Discovering the Endocannabinoid System and How it Functions in Conjunction with CBD
It might come as a surprise to learn that all mammals and invertebrates have an Endocannabinoid System. Did you even know you had one? Chances are, like most of us, it’s a recent or entirely new discovery. Although scientists have been aware of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) since 1992, it wasn’t until the recent surge in Cannabidiol (CBD) popularity that the majority of us knew anything about it. But why is the ECS so important and what does CBD have to do with it anyway?
Keep reading and let’s find out.
How did the Endocannabinoid System Get its Name?
The ECS is named after the very plant to which can be accredited for its discovery, cannabis. When Professors Yechiel Gaoni and Raphael Mechoulam first reported that they had identified then isolated the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they referred to it as a “cannabinoid”, clearly derived from the word cannabis.
Professor Allyn Howlett and Researcher William Devane discovered receptor sites in the brain which respond to cannabis. The receptors were specifically responsive to cannabinoids found within cannabis sativa so were aptly named cannabinoid receptors.
Analytical Chemist Lumir Hanus working with William Devane isolated the first known endocannabinoid in the human brain. Discovering the presence of this endogenous cannabinoid hence confirmed the existence of a biological system needed to regulate it.
And the Endogenous Cannabinoid System was born, endogenous being defined as growing or originating from within an organism. The term was later shortened to Endocannabinoid System and remains the version widely accepted today, with endogenous now represented by the prefix endo.
What are Endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters which bind to specialised receptors that are now accepted as the most abundant type of neurotransmitter in the brain. Endocannabinoids are believed to play an integral role in maintaining balance, or homeostasis, within the body by keeping internal functionals smoothly operating.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.
It’s fair to say that for us to understand the effects of CBD on the human body it is first necessary to examine the relationship between receptors and endocannabinoids. With endocannabinoids and their receptors establishing such an impressive physical occupancy, the range of potential insight we stand to gain about ourselves from further researching this vital exchange is paramount.
Is CBD Already in Your Body?
A endogenous type of Cannabidiol already exists our bodies. Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered a phytocannabinoid since it is of plant origin. Our bodies produce endocannabinoids meaning originating from inside. So, we don’t technically produce CBD, but we do produce another kind of cannabinoid which CBD mimics. Just as our endocannabinoids engage our ECS internally, CBD, when introduced, similarly signals our Endocannabinoid System into action.
The two endocannabinoids that have been expertly identified, thus far, within our bodies are called anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
THC and CBD: Cannabinoids That Are Similar Yet Different
THC and CBD are both Cannabinoids, yet their origin and the manner in which they are processed by the body sets them apart. In fact, they are only 2 of 113 cannabinoids currently identified and each of them engage our cannabinoid receptors uniquely.
THC is a constituent of marijuana, a variety of cannabis sativa known for giving users a sense of euphoria. Marijuana is high in THC content and low in CBD. Hemp is a term given to cannabis sativa varieties bred to contain <.03% THC while still maintaining a high ratio of Cannabinoids including Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD extracted from Hemp does contain negligible amounts of THC but does not make you feel “high” like users of marijuana. This is precisely because of the way in which each phytocompound uniquely communicates with our receptors.
What Does CBD Do to the Endocannabinoid System?
When Full Spectrum CBD enters the body, CB1 and CB2 receptors trigger a response from the ECS or Endocannabinoid System. While the nervous system plays host to most CB1 receptors, the majority of CB2 receptors find their home in the immune system. It is CB1 receptors in the brain and gut that are activated first upon the introduction of CBD.
CB1 Receptors are actually proteins that bind to endocannabinoid molecules. In binding to endocannabinoid molecules, the receptors are not only able to detect the active compound, CBD, but also conduct and moderate the flow of information to the brain. It is thought that endocannabinoids influence brain responses such as mood, memory, appetite and pain.
Are There Any Bad Side Effects of CBD?
neurosciencenews.com, a website dedicated to neuroscience research, reports that increasing endocannabinoids in the brains of mice has been observed to cause inflammation of the cerebellum, but no such side effects have been observed in humans. In this study, researchers used degradation inhibitors which caused endocannabinoids to over-accumulate in the brain. While the results appear to be concerning, they were not obtained by administering any phytocannabinoid, including CBD. They were observed only when manipulating the body’s own endocannabinoids in an experiment conducted using only mice.
It has taken over 50 years from the initial discovery of the first cannabinoid to get where we are today in how we understand the effects of CBD on our endogenous Endocannabinoid System. Through the recent rise in demand for CBD products, so too has risen the demand for further scientific research in regard to just how intricately our ECS is physiologically intertwined and, specifically, how taking CBD can optimise participating biological systems.
For now, we know that Cannabidiol (CBD) mimics our own endocannabinoids to engage our ECS, a complex system responsible for maintaining homeostasis throughout our bodies.
According to Harvard University Graduate and Neuroscience Specialist Bradley E. Alger, Ph.D “endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind.”