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The discovery of cannabis’s two major cannabinoids, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) led to the quest to discover how the plant’s compounds work in the human body. 

 After some time, science finally introduced the vast network of cellular receptors and molecules that’s responsible for eliciting the effects made by cannabis’s cannabinoids. This network comes in the form of ECS or the endocannabinoid system.  

 The primary mechanism as to why cannabinoids affect our body is its latching action to the ECS’s endocannabinoid receptors (this will be discussed further as you go on) [1]. The ECS didn’t just confirm the theory of cannabis’s medicinal power, but it also revealed to us the manner in which the human body achieves its sense of balance or homeostasis.  

The endocannabinoid system’s parts 

 ECS has three key parts: Endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. Together, they help the ECS do its part in the several biological processes of the body. Let’s get to know each of them. 

 1. Endocannabinoids: The endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules similar to cannabinoids. The only difference is the human body produces them while the latter is synthesized in the cannabis plant.  

 There two key endocannabinoids, namely: 

  •  anandamide (AEA) 
  • 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) 

The endocannabinoids prevent the internal functions from acting up by playing as the ECS’s signalling molecules. They are produced by the body relative to what it needs. Endocannabinoids bind with endocannabinoid receptors in a particular region of the body where a particular action is needed.  

  2. Endocannabinoid receptors: The endocannabinoid receptors which are distributed all over the body binds with the endocannabinoids (the ECS’s signalling agent), telling the ECS to take action.  

 There are two types of endocannabinoid receptors: 

  •  CB1 receptors: These receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system.  
  • CB2 receptors: These receptors are mainly found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells.  

 Here is an example of the dynamics between the endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid receptors:  

We know that endocannabinoids bind with a certain group of endocannabinoid receptors in a particular part of the body where action is needed. An example of this is when endocannabinoids bind with the CB1 receptors on the spinal nerve to relieve back pain or inflammation. Other endocannabinoids might bind with CB2 receptors located in your immune cells to send a message that that part of the body is experiencing inflammation.   

 3. Enzymes: The ECS’s enzyme dissolves or breaks down the endocannabinoids after the latter carries out their functions. There are two main dissolving enzymes:  

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase: This enzyme breaks down the endocannabinoid, anandamide.  
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase: This enzyme breaks down the endocannabinoid, 2-AG. 

A comprehensive guide to how endocannabinoid receptors work 

 The CB1 receptors are scattered throughout the human body, but they can be primarily found in the central nervous system. These are some of the areas where they lurk: 

  •  Brain 
  • Spinal cord 
  • Fat cells 
  • Liver 
  • Pancreas 
  • Skeletal muscles 
  • Gastrointestinal tract 
  • Reproductive system 

 CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are found mainly in the regions of the immune system, but they can be found in some parts of the body as well but in a relatively low concentrations:  

  • Immune cells 
  • Gastrointestinal tract 
  • Liver 
  • Fat cells
  • Bone
  • Reproductive system 

The endocannabinoid receptors are specifically found in the extracellular space (outside the cell), membrane (lining of the cell), and inside of the cells but the most important signalling role is with the endocannabinoid receptors located in the membrane of the cells.  

 When a cannabinoid binds with a cannabinoid receptor, a signal is forwarded to the inside of the cell—the signal results in a slight change in cell activity. The resulting effect is usually relative to the location where the binding event just happened [2].  

 The function of the endocannabinoid system 

 The ECS is a complicated network of varying functions. Until now, experts still consider ECS as an ocean of uncharted potentials. What seems apparent for now is that the main function of the ECS is to restore “balance.” Its homeostatic regulation ensures that the biological processes in the human body are functioning smoothly.  

 An example of why balance is required is, If the body’s temperature erratically spikes and drops, it’ll be an uncomfortable sensation for the individual not to mention the physical functions that might fail as a result of the varying temperatures. The normal or balanced temperature for a human being only runs between 36–37°C. 

 As a homeostatic regulator, The ECS fortifies balance, especially in the following bodily systems:  

  • Metabolism 
  • Immune tissues 
  • Endocrine system 
  • Central and peripheral nervous system 

 Here are the other biological processes that ECS is involved with too:  

  • Digestion and appetite 
  • Metabolism speed 
  • Pain 
  • Inflammation  
  • Immune system 
  • Mood stability
  • Learning and memory 
  • Sleep 
  • Motor control 
  • Nerve function 
  • Cardiovascular system 
  • Skin function 
  • Stress 
  • Liver function 
  • Reproductive system 
  • Bone growth 
  • Muscle development 

[3] 

 Endnotes: 

1.Wikipedia. N.D. Cannabinoid receptor. Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabinoid_receptor#:~:text=Cannabinoid%20receptors%2C%20located%20throughout%20the,sensation%2C%20mood%2C%20and%20memory.&text=In%202007%2C%20the%20binding%20of,in%20the%20brain%20was%20described.

2.Royal Queen Seeds. N.D. A Complete Guide To The Endocannabinoid System. Available at: https://www.royalqueenseeds.com/content/140-a-complete-guide-to-the-endocannabinoid-system 

3.Shenglong Zou and Ujendra Kumar. 2018. Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/ 

 

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