Your body producing sweat on a hot sunny day allows it to dissipate extra heat and cool off. Similarly, when it’s cold, shivering helps generate heat in your body and keeps you warm. Ever wondered who is backstage doing all that? It’s the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). It is a complex biological system associated with cell signalling and responses. ECS plays a homeostatic role in the human body through its negative feedback loop. It is just maintaining your body temperature but all kinds of body conditions such as blood pH, water content, hormone levels, and nitrogenous wastes. All types of body states are maintained and regulated by ECS.
How does Endocannabinoid System work?
So, we got the idea that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining the body’s natural equilibrium state. It’s time to learn how exactly it works and what key components integrate to produce a balanced state. Key elements forming the ECS are; cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, metabolic receptors, enzyme molecules.
Endocannabinoids are endogenous chemical compounds that bind to the cannabinoid receptor sites and stimulate action response.
Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are essentially two same things – with one main difference that endocannabinoids are synthesized inside and by the human body itself.
These are related to a class of psychoactive compounds – Phytocannabinoids, first found in the Marijuana plant (Cannabis Sativa), which’s precisely from where endocannabinoids got the name.
Two main types of endocannabinoids have been discovered:
Anandamide (AEA) – scientifically known as N-arachidonoyl ethanolamine, is a neurotransmitter molecule known to have blissful effects on the mind so, known as the bliss molecule.
2-Arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) – a chemical compound known to occur abundantly in the Central Nervous System.
Cannabinoid receptors are the sensory sites found throughout the body cells and organs. They signal for the initiation of responses after cannabinoid molecules bind to them. So, cannabinoid receptors are the guards that alert the body systems to take necessary actions in case of sudden or unexpected situations.
Though there are many types of cannabinoid receptors, two prominent of them are;
Cannabinoid receptor type 1 CB1: These are most abundant in the central nervous system, located on nerve cells. They are also found outside the CNS.
Cannabinoid receptor type 2 CB2: These are most abundant in your peripheral nervous system. Their prominent expression occurs in immune tissues.
Like other hormones or molecules synthesized by the body, endocannabinoids are not retained for more extended periods, which means that when used up, they have to be destroyed – a job performed by the enzyme molecules.
FAAH and MAGL are the two main enzymes that destroy anandamide and 2-AG, respectively.
What are ECS functions?
Medical science hasn’t yet discovered all the details of the ECS as it is a complicated system. However, according to the researches made to date, ECS is primarily involved in maintaining the body’s homeostasis.
ECS is linked to the following processes:
Metabolic processes include the regulation of lipogenesis and fatty acid utilization in the liver, skeletal muscle, and adipose tissue. It is also involved in appetite and digestion.
- Immune system responses
Regulate the maturation of immune cells in primary lymphatic tissues and perform an effector function – cytokine secretion.
- Learning and behaviour
ECS has been found to have a role in learning and behaviour. It can also affect mood and sleep.
- Major systems of the body
ECS produces responses affecting effective systems of the body such as the cardiovascular system, reproductive system, and liver functions.
- Remodelling and growth processes
It is involved in bone remodelling and growth, and muscle formation.
- Anxiety and stress
ECS opposes the anxiety produced by environmental stress. This means that an increase in the Endocannabinoids occurs in the presence of anxious and stressed body conditions.
How is THC and CBD connected with ECS?
One of the main components of the Cannabis Sativa (marijuana), Tetrahydrocannabinol THC, is also a cannabinoid, which means the cannabinoid receptors are sensitive. When it binds to them, it can stimulate ECS.
This chemical compound can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, so it produces way stronger results than endocannabinoids – the reason why THC gets you “high.”
One big difference between cannabinoids with THC is that the body’s metabolic enzymes can not break down the latter, so they persist for more extended periods in the body.
The use of THC can produce different results – relaxation as well as anxiety. It can help reduce pain, providing a sense of relief. On the other hand, it also persists for longer durations, thus producing a state of paranoia or anxiety.
Pharmacists are putting efforts into producing THC cannabinoids that can benefit the Human body to treat diseases.
One Other Cannabinoid that is in the news, is CBD. CBD is prominent within the hemp and cannabis plants. It has been in use to give solutions to for a host of physical and mental conditions including: pain management, seizure and epilepsy cure, skin care etc. CBD interacts similarly with the endocannabinoid system as explained above in the case of THC. Benefits of CBD are coming out consistently and the endocannabinoid system is a major factor. to know more about CBD, read here.
Due to the lack of detailed studies on the role and functions of ECS, scientists are not aware of the results endocannabinoid deficiency can produce. However, there is a theory that suggests some conditions caused by the failure of ECS.
This theory is named clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). According to it, a lack of endocannabinoid molecules in the body can lead to certain conditions.
A study on this theory propounds that ECS failure can be a reason for situations such as migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
If science advances into understanding ECS and if CECD is a cause of these situations, then the further study of their reasons and their possible treatments can be made possible.
Possible Future Treatments
The discovery of this biological system can be a milestone in the field of medical science. Scientists are working on the complete understanding and functioning of ECS. To make effective use of the endocannabinoids, authentic studies have to be made. Possible future treatments are expected for the following diseases:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Acute and chronic kidney disease
Endocannabinoid System is the body’s natural regulator protecting us from sudden unexpected changes. Endocannabinoids are going to be a focus area of study for medical professionals from now on. With details unfolding about the system and its functions, ECS holds many potential discoveries and treatments. With every new study, there is a ray of hope for humanity.