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 things never make it to the front pages of the newspapers. It goes the same for scientific breakthroughs that do not fit into the mainstream value system. And demand a paradigm shift.
But isn’t it the very point of true science. To question the old beliefs, practice and increase 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 before the mid 20th century. Cannabis use was considered to be of marginal interest of both biologies. 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. They 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 good compounds in Cannabis Sativa.
Decades had to pass since Mechoulam’s first discovery to understand how amazingly THC. And other cannabinoids 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 phytocannabinoids 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. That is to discover that CB1 and CB2 are just a part of a 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. Keyword 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. And 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 tract, 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. That is 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 Endocannabinoid System: Critical for Homeostasis
The only way to understand the endocannabinoid system is to understand the process of homeostasis. This process in your body tries to keep your body stable and in an optimized state. This does it no matter what is happening around you. It is your body trying to keep everything in it in its proper place. It essentially works as the gauges in a car or plane but for the body.
Your body will ask the consistent questions like is the heart is beating to fast or do you need rest or not? When something is out of the range of the body that it considers, the ECS is then activated to help with balancing it out or any other thing that may be out of the equation. Take for example if you are feeling hot, the ECS is trying to cool you down until your temperatures decrease till it is balanced out in the normal range.
Everything that the ECS does, does it through the cannabinoid receptors it possesses in selected tissues. These receptors can be divided into two categories called CB1 and CB2 respectively. Both of these have different locations in the body. CB1 is found to be in the central nervous system (where the brain and the nerves of the spinal cord lay). CB2 is found to be in the peripheral nervous system, for example, the digestive system and the immune system. They are used to handle various activities like mood, appe, ite and digestion through the regulation of different chemicals and hormones throughout the body. And this is how the ECS keeps the body in balance and in a precise check when something is not stable. Once the cannabinoids have completed their job, they start to break away until they are finally finished. This way the balance is not broken.
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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