Exploring The Endocannabinoid System
Did you know you have cannabinoids in your body right now, whether you’ve ingested cannabis or not? You certainly do, and your body produced them. These kind of self created substances are called endocannabinoids. The names are so similar because these substances mimic each other.
In fact, one of the most pervasive reasons cannabis heals is how it affects this endocannabinoid system, or ENS. It’s fascinating and worth a closer look.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds within the cannabis plant. We talked a lot about this specifically in our post about cannabinoids.
The cannabinoids in cannabis are organic compounds that create effects in the human body. Part of how they work is by interacting with receptors all over the body called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are part of your ENS.
What Is The Endocannabinoid System
The ENS is spread all over the body and it controls or influences a vast array of functions. As you might expect, receptors in the immune system affect your ability to maintain health. The receptors in your digestive system, however, regulate nutrient uptake and waste.
Something that they have in common is their quest for balance and regulation. Everywhere they exist, they help promote homeostasis in the body in a variety of ways.
Sometimes, they alter how chemicals in the body break down or how impulses get communicated. Other times they stimulate the production of regulating substances your body makes naturally.
They’re like little traffic guides making sure everyone is in the proper place and keeping their eyes on the prize.
History Of The Endocannabinoid System
The history of the discovery of the ENS is fascinating especially because of how late in our general history it happened!
The Endocannabinoid System In 1988
In 1988, the scientific community identified the first cannabinoid receptor in a rat’s brain. Initially observed by Allyn Howlett and William Devane these cannabinoid receptors proved to be abundant in the brain – far more so than any other neurotransmitter receptor.
Soon after this breakthrough researchers began using an artificial form of THC to treat severe nausea and to map the CB receptors in the brain. It turns out that the receptors are located primarily in the regions responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, motor coordination, higher cognition, appetite and emotions.
This merely begins to explain how cannabinoids affect the human brain and body. It was enough of a discovery to signal that cannabinoids probably played a huge role in human physiology. After all, these receptors are widespread in the body and that’s probably not just waiting for someone to smoke some cannabis.
The Endocannabinoid System In 1990
By 1990, the next significant discovery related to the ENS occurred.Lisa Matsuda identified the DNA sequence that defines a THC receptor in the brain of a rat. Afterwards, scientists were able to explore just which substances triggered these receptors.
Additionally, scientists developed genetically altered mice that lacked this receptor. This meant that THC shouldn’t affect them in any way. When they received THC, there was no effect. This proved that the effects of THC emerge becuase it bonds with receptors in the brain.
The Endocannabinoid System In 1992 – 1993
Science discovered another cannabinoid receptor in 1993. It formed a component of the immune and nervous systems and was dubbed CB2 (the CB receptors in the brain are called CB1 receptors). Unlike CB1s, CB2 receptors reside in abundance in the blood vessels, bones, heart kidneys, liver, spleen, lymph cells and even the reproductive organs.
However a curious, question remained – why do we have cannabinoid receptors in the first place?
The solution to that particular question began to unfold in 1992, with the discovery by Raphael Mechoulam of Anandamide, the very first endogenous cannabinoid or endocannabinoid. NIMH investigators William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus verified these findings with their own research.
The Endocannabinoid System From 1995 To Present
A second endocannabinoid emerged in 1995, named 2-arachidonoylglycerol. It turns out, this endocannabinoid connects to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. In fact, there is reason to believe another receptor exists in addition to these already mentioned.
The Future Of The Endocannabinoid System
When you look at how the discoveries have unfolded thus far it’s easy to see why more research should continue. We may be only understanding the barest amount of information on the ENS. Further exploration could reveal even more ways cannabis can help heal the body and mind.