The Body’s Natural Cannabinoids: The Endocannabinoid System (and Why Weed Works So Well)

Do you remember learning about the endocannabinoid system in biology class?

Sometimes referred to as the EC or ECS, the system plays a role in mood, sleep, and memory. It helps the body stay “balanced” by either starting or stopping hormonal activity.

But, now that you’re an adult (who loves cannabis), you may be paying more attention to the “cannabinoid” at the end of the system name. What’s that all about?

Does that mean our body naturally produces cannabinoids?As it turns out, yes.

Cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are a completely natural part of the human body. And, that could help explain why cannabis has so many medical applications and beneficial effects.

Let’s take a quick look at how the endocannabinoid system works, as well as how different types of cannabinoids interact with the ECS to affect your health.

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

The ECS is comprised of natural cannabinoids and the receptors they bind to (CB1 and CB2 receptors).

These CB receptors are found in the brain, heart, and glands. Specifically, CB1 receptors are located throughout the central nervous system. And CB2 receptors are found in the gastrointestinal tract, immune cells, and the peripheral nervous system.

Given their prevalence and location throughout the body, CB receptors play an active role in keeping the body “balanced” by increasing or decreasing hormone production.

For example, anxiety can trigger an influx of adrenaline, which can turn stress and anxiety into an all-out panic attack. But when cannabinoids activate CB1 receptors, it can reduce production of adrenal hormones and have an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect.

It wasn’t until 1992 when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and a team at Hebrew University identified anandamide, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter known as an “endocannabinoid,” that scientists were able to confirm that humans produce their own cannabinoids to trigger CB receptors.

This set off a firestorm of new research.

In the 25 years since the ECS was “discovered,” an explosion of scientific studies have revealed the system’s link to a wide range of physiological functions, as noted in an article published in a 2006 issue of Pharmacological Reviews. (The article currently has over 1,500 citations)

“More importantly, modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.”

We know the ECS plays a role in a variety of health conditions and treatments. And cannabinoid receptors can be found in “every animal species down to the sponge,” according to Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, in an interview with VICE news.

It’s these natural cannabinoid receptors that make it practically impossible to overdose on marijuana—our bodies are made to handle cannabinoids.

Types of Cannabinoids

Endogenous Cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids, are those your body produces naturally. These include anandamide, and they’re produced with the help of Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in wild-caught fish.

Unfortunately, most people don’t produce enough endocannabinoids on their own. And medication that inhibits CB receptors has been linked to decreased mood, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Gary Wenk addressed marijuana’s role in managing mood and health in an article for Psychology Today (and in his own TED Talk at TEDxColumbia).

“What this discovery tells neuroscientists is that our endogenous marijuana system is normally involved, either directly or indirectly, in controlling our mood and allowing us to experience pleasure; antagonizing the actions of this chemical in the brain leads to depression with possibly dangerous consequences.”

If I can oversimplify Dr. Wenk’s point, using a cannabinoid supplement (like marijuana) can help build more cannabinoid receptors and keep your body healthy and balanced.

Phytocannabinoids include THC, CBD, and other plant-based cannabinoids. If you ever took Echinacea to try and fight off a cold, you were consuming phytocannabinoids.

When we consume cannabis, cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind to the body’s CB receptors. THC is similar in structure and activity to anandamide, the first endocannabinoid, which could shed some light on why cannabis has been so effective in treating so many conditions.

Synthetic Cannabinoids are artificially created in a lab. As new research reveals the benefits of a healthy ECS, scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working to develop artificial neurotransmitters that can activate CB receptors.

On the flip side, some companies are pursuing new avenues for CB receptor antagonists (or anti-cannabinoids) that would bind to CB receptors to prevent their activation by endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids.

For my money, I’d rather by natural, organic cannabis than a synthetic cannabinoid.

Cannabis: The Natural Way to Stay Balanced

Cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are a natural part of the human body. They play a vital role in balancing hormones, reducing stress, and managing mood.

And the natural way to supplement this natural process and support the endocannabinoidsystem is by consuming marijuana.

So, the next time someone says you smoke too much, tell them you’re just staying healthy.

Learn more about how marijuana can support better health (including weight loss). And stop by Karing Kind in North Boulder to pick up a gram of organic bud or naturally-extracted CO 2 oil. You’re endocannabinoid system will thank you.


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