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What is the Endocannabinoid System?

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

Posted By: Dr. Singh

The discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) can be attributed to an Israeli scientist named Raphael Mechoulam. This discovery came in 1964 when Mechoulam learned how to isolate delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for the first time. This led to the discovery that the Endocannabinoid System is present in all living things that have skeletal vertebrae.

Mechoulam stated “by using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance. We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant”.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the first endocannabinoid receptors were located in the brains of rats. This led to further mapping of the Endocannabinoid System and a discovery that the number of receptors in the brain was larger than any other system.

Currently researchers are trying to discover how the Endocannabinoid System maintains homeostasis in the body and what happens when the system becomes deregulated. Scientists are also studying the effects of different cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, and their effects on different disease processes.


What Are Endocannabinoid Receptors?

Endocannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, are the largest physiological set of receptors in the human body. The human body naturally produces cannabinoids which act on the endocannabinoid receptors in the Endocannabinoid System. These cannabinoids send messages to the brain to regulate a number of different bodily functions including hunger, mood, sensations of pain, inflammation and temperature as well as many others.  

CB1 receptors are located in the brain and nervous system and regulate functions related to pain and inflammation, hunger, mood and others. They are also contained in the liver, lungs and kidneys and when dysregulated may cause a wide variety of symptoms. CB1 receptors react distinctly to the cannabinoid THC when introduced into the body.

CB2 receptors are found mainly in the immune system. They are also found in the spleen and gastrointestinal system. CB2 receptors regulate functions such as appetite as well as immune system functions such as pain and inflammation. CB2 receptors are very reactive to the cannabinoid CBD.


How Do Endocannabinoid Receptors Work?

The Endocannabinoid receptors are best described as a lock and key system. Each cannabinoid, such as THC and CBD, are the keys and the endocannabinoid receptors are the locks. When THC and CBD enter the system externally, such as with cannabis consumption, they keys (THC and CBD) seek out their corresponding locks (endocannabinoid receptors). Once THC and CBD have located the appropriate receptor they latch on and the lock “clicks” open.

For instance, it is this process which regulated the feeling of having the “munchies” after consuming cannabis. If a CBD rich product is consumed it will bind more readily with CB2 receptors which causes a reduction in nausea and hunger. If a THC rich product is consumed it will bind with CB1 receptors in the brain and may stimulate the centre for hunger.


What is the Entourage Effect?

Dr. Ethan Russo was the Neurologist responsible for discovering the Entourage Effect in the Endocannabinoid System. In his pioneering article titled Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and Phyto cannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, he discusses how cannabis compounds, such as THC and CBD, influence each other’s mechanisms.

The Entourage Effect also includes terpenes and flavonoids, which are naturally occurring essential oils found in the cannabis plant. Terpenes are responsible for giving cannabis its unique aroma and can be found in the small crystals that cover the buds of the plant. Flavonoids are also found in the crystals on the buds and provide the flavour profile unique to each strain.

Cannabinoids acting together, rather than in isolation, have more pronounced and wider ranging effects on the Endocannabinoid System.


Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Endocannabinoid Deficiency is a term used to describe a dysfunction in which the body does not produce enough natural cannabinoids. When this deficiency is present it causes the body to leave homeostasis and have various symptoms manifest. In essence, the body is not producing enough of what it needs to remain in homeostasis and external approaches are needed to rectify the issue.

This is where THC and CBD come in. Consuming cannabis allows THC and CBD to enter the Endocannabinoid System, bind to endocannabinoid receptors and return the body to a state of homeostasis. The Endocannabinoid System is also unique in that it communicates “backwards”. In the ECS cell-to-cell communication inhibits immune response, relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation and normalizes stimulated nerves. This provides a system of checks and balances. The naturally produced cannabinoids check to make sure that additional cannabinoids are needed in the ECS before allowing external cannabinoids to enter the system.

Scientists admit that they still have a mountain of knowledge yet to be discovered when it comes to the Endocannabinoid System and how dysregulation of the system leads to dysfunction.


How Does Cannabis Impact the Endocannabinoid System?

The cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in cannabis all act together on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the Endocannabinoid System. In a person with Endocannabinoid Deficiency this means returning the body to a state of homeostasis.

The Endocannabinoid System regulates a number of different processes in the body including mood, memory, pain and inflammation, hunger, sex drive, and many others. If a person is experiencing high levels of pain, for instance, cannabis will act on CB1 receptors in the brain to reduce inflammation and produce an analgesic effect.

A study in the British Journal of Anaesthesia found that the advances in cannabis-based medicine are just as effective as traditional opioid treatments. This is extremely important as there is currently a worldwide opioid crisis, with the number of prescriptions for the potent pain-killers on the rise. Opioids are addictive and come with a number of serious side effects. The study found that CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain play a vital role in nociception, or the perception of pain. Cannabis was found to be just as significant in reducing nociceptive pain as traditional opioid treatments.


How Can Apollo Cannabis Clinic Help?

Apollo Cannabis Clinics have been conducting observational research on cannabis and different conditions since 2014. We provide a 7-day-per-week hotline for patients who require assistance with their medication and employ patient educators who will work with individuals to help them better understand cannabis and the role it may play in overall health.

If you are interested in becoming a medical cannabis patient fill out an intake form at apollocannabis.ca. Once completed a representative will contact you to schedule an appointment with one of Apollo’s doctors or specialists.

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