The Endocannabinoid System - How THC & CBD Affect It
Everything you need to know about the endocannabinoid system and how THC & CBD interact with it.
It’s a common occurrence, from gas stations to supermarket checkouts, getting smacked by bargain brand hemp products. The reason for this is CBD, a natural extract of cannabis sativa plants like hemp and marijuana, known scientifically as the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol. CBD is being touted for a myriad of health and wellness issues. Research shows our body contains a natural Endocannabinoid System (ECS) that interacts with these phytocannabinoids when absorbed.
CBD is not to be confused with THC, the psychoactive and intoxicating component many use (and abuse) marijuana for. It is worth noting that both are phytocannabinoids.
CBD has exploded in popularity for better of worse due to:
These two legal steps have opened the floodgates to what once considered a fad product. We want to dive past the fad and explore the science of cannabinoids like CBD and THC, and how they affect our body’s Endocannabinoid System.
What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) - Role & Function
Let's get our science on! The Endocannabinoid System is a complex chain of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that comprise mammal’s (humans, cats, dogs, etc) neural pathways.
In case you don’t recognize some of these Biology terms:
- Neural Pathway: The nervous system’s synaptic relay system that transmits signals from the brain to the rest of the body
- Receptors: cells that respond to stimulus
- Endocannabinoids: also called endogenous cannabinoids (cannabinoids naturally found within the human body) are chemical compounds/molecules that communicate or activate the above receptors
- Enzymes: are proteins that act as converters, they take products and create chemical reactions
The Human ECS helps regulate functions of the body like:
- appetite and digestion
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
The overall goal of the system is to promote a stable internal and external balance within the body, a term called homeostasis.
Homeostasis in the human body is it’s natural internal systems - organs, bones, muscles, etc. to communicate and work synergistically in a completely balanced and ordered way.
The human body has the ability to self regulate internal processes without much help. It uses its internal systems and cell signaling whenever any change occurs. An example of this is when our blood sugar levels change the body activates its glucose stores in cells. The body naturally reacts to these non optimal changes attempting to bring them back to normal levels, but certain factors can aid in regulation.
In the case of the Endocannabinoid System, it synthesizes cannabinoids like THC, and uses other cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, CBN, etc to regulate and work against cell stressors.
What does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
As we mentioned above, the ECS is composed of three primary parts,
- Cannabinoid Receptors - known as CB1 & CB2 receptors, present on the surface of cells these interact with phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are naturally produced cannabis plant matter molecules.
- Endocannabinoids - naturally occurring chemical compounds made by the human body.
- Enzymes - are proteins that interact with the endocannabinoids when they interact with receptors.
The body uses these different parts of the ECS to relay information to the brain and to help stimulate biological responses to stress, pain, and inflammation that may occur in a part of the body. This is what the ECS does, it assists in the relay of information between cells to elicit the correct response and bring about homeostasis. Below is a more indepth look at the three parts of the ECS.
1. Why does the body have naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors?
The Central Nervous System and Endocannabinoid system contain these receptors CB1 and CB2 to interact with endocannabinoids which are produced in small regulated amounts by the cells in our bodies. CB1 also interacts with THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the phytocannabinoid that is responsible for the high and intoxicating effect of marijuana. CB2 receptors are more about immune response and help relay information from the body to the brain. They also interact more with CBD and the lesser known phytocannabinoids.
2. What are Endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors. The body produces these endocannabinoids when they are needed, and when it is exposed to phytocannabinoids. The two main endocannabinoids are anandamide or N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA) and 2-ArachidonoylGlycerol (2-AG); both of which are produced inside cell membranes. Endocannabinoids are unique because they don’t stimulate responses longer than necessary. They are repackaged by metabolic enzymes immediately after use.
3. What are Metabolic Enzymes?
Metabolic enzymes are proteins that catalyze reactions in our body. They essentially cause the reaction/signal to happen faster, and then recycle or reuptake the molecules used to create the reaction. The metabolic enzyme that breaks down AEA is called Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). The enzyme protein responsible for getting rid of 2-AG is called Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). These enzymes are responsible for repurposing endocannabinoids once they have finished interacting with their receptors.
How CBD & THC interact with the ECS
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
CBD is a relatively new phenomenon compared to THC, and is therefore less understood in its interactions with the Human Endocannabinoid System. Scientists are currently studying all the ways in which it interacts with the ECS but here is what we do know:
- CBD interacts with presynaptic receptors in the brain
- It effects the presence of cannabinoids - making their interactions longer and potentially more intense
- CBD inhibits the enzyme Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and delays the time it takes to break down anandamide (AEA) - meaning it increases the signal regulated by endocannabinoids, and slows the reuptake of them by enzymes.
In anxiety disorder studies, inhibiting the FAAH enzyme has been shown to help stop anxiety disorders. CBD for anxiety is one of the purported benefits of CBD.
CBD does interact with the brain making it by definition psychoactive - but it is non intoxicating, meaning that it won’t cause the “high” euphoric state that THC does. It is important to note that some Full-spectrum CBD products due contain THC - the legal requirement is under 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. If you have an addiction or substance abuse history, Full spectrum CBD should be avoided. Using a large quantity of a full-spectrum product (well beyond any suggested use) will cause a high due to the presence of THC.
THC and the Endocannabinoid System
THC’s interactions with the ECS is much more understood because scientists have had more time to study it. THC is the direct phytocannabinoid that will interact with the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors. THC can aid the human Endocannabinoid System natural processes, but it can also do harm.
THC is mainly used by the medical community as a prescription substitute for pain, inflammation, and certain serious medical conditions like glaucoma. The problem is that unregulated amounts of THC increase paranoia and anxiety over time, and cause the “high” that some people find very uncomfortable.
The Endocannabinoid System is an amazing part of the naturally occurring human body. It has been shown in scientific studies to regulate homeostasis and aid in the communication between cells. While phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC may indeed have a role to play in the maintenance and regulation of enzymes and receptors of the ECS, they must be approached with caution under supervision from a medical professional (especially THC).
If you decide that you want to try natural CBD for pain or anxiety, we highly suggest you purchase from a reputable vendor like Cannabidiol Life. Cannabidiol Life is an Organic & GMP certified hemp CBD company using harvested EPA compliant industrial hemp from Colorado, USA.
Cannabis and THC addiction and abuse is a real thing, always use responsibly.
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