What is the Endocannabinoid System and how does it impact our bodies?
Endocannabinoid SystemIt is a long, intimidating word but to cannabis users and patients, it isn’t quite so complex. We’ve put together a brief explanation of the endocannabinoid system and how it works with cannabis to bring relief to patients and regulate multiple other systems in the body. We promise the science behind cannabis and the endocannabinoid system will fascinate you, and hopefully encourage you to demand more research for the sake of millions of patients. The Endocannabinoid (EC) System is a system in both human and animal bodies that is composed of a series of receptors. These receptors work together in multiple physiological functions from everything to stress recovery and homeostatic balance. In simpler terms, it regulates your body’s systems to keep everything in working order. This system – the Endocannabinoid System, was discovered in the mid-1990s by the researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam. Dr. Mechoulam identified THC as the main active ingredient in cannabis in the 1960s, and in the 1990s, along with research fellow William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus, discovered two primary receptors that were the linked to the endocannabinoids our body produces naturally and phytocannabinoids, those produced by plants, like THC and CBD. This link between the chemicals already present in our bodies and chemicals found in plants, like the cannabis plant, led to a scientific breakthrough. We now understand that cannabinoids in our bodies work in a complex signaling network that regulates various processes and systems when they interact with regulatory enzymes. Cannabinoids at their very core promote homeostasis, so when you use cannabis to treat illnesses or cancers, those cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid receptors in your body to balance out the system that created the illness and work to get your body back to normal. There are two primary receptors found in the Endocannabinoid system: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors, found mainly in the central nervous system, are stimulated by THC – a compound found in cannabis. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis – the one that makes you feel “high.” When we use THC, the CB1 receptors receive a signal and pass a message along to the cannabinoids in our body to regulate pain, mood, sleep or appetite. One study showed that the THC in cannabis signals appetite which explains why people get the “munchies.” CB2 receptors are found mostly in the immune system, but also throughout organ tissues in the body. When they respond to THC they don’t produce a “high,” but rather, regulate an immune response. CB2 receptors are responsible for anti-inflammatory effects, which is known to reduce or combat multiple diseases and illnesses such as Crohn’s disease or IBS. So, why is it not more widely accepted as a form of alternative treatment? Cannabis Now Magazine says, “The fact that there is a system in our body that produces cannabinoids, and is specifically designed to accept just them, should be overwhelming proof of cannabis’ efficacy as a medicine.” For one, it is still a relatively new accepted system. As we mentioned before the system and receptors in our body were discovered in the mid-1990s, and even then, it wasn’t widely accepted. Slowly, more researchers began studying the endocannabinoid system, but we still have a long way to go. Secondly, doctors don’t study the endocannabinoid system in Medical School. In fact, the first textbook on medical marijuana for Medical School released in May of 2016 and one study showed that only 13% of medical schools teach about the endocannabinoid system to future doctors. When doctors aren’t aware of the system and how cannabis interacts with it, they can’t recommend it to patients. What’s next? We need more research on the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2 receptors, and the whole cannabis plant to provide hard scientific evidence that cannabis is medicine. We’ve only just begun to understand how cannabis acts as a drug and how it reacts with the cannabinoid receptors in our body to balance systems and combat diseases. More research is needed on the neurochemistry to discover the exact dosage necessary for each patient depending on their ailment and their body. When we have evidence with solid research to verify, there will be no denying the government from allowing medical marijuana as a viable treatment option. We also need to start teaching our Medical students and Graduate students about the endocannabinoid system so that they are aware of it. Whether they choose to further research the system or plant or comprehend the effects of medical marijuana on the body and disease to recommend alternative treatments to patients, it is obvious we need to educate the next generation. With more research, and doctors confident in the biology and chemistry of how the cannabis plant treats patients, we will be one step closer to not only ending the opioid epidemic but also, providing a natural and safe treatment plan for patients who are desperately seeking one.