07 July 2023 – Varkie van Zyl

Discover just how deeply cannabinoids are woven into our human biology.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of cell receptors and neurotransmitters that helps regulate many functions in the human body, including mood, appetite, pain sensation, and inflammation. It is a relatively recent discovery in the field of medical science, having been identified only in the last few decades.

The ECS was first discovered in the 1990s when researchers were studying the effects of cannabis on the body to figure out how cannabis managed its psychoactive effects. They found that the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, interacted with receptors in the brain and body, which led to the identification of the Endocannabinoid System.

What is the ECS made of?

The ECS is made up of three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.

Endocannabinoids are molecules that the body produces naturally and are similar in structure to the phytocannabinoids (meaning plant cannabinoids) found in cannabis. These molecules are responsible for activating the receptors in the ECS. The primary two are known as anandamide and 2-AG (2-Arachidonoylglycerol).

Receptors are found throughout the body and are responsible for receiving signals from the molecules such as endocannabinoids. There are two main types of receptors in the ECS: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found in the immune system and peripheral tissues.

Enzymes are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they have been used by the body. This prevents them from building up in receptors and effectively trapping the ECS in the “on” position. There are two main enzymes in the ECS: FAAH (Fatty acid amide hydrolase) and MAGL (Monoacylglycerol lipase). FAAH breaks down anandamide, while MAGL breaks down 2-AG.

What does the ECS do?

The endocannabinoids in the ECS play a vital role in regulating many functions in the body. For example, anandamide is known to help regulate mood, while 2-AG is involved in pain sensation and inflammation. When the body produces endocannabinoids, they bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which in turn activates various signaling pathways in the body.

The activation of these receptors can have various effects on the body, depending on which receptors are activated, where they are being activated, and which endocannabinoid is activating them. For example, when the CB1 receptors are activated, they can lead to a reduction in anxiety and the nervous perception of pain. On the other hand, when the CB2 receptors are activated, they can lead to a reduction in inflammation and the metabolic causes of pain.

The ECS also plays a role in the body’s response to stress. When the body is under stress, it produces cortisol, which can have a negative effect on the body when levels get out of hand. However, the ECS can help regulate the release of cortisol and reduce its negative effects. As such it can act as a brake when it comes to runaway stress.

The ECS is also involved in the regulation of appetite. When the body produces anandamide, it can help stimulate the appetite, while 2-AG can have the opposite effect and suppress appetite. This is probably why use of cannabis has long been associated with the “munchies.”

What can the ECS teach us?

The ECS is still a relatively new area of research, and there is still much to learn about how it works and its potential uses in medicine. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the ECS plays a crucial role in many aspects of human health.

One area of research that is particularly promising is the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain. Chronic pain is a widespread problem that affects millions of people worldwide. Many prescription painkillers can have negative side effects, and many people may become addicted to them with life-changing consequences. However, cannabinoids have been shown to be effective in reducing pain and inflammation without the negative side effects associated with prescription painkillers.

Another area of research that is promising is the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. There is evidence to suggest that the ECS plays a crucial role in regulating mood, and cannabinoids may be able to help restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

The discovery of the ECS has led to a better understanding of how the body regulates itself and how cannabinoids interact with the body. This has opened up new avenues for medical research and has the potential to lead to the development of new treatments for a wide range of conditions.

However, it is important to note that while cannabinoids have shown promise in treating certain conditions, more research is needed to fully understand their effects on the body and the potential risks associated with their use. As with any medication, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using cannabinoids for medical purposes. This is because there are some cases where they can interact in negative ways with other medications being taken.

Overall, the endocannabinoid system is a fascinating area of research that has the potential to change the way we approach medical treatment. As our understanding of the ECS grows, we may see new and innovative treatments for a wide range of conditions that are safer and more effective than current treatments.

All thanks to the secrets shown to us by a little herb from the Indian subcontinent.