Balancing the Body's Endocannabinoid System
Before the discovery of the numerous therapeutic effects of CBD, a compound found in cannabis and hemp; the endocannabinoid system was a mystery.
However, with its recent discovery, we are made aware of the importance of the system and its role in providing balance in the body.
The History Of The Endocannabinoid System
Did you know that the endocannabinoid system was only discovered about 28 years ago?
In 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the godfather of cannabis research, first identified and isolated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a substance known historically for its psychoactive properties and cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, with antioxidant and neuroprotectant properties.
Mechoulam's work served as a major stepping stone in the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, and because the cannabinoids, THC, and CDB, are naturally occurring in plants, they are referred to as "phytocannabinoids."
26 years later, a molecular biologist, Lisa Matsuda, along with her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health, identified a THC-sensitive receptor in lab rat brains and the endocannabinoid system was first defined. Dr. Mechoulam’s continued research also led to the discovery of two endocannabinoids: Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
With these discoveries, scientists began to explore the endocannabinoid system, and this has yielded invaluable knowledge about the pharmacology, biochemistry, and physiological effects of endocannabinoids.
The Endocannabinoid System
Named after the plant that led to its discovery, the endogenous cannabinoid system is described as the most important physiologic system in the body. This molecular system is responsible for the regulation of many processes in the body, including inter-cell communication, memory, and metabolism.
It is composed of endocannabinoids; naturally occurring cannabinoids, endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors, and cannabinoid receptor proteins located in various parts of the body including the brain, connective tissues, organs and glands, and immune cells. It is through these receptors that cannabinoids interact with the human body, triggering a cellular response which is either amplified or diminished as metabolic enzymes in the body produce or destroy endocannabinoids.
Although the endocannabinoid system performs different roles in each tissue, its ultimate goal is to achieve homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a key biological concept which refers to the series of process or reactions by which the body maintains a balanced and stable internal environment. Any disturbances to physiological equilibrium, if left unchecked, can lead to the development of serious health conditions and as such, the state of health of all organisms including humans depends on the body’s ability to adjust to changes and maintain homeostasis. This foregrounds the integral role played by the endocannabinoid system.
The Cannabinoid Receptors
Although new evidence suggests that there may be more undiscovered cannabinoid receptors, only two are currently known.
The two cannabinoid receptors; CB1 and CB2 are involved in mediating the effects of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids in the body.
CB1 receptors are primarily found in both male and female reproductive systems, the central nervous system and several regions of the brain including the cerebellum. They perform the function of mediating or diluting the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are predominantly present in the immune system and are responsible for the anti-inflammatory and other immune-related activity.
The primary endocannabinoids produced by the body directly interact with these receptors. While anandamides serve to activate CB1 receptors and have a low tendency towards CB2 receptors, 2-AG interacts mainly with the CB2 receptors.
The pathological link between endocannabinoids and various disorders has been established and maintaining balance in the endocannabinoid system is of immense importance.