The Endocannabinoid System
Metaphorically the endocannabinoid system represents a microcosm of mind-body medicine. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of:
- Receptors – Like CB1 and CB2
- Their ligands – a molecule that binds to another (usually larger) molecule.
- Enzymes – a substance produced by a living organism which acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction that are responsible for the synthesis and the degradation of endogenous ligands.
The ECS regulates the mental-physical homeostasis (balance) for every system in the body. The most well-known cannabinoid receptors are the CB1 and CB2. Recently discovered are the GPR55 and TRPV1 receptors. GPR55 has been discussed as a potential CB3 receptor, but more research is being done to fully understand these two newly discovered receptors. The most well-known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG. AEA and 2-AG are released upon demand from cell membrane-embedded phospholipid (a lipid containing a phosphate group in its molecule, e.g., lecithin.) precursors.
They are released postsynaptically (in a retrograde fashion) and modulate the GABAA (inhibitory “dampening” neurotransmission) and the release of glutamate (excitatory “heightening” neurotransmission). AEA and 2-AG work in a homeostatic fashion, thus they are broken down after they activate the CB1 or CB2 receptors.
A lack of endocannabinoids that leads to various physical and psychological diseases can be balanced with plant-based cannabinoids. Each cell has many receptors, all of which are activated by special compounds specific to them – glutamate bind to glutamate receptors; serotonin to serotonin receptors; dopamine to dopamine receptors, endocannabinoids to cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body. They are everywhere – the brain, the spinal cord, the immune system, the internal organs, the peripheral nervous system, and even on the skin. In fact, the endocannabinoid system is the most widespread receptor system in the human body.
Discovered by scientists in 1990, CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, but are also present in the lungs, liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs. These are the receptors that interact with THC to cause a user to experience a euphoric high.
CB1 receptors have been found to play a role in memory processing, motor regulation, appetite, pain sensation, mood, and sleep. The activation of CB1 receptors have also been linked to neuroprotective responses, suggesting the cannabinoids with a higher affinity for CB1 receptors could help in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is the most abundant G protein-coupled receptor expressed in the brain, with particularly dense expression in (rank order): the substantia nigra, globus pallidus, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, putamen, caudate, cerebellum, and amygdala. CB1 is also expressed in non-neuronal cells, such as adipocytes and hepatocytes, and in musculoskeletal tissues.
CB2 receptors, discovered by researchers in 1993, are found primarily on cells in the immune system and its associated structures. When CB2 receptors are activated, they stimulate a response that fights inflammation, which in turn reduces pain and minimizes damage to tissues.
These anti-inflammatory effects have been found to be beneficial for treating
inflammation-related conditions like arthritis, Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel
How does the ECS work?
An easy way to understand how the endocannabinoid system works is to think of it as a lock and key mechanism. The cannabinoid receptors are the locks, and the endocannabinoids are the keys.
When cannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors, they are able to produce physiological responses necessary for keeping cells alive and healthy.
In fact, you can say that the endocannabinoid system is one of the most important systems in the body because its main function is to maintain balance and homeostasis.
Endocannabinoid System Defeciency
An emerging literature documents the “eCB deficiency syndrome” as an etiology in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, psychological disorders, and other conditions. Scientists performed a systematic review of clinical interventions that enhance the eCB system—ways to upregulate cannabinoid receptors, increase ligand synthesis, or inhibit ligand degradation.
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