The endocannabinoid system is a little known system for those who are outside the world of CBD and cannabis or medicine. It was only discovered in the 1990s, which is why it is taking time to work into public consciousness. Although people are beginning to find out about it, a lot of people don’t know that the endocannabinoid system even exits.
One thing that a lot more people have heard of, however, is CBD.
CBD is a compound that is found naturally in the cannabis plant and is a bit of a buzz word at the moment – and for good reason. Due to the fact that we haven’t had the technology or legalities in place to study cannabis compounds in-depth for very long, we are only now beginning to see the potential that these natural substances can have for our general health as well as for more specific illnesses.
The endocannabinoid system was discovered when scientists were looking into the cannabis plant. They discovered THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) when they were trying to find out what it is about cannabis that makes people high when it is taken (it is THC). From this discovery, they went on to identify CBD (cannabidiol) – a cannabinoid that won’t make you high – but still couldn’t work out why these compounds affected the human body in the way that they do.
In 1992, scientists Raphael Mechoulam, and NIMH researchers, William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus discovered Anandamide – the first endogenous cannabinoid (or endocannabinoid). With more research, the two were able to be linked up and the endocannabinoid system was discovered.
We only really have less than 30 years of research about the endocannabinoid system, but we know enough to see that it has great medicinal potential and is something that could change the way that we look at medicine forever.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for keeping the body in the optimal environment to be working properly. This is called a state of homeostasis.
It helps to regulate systems such as:
· The central nervous system
· The immune system
· Body temperature
· Bone density
The endocannabinoid system consists of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors which then sent messages to the brain, helping to keep the body working in good order.
There is still a lot of research being done about the cannabinoid receptors, but at the moment, the two main receptors that are known most about are the imaginatively named CB1 and CB2 receptors.
They have been designed to interact the endocannabinoids which have been made by the human body, but they can also interact with Phyto cannabinoids – or some of the cannabinoids which are naturally made in plants – such as CBD and THC – which are made in the cannabis plant.
CB1 or Cannabinoid 1 receptors are generally concentrated in the brain (especially in the hypothalamus, hippocampus and the amygdala) in the central nervous system. There are, however, also CB1 receptors present in the liver, kidneys and lungs. Due to their molecular structure, the CB1 receptors bind better with THC than CBD and can be useful to help to deal with pain, mood and nausea as well as others.
CB2 or Cannabinoid 2 Receptors are concentrated generally in the immune and gastrointestinal systems as well as the spleen, meaning that they can help with appetite, inflammation reduction, skin health, bone density, some sorts of cancer and the management of pain – amongst other things. CBD does not like to directly bind with the CB2 receptors, but it does affect the output of the CB2 receptors. THC, again, due to its molecular structure, which is slightly different from CBD, can also bind to the CB2 receptors.
The endocannabinoid system is clever in that it can increase and reduce the number of endocannabinoids which are produced, allowing it to regulate the complicated functions and systems of the body.
When the endocannabinoid system is not working properly – for example, if there are deficiencies in certain endocannabinoids it can seriously affect our health, with researchers currently believing that clinical endocannabinoid deficiency could be responsible for a number of health issues, such as migraine, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. 
When we take phytocannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, they can either bond to or affect the CB1 and CB2 receptors to stimulate them into sending the messages that are needed for the body to be able to produce what it needs to help to remedy the problem.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are spread around the body in their own unique way, and in different concentrations, meaning that everyone is slightly different. This is why it can be difficult to determine exactly how CBD would affect each individual person – as well as the correct dosage for each person.
For example, CBD is what is known as biphasic. This means that its effect on you will change according to how much you take. So, not only do different doses affect different people, but they also affect you differently. These can often have opposite effects – for example, a small dose of CBD might give you energy, but a large one might be good for getting to sleep.
People who have high levels of CB1 receptors, for example, could find that they are more sensitive to THC, making them feel high, or get the ‘munchies’ quicker than other people. People with lower levels of CB2, they might need higher quantities of CBD to have an effect.
In short, what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for the next. This is why it can be difficult to dose and people who take it should experiment with very small doses, gradually increasing to find what’s best for them.
CBD has a number of indirect effects on the endocannabinoid system, including the activation of TRPV1 receptors – receptors which influence factors such as body temperature, pain and inflammation.
It can also inhibit FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase) which is an enzyme which is used to break down the endocannabinoid, Anandamide. This means that it can help to create higher levels of Anandamide in the system by not allowing it to be broken down. It is also this kind of process that means that people who are taking medication should speak to their doctor before trying CBD.
CBD can also inhibit some other enzymes in the digestive system which break down certain medications. This means, that if CBD is taken in conjunction with some medications, they might not be broken down at the same speed as intended by your doctor, leaving higher amounts of medication in your bloodstream, and making them more effective than intended.
It was thanks to research about the cannabis plant that the endocannabinoid system – and endocannabinoids and their receptors – was discovered. And this is why it was named after the plant. The CB1 and CB2 receptors play a fundamental part in the endocannabinoid system mechanism.
There is still a lot that we don’t know about the endocannabinoid system, how it works and how we can use it in the future to help us to keep us healthier and more comfortable, but from the research that we are seeing at the moment, it seems to have a lot of potential.
As more and more research is carried out and made available, we are sure to see a shifting in attitudes and uses of CBD, THC and the other cannabinoids in the plant, having a positive effect on the health of the world.