Endocannabinoid System blog image

Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

Marijuana’s active components are known as cannabinoids. None of us would be able to get the high feeling associated with marijuana use, or experience symptom relief from medical marijuana, without cannabinoids. We wouldn’t be able to experience these effects if the body did not have a biological system capable of interacting with the active chemical compounds found in marijuana. Welcome to the endocannabinoid system. Rather than only help us experience the effects of cannabis use, the system also plays a greater role in our overall health. It is vital because it acts as a regulator to various aspects of the body. To understand the working of the endocannabinoid system, we first have to understand the process of homeostasis.

Homeostasis and its role in the body

Homeostasis refers to the collection of processes that serve to actively regulate and maintain conditions within a narrow range. Some of the aspects of our bodies that are closely monitored in our systems are our body temperature, blood sugar levels and the amount of water in our systems. For cells to work at their optimum level, these and other aspects of our bodies need to be in perfect balance. Our temperatures shouldn’t be too high and neither should they be too low, the same applies to our levels of sugar. Through homeostasis, the body takes on various mechanisms to create a balance in our bodies. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, plays a critical role at the molecular level in helping each cell remain within the narrow range of healthy conditions.

Since it plays such a critical role in creating a balance within our bodies, the ECS has continually evolved with emerging conditions. Currently, all vertebrate species have an endocannabinoid system within them.

Components of the endocannabinoid system

The ECS has three major components. Each of these plays a role in keeping the body’s conditions in balance. They include:

1.    Cannabinoid receptors – These are found on each cell’s surface

2.    Endocannabinoids – They are small molecules whose chemical combination triggers cannabinoid receptors

3.    Metabolic enzymes – Once endocannabinoids have been used; these enzymes break them down within the cell.

Cannabinoid Receptors

Each cannabinoid receptor is placed on the surface of a cell. The receptors ‘listen’ to the conditions in the rest of the body. Cannabinoid receptors continually transmit information about the changes that occur to the conditions outside the cell. These transmissions then trigger the onset of the appropriate cellular response.

Many cannabinoid receptors have been discovered by studies. The two most active, prevalent and best-studied receptors are CB1 and CB2. What’s more, these two receptors were among the earliest to be discovered. CB1 receptors are the most abundant type found in the brain. When one ingests or smokes marijuana, these are the receptors that interact with THC to get you high. CB2, on the other hand, is most abundant in areas outside the nervous system. For example, CB2 receptors are highly abundant in the immune system. That, however, doesn’t mean that the receptors are isolated in these areas of the body. CB1 and CB2 can be found all over the body.

Endocannabinoids

Just like cannabinoids, endocannabinoids bind with cannabinoid receptors and trigger them. Unlike the components of marijuana, however, endocannabinoids are produced within the body through natural processes. There are two major types of endocannabinoids in our bodies. These include:

Anandamide

2-AG

Each of these endocannabinoids is produced only when the body requires them. They are manufactured from fat-like molecules that are found in within the cell membrane. Once they are synthesized, they are used at exactly that time. This is unlike other compounds produced by the body, which are usually packaged and stored for later use.

It should be noted that both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids have varying potencies at each receptor.

metabolicsMetabolic Enzymes

These biological compounds collectively fill the third part of the triad that is the endocannabinoid system. Once endocannabinoids have been used by the receptors on the surface of the cell, they are quickly destroyed by enzymes. In this way, endocannabinoids can only be used when they are needed. This aspect of endocannabinoids makes them unique when compared to other molecular signals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. Unlike endocannabinoids, these signals can remain in the body for seconds or minutes. In some cases, they can even be packaged and stored for later use.

These components of the ECS work together to bring each cell back to homeostatic conditions once there is a deviation. The ECS in such a case is only temporarily activated. We can see the ECS working efficiently in two main areas. These include brain cell firing in the central nervous system and through the immune system’s inflammatory response.

How Endocannabinoids regulate Brain cell firingbrain neuron image

Neurons usually send electro-chemical signals to each other so as to communicate. As we go on with our daily activities, each neuron listens to the others and decides on appropriate times to fire its signals. Too many signals, however, usually leads to an imbalance. This interferes with homeostasis. That’s where endocannabinoids come in. If one neuron is sending excessive signals to another, the listening neuron produces endocannabinoids for that particular situation. The cannabinoids then make their way to the neuron sending the signals and trigger its cannabinoid receptors, causing it to quiet down. In this way, the neurons are brought back to a balance and avoid the toxic effects associated with excessive signals among brain cells.

How endocannabinoids regulate inflammation

Inflammation occurs naturally as the body’s way to combat injury or physical damage. Through inflammation, the body removes disease-causing organisms from the tissue. In some cases, inflammation may persist for longer than the body requires. Alternatively, the response could affect health cells leading them to auto-immunity. In a typical case, endocannabinoids are released by the infected cell to call other immune cells for assistance. Once this happens, they join in on the fight and inflammation occurs. The endocannabinoid system, if properly triggered, can send signals to effectively regulate the spread of inflammation and how long the response occurs. The infection is therefore stopped without the risk of excessive inflammation. Soon after, the body goes back to working in homeostatic conditions.

Here at Island Cannabis Company, we have friendly and educated staff on-hand to assist you in finding the most suitable cannabis product for your body.