Many people consume cannabis and CBD products for the therapeutic effects they can have on our minds and bodies. However, CBD and other additional cannabis products would not have any of the therapeutic benefits if our bodies didn't contain a biological system that is capable of interacting with its active chemical compounds such as THC, and CBD.
The human endocannabinoid system not only helps us to benefits from CBD products but regulates vital aspects of our biology and is critical for overall health.
Homeostasis: The Purpose of our Endocannabinoid System
Homeostasis is a concept most biological systems with regard to maintaining conditions within a narrow range. Conditions must be just right for cells to maintain their optimum levels of performance. Our bodies cannot be too hot or too cold; our blood sugar levels cannot be too high or too low.
The body's endocannabinoid system is critical for helping to maintain homeostasis, helping cells perform at their best.
Vital Pieces of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
There are three critical components found in the ECS:
- Cannabinoid Receptors: Located on the surface of cells
- Endocannabinoids: Small molecules that are needed to activate cannabinoid receptors
- Metabolic enzymes: That help to break down endocannabinoids after use.
Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of cells and help to monitor conditions outside the cell. These receptors transmit information when conditions inside cells change, helping to kick-start appropriate cellular responses.
There are two essential cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2.
Although these are not the only cannabinoid receptors, they are the best studied, and we're the first ones to be discovered. CB1 receptors are one of the most abundant receptors found in the brain.
CB2 receptors are more common outside of the nervous system and are frequently found in the immune system.
That being said, both receptors can travel throughout the body.
Endocannabinoids are molecules that can bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors.
The two major endocannabinoids are called anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids are made from molecules within cell membranes and are created on-demand. This means that they are made and used exactly when they're needed, rather than stored for later use like many other biological molecules.
Metabolic enzymes help to destroy endocannabinoids once the body uses them quickly. The two main enzymes are FAAH, which is used to break down anandamide, and MAGL, which helps to breaks down 2-AG.
These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids get used only when they're needed, but for no longer than necessary. This distinguishes endocannabinoids from other molecular signals in the body, like hormones or classical neurotransmitters, which can persist for many minutes, or get stored for later use.
In Which Way Do Plant Cannabinoids Like THC and CBD Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
The main reason plants cannabinoids have medicinal and psychoactive effects within the human body is, mainly, because of our endocannabinoid system (ECS).
CBD is attractive because it can have an overall effect of levels of endocannabinoids in the brain. This is referred to as 'endocannabinoid tone.'
Appreciating the biological principle of homeostasis, and how the ECS illustrates this at a cellular level, we start to understand why we have an endocannabinoid system to begin with, and how cannabis-based therapies might work.
The critical function of the ECS across many systems of the body, including the immune and nervous systems, explains why such a wide variety of disease states are very responsive to cannabis-based treatments.