Cannabinoids…sound familiar? This term has been thrown around when referring to the legalization of cannabis, especially cannabis health. It is most often used when referring to groups of chemicals found in the cannabis plant, one of which is THC, the psychedelic compound, and another is CBD, a non-psychedelic compound that has been rapidly increasing in popularity for its anti-inflammatory and anxiety treatment properties.
In its larger, ecological context, however, it refers to a much broader group of chemical compounds found within nearly all living organisms. This series will illuminate the topic of cannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis and within virtually all living species, including yes, humans.
Humans have six cannabinoids within the body, known as endocannabinoids. “Endo” refers to “within” as within the human body. These “endo” or human cannabinoids play an important role in maintaining health within the Endocannabinoid System.
The Endocannabinoid System is a retroactive molecular communication system in the human body that helps regulate feeling and movement. “Retroactive” refers to the direction of movement, which in this case is backward! Endocannabinoids are tools used by the
Endocannabinoid Systemto maintain homeostasis.
The two most prevalent types of endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG. They are
located in cells throughout the body and they work with cannabinoid receptors to regulate body conditions. The two most common cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2. These receptors sit on top of cells and listen to the outside environment. CB1 is one of the most prevalent receptors in the brain and nervous system. Whereas CB2 is highly concentrated within the immune system throughout the body.
How the Endocannabinoid System works in Your Body
You contract the flu. Your body produces white blood cellsto fight off the sickness. These
white blood cells stimulate inflammation, via increased blood flow to the infected area. With the flu, a sore throat and runny nose are symptoms of inflammation. Simultaneously, your
Endocannabinoid System is firing cannabinoids to suppress the production of white blood cells to the necessary amount, and no more, to reduce inflammation and help the body remain in homeostasis. Too many white blood cells fired to a location creates excessive inflammation which can hinder functionality and even cause personal harm. Arthritis is an example of excessive and unnecessary inflammation. Proper firing of endocannabinoids from the Endocannabinoid System ensures this does not happen.
Another example. You are anxious. Neurons in your brain are firing rapidly causing an
overload of information. The Endocannabinoid System creates cannabinoids that are sent
backward to the rapidly firing cells to suppress their activity. Soon, you are able to relax and
feel present again in your environment. What do these two examples have in common? The creation of cannabinoids to return the body to a state of homeostasis by limiting overactivity, in a sense, “chilling [the body] out”. In Example 1, the endocannabinoids are necessary to reduce inflammation by limiting the production of white blood cells. In Example 2, endocannabinoids are sent to neurons that are overreacting and sending too many signals to other neurons. The endocannabinoids effectively silence the overactive neuron.
Why is this Important?
As alluded to earlier, the human body is in a constant state of homeostasis. It works hard to maintain an equilibrium so you can operate as a functional person in society. When you need energy, your body sends chemicals to alert your brain that you are hungry. When you are in an unsafe environment, your body fires chemicals to create a hypersensitive state. And when you are wounded, your body creates chemicals to mitigate pain and heal. Cannabinoids are essential for the healthy completion of these actions. They allow the body to return to a normal state after the threat, hunger, or another stimulus has passed. They affect the system, not just the symptom.
Please leave comments below with questions. In the next article, we will discuss the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and how they affect the human body.