What is the Endocannabinoid System Anyways? If there is one thing you will take away from reading this article on the therapeutic effects of cannabis and endocannabinoids, it will be that cannabis has a profound influence on the human body.
This legendary plant and the compounds contained within it have been able to affect almost every part of the human body to some degree.
What Are Cannabinoids?
At a cannabis medical clinic where my best friend is a doctor, they treat over 18,000 patients a year for a variety of diseases including epilepsy, MS, insomnia, chronic pain, and eczema. Each of the conditions they treat has different symptoms and, of course, different causes. Some of the patients are very old, while some are very young. Many have chosen to undergo conventional therapy, while others choose a more alternative path to manage their illness. One thing, however, that all these patients have in common, is that they all agree cannabis helps them manage their conditions better.
In 2019, most people have become wary of any medicines that claim they can cure everything. I also am skeptical when presented with a cure-all medicine. I have watched many remedies come and go over the years, all of which have had big claims to healing with very little scientific evidence to back up those claims. But when it comes to learning about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, I find no shortage of clear evidence that provides a sound basis for the claims of many patients who swear by the plant. In fact, there is more evidence supporting cannabis as a treatment for illnesses that there is for many more commonly used therapies of conventional medicine.
A PubMed search for scientific journal articles published in the last 20 years containing the word "cannabis" will result in a list of over 20,000 articles. The word "cannabinoid," shows results of over 25,000 articles published on the topic. That is an average of over 6 scientific articles per day over for the last 20 years! These numbers provide proof that the interest in both the scientific communities but also the financial communities regarding cannabis is great. People want to understand more about the cannabis plant and the compounds, it contains.
How can one plant help with so many different ailments? And how can it be considered so safe and yet so powerful?
In looking for the answers to these questions, scientists discovered a previously unknown physiological system inherent in every human body. It is a central component to the health of almost every living animal on this planet and it's called the endocannabinoid system.
What Are Endocannabinoids?
The most important physiological system that is involved in maintaining the health of the human body is the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are found in the brain, tissues, organs, glands, and even cells of every living human. In every different type of tissue, the cannabinoid system performs many tasks, all with the same end result which is the maintenance of a stable internal environment, irrelevant of changes to the external environment.
From the cellular level to the full organism, cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of human life. In fact, it can reach even farther than that. For example. Autophagy is a process where a cell sets aside part of its contents to be self-digested and recycled. This process is monitored by the cannabinoid system. This process keeps normal cells alive and allows them to maintain a balance between the degradation, synthesis, and recycling of themselves. But it can have a deadly effect on malignant tumor cells as well, often causing them to consume themselves in a virtual act of cellular suicide. This expiration of cancerous cells obviously promotes homeostasis and protects the survival of the entire body.
What Do Endocannabinoids Do?
You will also find endocannabinoids at the crossroads between the various systems found in the human body, where they promote the communication and coordination between these systems. For instance, when the body is injured, cannabinoids will be found reducing the release of activators and sensitizers from the abused tissues. This helps stabilize the nerve cells, prevents excessive firing, and calms the nearby immune cells preventing the release of pro-inflammatory substances. All of these properties work towards a single purpose: to minimize pain and damage caused by the injury.
This complex series of workings makes the endocannabinoid system literally a bridge between your body and your brain. The more we learn about the endocannabinoid system the more we learn about how different states of consciences can affect our health.
Endocannabinoids also have an influence on a person's relationship with the external environment that surrounds them. The introduction of cannabinoids at the social level promotes sharing and creativity. Cannabinoids may directly influence a person's ability to be open minded by mediating neurogenesis, neuronal placidity, and learning. This may allow people to move beyond limiting patterns of thought and the reoccurrence of bad behaviors. The body is able to re-format itself and this is an important part of how we adapt to the stresses of this rapidly changing world.
What are Cannabinoid Receptors?
Science estimates the endocannabinoid system evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago. All species of vertebrae are designed with the endocannabinoid system playing an essential part in their ability to adapt to environmental changes.
Even with over 20,000 scientific articles, we have just begun to understand cannabinoids and there are significant gaps that exist in our understanding of them and their complexities. As we learn more about endocannabinoids, scientists are challenged to look at the physiology and personal health in new ways.
How Do Cannabinoids Work?
Cannabinoid receptors are thought to be more numerous than any other receptors in the entire body. When the cannabinoid receptors are excited, a variety of processes begin. Research has identified two cannabinoid receptors which are CB1 and CB2. CB1 is mostly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, glands, and organs, whereas CB2 is mostly found in the immune system. A lot of bodily tissues contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors, each one performing a different function. There is speculation that a third receptor for cannabinoids is present in the body, but no research has been able to prove this yet.
Endocannabinoids are the compounds our bodies produce naturally to stimulate these CB1 and CB2 receptors. The two most well documented of these molecules are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). They are produced as needed from ‘cell membrane arachidonic acid derivatives. These derivatives have a short half-life before they are finally degraded by the enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).
What are Phyto cannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are plant substances that stimulate cannabinoid receptors. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the most psychoactive and certainly the most widely known of these substances, but other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) are rapidly gaining the interest of researchers due to the variety of therapeutic properties they possess. Most Phyto cannabinoids have already been isolated from the cannabis sativa plant, but other plants, such as echinacea purpura, have been found to contain these non-psychoactive cannabinoids as well.
Quite interestingly, however, the cannabis plant uses THC, as well as other cannabinoids, to help it maintain its own health too. Cannabinoids contain powerful antioxidant properties that protect leaves and flowers from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Cannabinoids neutralize the free radicals generated by UV rays which in turn protects the plant’s cells.
Just like in cannabis plants, the same is true when it comes to human beings, free radicals cause aging and slow healing. Antioxidants found in cannabis plants have long been promoted as natural supplements to prevent free radical harm.
What is a Synthetic Cannabinoid?
Synthetic THC has now been reproduced by scientists and the FDA approved the drug for the treatment of severe nausea. Many clinicians have found the synthetic THC to be helpful in the treatment of chronic pain and other serious conditions. There are other synthetic cannabinoids which are used only with animals that have 600 times the potency than that of THC.
Cannabis, The Endocannabinoid System, And Good Health
One thing is for certain, a functional cannabinoids system is vital to a person's overall health. From the time we are connected to the walls of our mother's uterus, through nursing and growth stages, to recovery from injuries, endocannabinoids allow us to survive better in our ever-changing environment.
Are Cannabinoids a Good Supplement?
Beyond treating symptoms and curing diseases, can cannabis actually help us to prevent these diseases to begin with, and promote bodily health by stimulating an internal system that is already in us all?
The short answer is yes. Research has shown that taking small doses of cannabinoids from the cannabis sativa plant can tell the brain to make more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors. This is the reason many of the first-time cannabis users will not feel any effects. But after the second or third time they have built up more receptors which are ready to respond.
More cannabinoid receptors increase a person's sensitivity to cannabinoids. Thus, smaller doses will have larger effects, and the body will have an enhanced baseline of endocannabinoid activity. It seems that repeated regular doses of cannabis might act as a solution to our most many of our physiologic ailments.
What is the Entourage Effect?
Unlike the synthetic derivatives of cannabis, the actual plant contains over two hundred documented compounds including cannabinoids and THC. These all work together in a harmony known as the entourage effect. From all indications of patients and scientists, herbal cannabis has superior qualities to the synthetic cannabis.
Cannabis is already known in India, China, and Tibet as an important component of preventative healthcare and a useful remedy to many of today's common ailments. It is also becoming more well known by Western medicine. With further studies being done on humans we will soon see cannabinoids become a major component of a healthy and active lifestyle.
This is changing, in part because the public wants a safe, natural, and cost-effective treatment that will stimulate the body's ability to heal itself.