How many ailments have you heard of that cannabis helps aid? It’s getting pretty high up there! You’re probably getting to the point where you’re thinking all of this is hype and a fad… or maybe even a hoax. But how familiar are you with the endocannabinoid system (ECS)? This is where the healing powers of cannabis and cannabinoids come to life… and it’s all right inside our own bodies!
That’s right, you read that correctly! The endocannabinoid system is a naturally occurring network in our body (and the bodies of many animals as well). So, why haven’t you heard about it? Probably because it wasn’t discovered until the late 1980’s. Researchers were studying how THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis / the stuff that makes you feel ‘high’) interacted with the body. Some consider the discovery of this system more significant than all other neuroscience discoveries combined! However, it is rarely talked about at medical schools and by doctors because of the tricky legality of cannabis, as well as the possibility that the long arm of big pharma is trying to keep this information suppressed. So, what does it do? First, let’s talk about what exactly the endocannabinoid system is.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Essentially, the ECS is a network of cell-level receptors positioned throughout your entire body. It’s one of the most abundant protein receptors in the brain and also found in your organs, skin, bones, and connective tissues. It’s a “wide-spread net” that is full of cannabinoid (CB) receptors. Martin Lee of Project CBD describes these receptors as, “consisting of 474 amino acids strung together in a crumpled chain that squiggles back and forth across the cell membrane seven times. They function as subtle sensing devices, tiny vibrating scanners perpetually primed to pick up biochemical cues that flow through fluids surrounding each cell.”
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Homeostasis – This is the main objective of the ECS. If you’re unfamiliar with homeostasis and what it means within the body, remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The lesson from this tale is that the optimal solution to a problem is between two extremes, like with the porridge. Biologically it means that all of the systems in our body are actively regulated and looking to maintain conditions within a narrow range to achieve optimum performance.
Due to fact that we have this system in our body dedicated to achieving optimal conditions in almost every organ, it’s easy to understand how so many ailments can be helped by cannabinoids. We see positive results when it comes to ailments caused by inflammation, different issues concerning the brain, and way more. Be on the lookout for our ‘Cannabis and Ailments Blog Series’ coming soon!
But if the endocannabinoid system is naturally occurring in our bodies, why do we need to consume cannabis?
Like most systems in our bodies, the ECS needs help! Think along the same lines of eating healthy and taking supplements – this is all about helping our body regulate, maintain, and run as efficiently as possible. It just so happens that for the endocannabinoid system, it’s cannabis and the cannabinoids it produces that are the ‘supplements’ needed to optimize performance.
When talking about cannabinoids, we need to separate them into two distinct categories: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are the ones that our bodies create naturally. Phytocannabinoids are the ones we receive from consuming the cannabis plant.
We’ll get into all the different phytocannabinoids in another blog post, but for now let’s talk about the two most popular ones: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Both are cannabinoids, but both have very different implications on the body and our ECS. This is easily seen because THC is psychoactive and responsible for the “high” when consuming marijuana and CBD is non-psychoactive.
Without going into too much detail about the CB receptors, there are two main ones (CB1 and CB2) and they interact differently with the numerous cannabinoids. Notice how the chemical structures of THC and CBD look like two very similar, but slightly different keys. This, in a nutshell, is why the various cannabinoids have unique positive effects on the endocannabinoid system. Thinking of the phytocannabinoids as distinctive keys is a good way to really picture how they’re interacting with the cannabinoid receptors. And you guessed it, this is all about achieving the coveted homeostasis!
We need more research! There haven’t been any long-term studies yet, but with the rescheduling of hemp as an agricultural crop and the growing movement of cannabis acceptance in America, hopefully there will be more and more studies being conducted. This in return will hopefully lead to pinpointing proper dosage for different ailments, determining any potential side effects, and learning the best cannabinoids for certain conditions – so that you and your endocannabinoid system can become masters of homeostasis!
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