Understanding The Endocannabinoid System

Uncovering the Source of Your Body's Environmental Responses.

by

Tony Tortorici

The human body is truly something to marvel. Your natural systems of digestion, respiration, metabolism, and cellular reproduction might as well be straight out of a science fiction movie. Your  body is incredibly adaptable and your endocannabinoid system is a major player in how your body adapts and reacts to your environment and situation. This system is involved with how you process pain, memory, mood, appetite, stress, sleep,bone metabolism, immune function, and reproductive function. Endocannabinoids are one of the most widespread and versatile neuropathic signaling molecules in your body. 

Your endocannabinoid system may seem foreign to you but I assure you, its been with you for a long time. In fact, you’ve had a fully intact and functioning endocannabinoid system since you were in utero. Endocannabinoids can be detected in all phases of development, from conception in early embryonal development, perinatal brain development, and postnatal suckling. This means that your endocannabinoid system played a direct role in processes including regulation of stress during fetal development, creating the scaffolding between neuronal growth and even appetite regulation after delivery. Breast milk is filled with endocannabinoids and helps babies to cope with stress and promote appetite and suckling response. 

Your endocannabinoid system is the second largest neuropathic receptor site system in your body. What does this mean? This means that there are receptors all over your body that are specifically designed to receive natural cannabinoids which are made within your body. Whether or not you’ve ever taken CBD or smoked a joint of recreational marijuana, your body is creating cannabinoids; primarily Anandamide, and receiving them through special cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. 

CB1 receptors are primarily located in your brain, central and peripheral nervous system cells, but are also found in the endocrine system, adrenal, thyroid and reproductive organs. CB2 receptors are found primarily in organ tissue such as the heart, stomach, pancreas, digestive tract, spleen (lymphatic) and bones. These receptors play a vital role in how we process stress, anxiety, pain, nausea, and sleep as well as regulate appetite, bone metabolism, and immune system function.

While our body is making its own cannabinoids, which we refer to endocannabinoids (endo being short for endogenous, or naturally occurring within our body). Plants are making Phytocannabinoids (Phyto referring to being endogenous to plants). These phytocannabinoids are found in the cannabis plant ( hemp or marijuana) and are overwhelmingly represented as THC and CBD. However there are over 100 other phytocannabinoids that are being studied that may play roles individually or synergistically within our endocannabinoid system or serve other neuropathic roles. 

THC is considered a perfect fit for our CB1 receptors and literally binds to the receptors and blocks the uptake of our endogenous cannabinoids, CBD on the other hand bypasses these same receptors and mimics serotonin. CBD both mimics 5-HT1A and binds to serotonin receptors. It’s this process that  has been shown to help regulate physiological responses like mood, appetite, nausea, sleep and pain perception. 

CBD is also showing to have antipsychotic potential when it comes to managing the side effects of THC consumption like, anxiety, paranoia, and  mild hallucinations. THC binds to our CB1 receptors but CBD has been shown to knock THC off of the receptor site, and while not linking directly into the receptor site, limiting more THC from binding to the site by blocking and interfering with the CB1 receptors.

The FDA currently recognizes Epidiolex, a CBD extract, as an anti-seizure, anti-epileptic medicine. Specifically used to reduce seizures in  two rare and difficult to treat seizure disorders  (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome). Epidiolex is the first FDA approved cannabis plant extract and is concentrated to 100mg of CBD per 1ml. 

To many scientists, the link between our body’s endocannabinoid system and the cannabis plant’s ability to create phytocannabinoids that both interact with our CB1 and CB2 receptors but also mimic and block the reabsorption of serotonin suggests that CBD oil has therapeutic potential for a wide range of symptoms.

While the FDA recognizes CBD as a medicine to treat seizure disorders, they are at the same time reluctant to make any other claims about CBD’s efficacy to treat pain, inflammation, anxiety or sleep disorders etc. However, there is an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that CBD may alleviate the symptoms of a multitude of conditions; there are even hundreds of studies on mice and human models that seem to back up the anecdotal evidence.  It is however, important to remember that the appropriate federal studies are still a ways away and that at this point the popularity of CBD is spreading because of word of mouth between friends, family and colleagues. Keep in mind that CBD is a supplement and is not sold with the intention to treat or cure any diseases. And like always, please consult your primary care doctor before taking any supplements.  


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