Whilst most people who have read a paper, watched the news or been online in the last couple of years will have heard of CBD and know that it is supposed to be ‘good for you’, much fewer people will know why medical researchers are – becoming increasingly excited about it and its potentials.
The reason why CBD (Cannabidiol) and the other compounds in the Cannabis plant are giving hope to so many people is because the research is showing that CBD affects a system in the body, parts of the Endocannabinoid system. In fact, it was due to research into the medicinal properties of the Cannabis plant that led to the discovery of the Endocannabinoid system in the first place.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid system is a system in the human body just like any other – such as the digestive system, the immune system or the nervous system. It was discovered in 1992 by researchers in Israel.
The Endocannabinoid system is a biochemical system in the human body which is essential for the body to have the inner balance that it needs to be able to work properly. This balance creates a state known as homeostasis.
The Endocannabinoid system is responsible for keeping a whole host of functions of the human body regulated. This is called the Goldilocks effect, which means, just like in the story, the body works continuously to keep things within safe boundaries in the body – not too much, not too little, not too high and not too low. In fact, just right!
Some of the functions of the body which are regulated by the Endocannabinoid system include:
- Immune Function
- Neuroprotection and Development
For all of these functions to operate properly, the conditions must be just right, and this is where the Endocannabinoid system comes into play.
Parts of the Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid system comprises of three different parts:
The Endocannabinoids – the molecules produced by the body, which interact with the Cannabinoid receptors. The most notable are Anandamide (which induces the feeling of bliss or happiness) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol)
The Cannabinoid receptors – two of the main ones being CB1 and CB2 receptorsThe Metabolic Enzymes – which break down the endocannabinoids once they have been used. The most notable are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).
The two cannabinoid receptors which we know the most about – Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors – are distinctly different but both have significant functions.
CB1 receptors are found all around the body but are most concentrated in the brain and in the spinal cord. They are also found in the nerve endings. Because of this, the CB1 receptors can have an impact on the memory and emotional processing such as depression and anxiety, blood pressure, appetite regulation and pain management.
CB2 receptors are normally concentrated in immune cells and the peripheral nervous system. One of their major functions is to help to manage inflammation, which is culpable for many illnesses and it is important for the body’s immune system.
The human body produces its own Endocannabinoids, which then interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors to help to maintain homeostasis.
The word endocannabinoid refers to the cannabinoids which are produced by the body itself.
Endocannabinoid deficiency is a condition, where the human body does not produce enough endocannabinoids to keep the body in good working order. Medical researchers believe that this could have an impact on a number of conditions, including:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Motion Sickness
Cannabinoids (or exogenous cannabinoids) such as those that are found in the Cannabis plant, can fill in for those endocannabinoids which are lacking, and help the Endocannabinoid system to get to good working order and therefore help people who are suffering from Endocannabinoid deficiency.
How does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?
The compound, CBD doesn’t actually bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors, but it does interact with them both, to give them more of an impact on the Endocannabinoid system.
This means that when it interacts with the CB1 and CB2 reactors, it can stimulate the Endocannabinoid system. Another interesting thing about CBD is that it can inhibit the FAAH enzyme – which is one of the enzymes which breaks down the endocannabinoid once that it has done its work. This means that the endocannabinoids won’t be broken down so quickly and it is believed that this can have a significant effect.
What About THC?
THC (or Tetrahydrocannabinol) is another cannabinoid which is found in the Cannabis plant. This is the compound which gives you the high which is linked to consuming Cannabis.
THC binds with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors and activates them in just the same way as an endocannabinoid. It binds and activates the CB1 receptors which are in the brain and this is why we get the ‘high’ feeling when THC is consumed.
Researchers have found that although CBD and THC seem to impact differently on the Endocannabinoid system, they seem to work best when they are taken together. Whilst there are many arguments to the benefits of administering CBD and THC together, the laws on levels of THC in many countries mean that research is slow, and it is an option that is not readily available to many people.
The Endocannabinoid system is a very important one, when it comes to keeping our bodies balanced and able to look after itself. In fact, it is surprising that it was only discovered so recently. By giving medical researchers the opportunity to study the Endocannabinoid system and the potential of the cannabinoids which can be found in the Cannabis plant, we are hoping to see great strides for those who are suffering from an array of health problem, as well as those who are just taking CBD for their general health and well-being.