What is the Endocannabinoid system? This amazing network of receptors and transmitters, which works in parallel to our Nervous and Immune System, regulates feeding, response to diseases, stress reaction, cognition and memory, but also relaxation and sleep. Its proper functioning is vital for our well being
Some revolutions never make it to the front pages of the newspapers. It goes the same for scientific breakthroughs that do not fit into the main stream value system, and demand a paradigm shift.
But isn’t it the very point of revolutions and true science, to question the old beliefs, preconceptions and liberate human potential? This was all the case with one of the most important scientific discovery of modern medicine, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
The “Irrelevant” Plant
For thousands of years Cannabis has been used in old civilizations both as a drug and for recreational purposes, but even with the advance of modern science its active compounds were never researched or isolated before mid 20th century. Cannabis use was considered to be of marginal interest of both biology and even more medicine that looked upon it only from the angle of drug misuse.
It was only in 1966 that Raphael Mechoulam together with his colleague Yechiel Gaoni discovered the Cannabis active compound THC responsible for its psychoactive effect. Although Morphine was isolated back in 19 century research in other drugs like Cocaine and Heroin followed, but it seems Cannabis was not considered relevant enough to study. Its structure was known, but there was no research into its compounds.
Today, we know about some 480 health beneficial compounds in Cannabis Sativa.
Decades had to pass since Mechoulam’s initial discovery to understand how profoundly THC and other canabinoids like CBD influence our bodily biochemistry. They found that specific receptors in our body tend to be particularly responsive to THC.
And it was not because the human body was prepared in advance for smoking Marijuana. Rather than that, it is because our body produces some compounds that resemble cannabinoids from Marijuana. But we will say more about that a bit later.
Today we know of the three sorts of cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids – in plants like Cannabis Sativa, Endocannabinoids produced by our body, and Synthetic cannabinoids produced in laboratory conditions.
Keeping the Equilibrium in Your Endocannabinoid System
Until 1990ties, although much more phytocanabinoids were discovered, the mechanisms of their function were still a secret. A breakthrough was made after discovery of two forms of cannabinoid receptors for which THC and CBD bond to. They were named CB1 and CB2.
It took joining forces of molecular biology, neurology and other fields of medical research to discover that CB1 and CB2 are just a part of much wider system, the ECS.
This network of receptors and transmitters, which works in parallel to our Nervous and Immune System, regulates feeding, response to diseases, stress reaction, energy levels and storage, cognition and memory, but also relaxation and sleep.
It is common to all chordates and consists of three components: a) Endocannabinoids, b) Cannabinoid receptors c) Regulatory enzymes.
Scientists realized that ECS is following all the major processes in body, influencing functions such as sleep, appetite, cognition, but also in our ability to fight against diseases, and doing so on a cellular level. Key word regarding Endocannabinoid System is keeping the equilibrium or the homeostasis in our body.
Bring the Balance Back…
It was discovered that cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 have much larger density than any other form of cell membrane receptors in our body. CB1 receptor – responsive to THC, is predominantly found in the brain, and Central Nervous System. It is particularly concentrated in areas that have to do with mediating pain, limbic system controlling the motion, and reward pathways. So it has lot influence upon how we relate to food, sexuality, or drugs for that matter.
CB2 is found in organs connected to protective function like Spleen, Tonsils, but also in digestive track, as in bowels it prevents inflammatory processes. CB2 receptors act like parallel immune system and stay relatively inactive in healthy state, but when times get rough, that changes.
For example in brain injury, blood vessels constrict which in effect starves the brain and one of the function of the Endocannabinoid system is to send impulse that promote dilatation of blood vessels to bring back the system to balance.
ECS has a role to play in cardiac and bone physiology, helping the bone fracture healing. It is the homeostatic regulator of overall physiology of our body.
The Bliss Compound
It was discovered by Raphael Mechoulam team of researchers that Endocannabinoid System produces its own cannabinoids also. This fatty acid neurotransmitter was named Anandamide that binds mostly to the CB1 receptor.
It is sometimes also named Bliss compound, because as it acts as mood enhancer. Although it doesn’t have the same structure as THC it acts in the very same way. Anandamide plays important role in sleeping and feeding regulation, motivation and pleasure sensation.
Recent studies found that cannabinoids our body produces are found in mother’s milk where they play significant role in infant development. Its first function is to support the breastfeeding by providing incentive for the child to feed. In the same time it helps for infant to cope with the stress and bond with mother. ECS plays an important role in pre birth development, preventing the mother’s bodily defense mechanisms from misinterpreting the fetus as foreign body.
Want to learn more about CBD? Read this post.
Relax, Eat, Sleep, Forget, Protect
Vincenco Di Marzo, one of the leading scientists researching into cannabinoids and the functions of the ECS, and Director of the National research center in Naples, defines it as system in charge of relaxing, eating, sleeping, forgeting and protecting.
Many of the functions of the Endocannabinoid System are absolutely essential to our well being, even memory. Not just to remember important things in our life but even more to forget those which were traumatic and move forward. As old Arabic proverb says: Those who want to enjoy life must also learn to forget. Or we could reflect upon Ancient Greek wisdom saying: Moderation in all things.
Advices for preventing Endocannabinoid deficiency could be summed up in supporting its function with regular, daily intake of natural CBD oils, switching to healthier diet, moderate exercise, and meditation practice or other form of mental stress relief.
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