endocannabinoids are compounds with similar structures to those of phytocannabinoids. They are lipid-based neurotransmitters that are produced naturally inside our bodies. The most common and researched of these compounds are Anandamide and 2-AG. These compounds interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors to help to maintain physiological homeostasis.
The Role of Endocannabinoids
Anandamide – named from the Sanskrit word ‘Ananda’, meaning bliss – is thought to play a role in mood regulation, as well as influencing pain and appetite regulation, and pleasure and reward processes. Anandamide is thought to target CB1 receptors in the nervous system and CB2 receptors in the peripheral nervous system.
2-AG (2-Arachidonoylglycerol) is another endocannabinoid that makes up the ECS. This cannabinoid is the most abundant endocannabinoid found in the body. Like anandamide, it is thought to play an important role in the regulation of appetite, immune system functions, and pain management.
Phytocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Phytocannabinoids found within the cannabis plant, such as CBD and THC, are able to interact with our Endocannabinoid System. These interactions are thought to support many of the same processes as those produced by Anandamide and 2-AG.
These compounds have been an important area of social and medical research for thousands of years. A range of studies has found that phytocannabinoids may have potential in the treatment of a variety of conditions. They may be useful in pain management, anxiety and stress relief, spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis, and seizures in Epilepsy.